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Pete P. - Operations Specialist, Shell

Pete P., 47, works as an operations specialist at Shell’s Mahogany Research Project near Meeker, Colorado.  He’s been there for two and a half years and is involved with an innovative effort to extract oil trapped in underground oil shale formations.

Pete’s background is in fire suppression and industrial fire protection in coal mines and power plants, and he has significant training and 20 years of experience in high-pressure gas systems and fire protection.  He was attracted to the job in part because it didn’t require him to re-locate, and he was drawn to the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new production technology. 

The project is an initiative by Shell to procure oil from the geologically-termed "Mahogany" layer of oil shale rock in the Piceance Creek Basin of Colorado.  The goal is to heat sections of the vast oil shale field deep underground, releasing the oil and natural gas so it can be pumped to the surface, a technique that could have significant advantages over traditional strip mining methods in both environmental impact and in the amount of oil that can be extracted.   

A fundamental problem of the process, however, is that the oil can soak further down shortly after being turned into liquid.  To compensate, Shell has buried refrigeration pipes around the heating site so that the edges will remain solid and hold the oil in place. Pete helps tests a “freeze wall” to help contain groundwater when heating elements embedded in the shale “bake out” oil into pools that can be recovered.

“We monitor a lot of temperatures, pressures and flows using a digital control system.  We’re dealing with other entities within Shell that monitor this, that we provide data to,” explains Pete.  “Basically this whole project is data recovery for future projects and future directions.  We’re trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not.  Some of the things we’re trying are maybe not as good as results as we had hoped and others, just the opposite, we get more than we expected.”    

He says the most challenging part of the job is “just absorbing some of the new technology.  That’s the most intriguing -- the fact that we’re working with some cutting-edge technology, some new programs, some new operating systems.”  Still, Pete is candid that the effort hasn’t progressed as quickly as he’d like.  His advice to anyone considering a career in the industry?  “There are other avenues that have more opportunity and are more productive [such as] natural gas -- a lot of opportunity there right now.  Oil shale holds more potential years from now.”