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Status and importance of oil shale

Glenn Vawter

Significant progress has been made in oil shale research and development in the United States during the past year. Similar advances have been made outside U.S. borders. Technologies for ex-situ and in-situ processes are much more advanced than those anticipated for use and tested in the 1970 – 1980 era. The approach to project development is entirely different than the rush to commercialization of the last boom. There are significant challenges facing a developer hoping to move toward building a commercial oil shale project in the United States. Technology risk is one challenge. In-situ technologies have not yet been tested at a scale that provides adequate confidence to design a commercial project. Ex-situ technologies commercialized abroad have advanced beyond the experimental stage, but still need to be demonstrated using U.S. oil shale. Companies are investing in their proprietary technologies without U.S. government funding to solve these technical problems. Technology development is not the most significant challenge. The lack of a consistent U.S. Federal policy for oil shale leasing and regulation, similar to what already exists for other minerals and oil &gas, is restraining long term investment in the development of the resource. States that have oil shale resources also have differing policies toward oil shale development. The federal government has the most and best oil shale resource, so it has a unique and vested interest to help facilitate an orderly development of an industry that can reduce the nation’s dependence upon overseas oil supplies. Unfortunately, current Federal policies are not favorable for the commercial leasing of oil shale lands or its development as a domestic energy source.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90156©2012 AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting, Grand Junction, Colorado, 9-12 September 2012