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Interior Department Approves Restart of Oil Shale Development on Public Lands in Utah

Contact:  Lola Bird, 801-539-4033

Washington D.C.–April 30, 2007–Continuing the effort to develop the world’s largest oil shale resource, the Department of the Interior has completed analysis on an oil shale research, development and demonstration (RD&D) project on public lands in Uintah County, Utah, administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Vernal Field Office.

C. Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, signed the Decision Record for the Environmental Assessment (EA) for a project proposed by Oil-Shale Exploration, Inc. (OSEC), clearing the way for issuance of a 160-acre lease associated with the proposal.  The tract includes the former White River Mine, part of an earlier prototype oil shale facility that ceased operating in 1985.                                                                                

“Our National and economic security depend on our developing domestic energy resources like the oil shale found in Uintah County,” Allred said.  “This RD&D project along with the five other oil shale projects in Colorado will allow us to test our belief that we have the knowledge and expertise to develop this resource effectively, economically, and with responsibility to the environment and to local communities.”

Oil shale resources in the Uintah Basin are part of the Green River Formation, which extends into portions of Colorado and Wyoming.  The Formation is estimated to hold the equivalent of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil – three times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. 

 “Re-starting operations at the White River Mine will give us a better understanding of how to produce oil from shale rock in a manner that is both economically promising and environmentally sound,” said Selma Sierra, BLM Utah State Director.  “With the continuing cooperation of the State and local communities in Uintah County, this project will advance development of our nation’s tremendous oil shale resources.”

The project’s phased design helps ensure that environmental impacts will be avoided or minimized.  Before beginning each phase, OSEC must submit a detailed plan of operations for BLM approval and obtain all required local, state and federal permits to safeguard resources such as air and water quality. 

In the first phase, offsite retorting of shale already mined from the site will provide data showing the chemical and physical properties of the spent shale produced by the process OSEC proposes to use later in the operation.  This will help the BLM determine whether spent shale from onsite retorting in later phases would need to be isolated from the environment.  This test-retorting, which will take place at a facility in Canada, will also yield additional air emissions data.

The OSEC project is the last proposal the Department considered for RD&D leasing.  In December, the Department issued five RD&D leases for oil shale projects on public lands in Colorado.  Work continues on a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement supporting future commercial oil shale leasing on public lands, as directed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. 

More than 70 percent of U.S. oil shale, including the richest and thickest deposits, lies under federally managed lands, giving the Interior Department a key role in determining how development of the resource proceeds. 

Last updated: 03-04-2011