The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

The Price Is Wrong for Oil Shale and Tar Sand Tech

Falling energy prices could squeeze oil-extraction research

3 min read

The huge run-up in oil prices over the last several years, reaching a peak of close to US $150 per barrel this past summer, has given energy companies a big incentive to find new ways of harvesting unconventional oil, especially in North America. Technology firms targeted oil from tar sands in Canada and from shale, a sedimentary rock abundant in the western United States. But in the fourth quarter of 2008, oil prices plummeted, and that could put the brakes on the development of new extraction technologies, say experts.

”It’s a difficult time to come out with a new technology,” says Jim Sledzik, an investment manager at Energy Ventures, a venture capital firm in Stavanger, Norway, that invests in oil and gas technology companies. He estimates that oil prices have to be above about $65 a barrel for heavy oil extraction—whether from oil sands or oil shale—to be viable. Sledzik predicts that fewer high-risk projects will receive funding.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less