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BLM>Energy>Oil Shale and Tar Sands>Background
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Oil Shale Resources on Public Lands

The United States holds the world’s largest known concentration of oil shale. Nearly five times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia underlies a surface area of 16,000 square miles.

The enormous potential of this domestic resource, if it can be economically produced in an environmentally acceptable way, could be a key to the Nation’s energy security and economic strength.

More than 70 percent of American oil shale — including the thickest and richest deposits — lies on federal land, primarily in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. These federal lands contain an estimated 1.23 trillion barrels of oil — more than 50 times the nation's proven conventional oil reserves.

More than 50 tar sands deposits are found in eastern Utah, containing an estimated 12 to 19 billion barrels of oil. As oil prices rise, there is new interest in developing both of these domestic resources.

The BLM is working to ensure that development of federal oil shale and tar sands resources will be economically sustainable and environmentally responsible.

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress directs the BLM to manage oil shale development on public lands on three tracks:

  • research development and demonstration (RD&D) leasing
  • a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) 
  • regulations for commercial leasing

The BLM planning process provides extensive opportunities for public involvement and consultation with States, Indian Tribes, and local governments within each track.

The BLM has taken public comment on the Draft PEIS allocating certain lands for future oil shale and tar sands leasing.  The comment period closed on March 20, 2008.