An Environmental Dilemma: Using Sunlight to Harvest Petroleum

By Allison Bond | August 25, 2009 5:49 pm

oil fieldLooking for an example of irony? Here’s one, compliments of the oil industry: A solar-powered oil field. Yes, that’s right—sunlight will be used to make the petroleum easier to extract on a Chevron oil field, instead of the natural gas that traditionally does the job.

The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog reports:

The 100-acre project’s 7,000 mirrors will focus sunlight on a water-filled boiler that sits atop a 323-foot tower to produce hot, high-pressure steam.

In a conventional solar power plant, the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity. In this case, the steam will be injected into oil wells to enhance production by heating thick petroleum so it flows more freely.

Is using alternative energy to fuel oil production a step in the right direction? Seems like power produced by solar technology could perhaps be used a liiiittle more efficiently.

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Image: flickr / richardmasoner

  • Richard Masoner

    This highlights why oil will never ‘run out’ — it just gets increasingly more expensive to produce, to the point that eventually it’s not worthwhile to extract. If Chevon is using solar power to extract oil, it’s because fossil fuels are too precious to use for the task of pumping oil.

    Thanks for using my photo and giving attribution.

  • Gadfly

    The fact is that our current superstructure is based on oil to an enormous degree. “Seems like power produced by solar technology could perhaps be used a liiiittle more efficiently.” Yeah? How? Until we’re in postion to replace cars, trucks, trains, etc with inexpensive practical solar, we’ll have to continue to use fossil fuels. I think it’s great to be able to process those fuels more cleanly and efficiently. It’s a great step and not worthy of dismissal.

  • ContainsCaffeine

    Well, it does seem a bit ironic but since we are a long ways away from replacing oil completely if we can lower the carbon footprint on oil harvesting it seems like a good thing. Also, any project that is testing and proving the usefulness of solar power is a good thing. It seems like Chevron is hedging their bets…still mining for petroleum, but also testing out new energy sources that someday may be the business they are in.


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