As a result of higher oil prices and the Energy Policy Act of 2005, there has been a renewed interest in development of unconventional hydrocarbon resources which include oil shale and tar sand. Utah contains significant resources of both commodities in the eastern half of the state.
Oil Shale occurs in the Uinta Basin, primarily within the BLM Vernal Field Office. Over 70% of oil shale occurs on public lands. Three areas comprising over 550,000 acres have been classified as leasing areas with a total resource estimate of greater than 31 billion barrels of oil.
Presently, Utah is evaluating a Research, Development, and Demonstration lease for oil shale on 160 acres at the site of the White River Oil Shale Mine that was developed on a lease that was issued during the prototype oil shale leasing program in the 1970’s. The proponent, Oil Shale Exploration Company, proposes sequential development of the site that could lead to reopening the mine. The process being evaluated in Utah involves mining of the oil shale and above ground retorting. The other proposals in Colorado propose an in-situ process that will heat the shale underground to allow the oil to be produced conventionally. If the company can demonstrate viability of commercial operations on the site they may be able to expand their lease to 5,120 acres after additional environmental review. Commercial oil shale leasing could begin within 2 years following completion of a Programmatic EIS Impact Statement and development of regulations as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.