The United States is home to the largest and most concentrated oil shale deposits in the World. The Department of Energy states that the total oil shale resource in the United States could potentially exceed 6 trillion barrels of oil. In fact, due to oil shale, Colorado’s Piceance Basin contains the most concentrated hydrocarbon deposit on Earth.
A relatively small area in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contains the richest oil shale deposits in the entire World. About 70% of the resource is located on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The other 30% is located on private land, state land, and other lands.
One particular underground structure, known as the Green River Formation, contains very large quantities of oil shale. The Green River Formation was created about 48 million years ago during the Eocene Era. The region contained a series of intermountain lakes where, over approximately 6 million years, fine sediments and organic matter were deposited. Over time the organic matter was transformed into the oil shale deposits we see today. There are other formations in the strata, deposited in a similar manner, that contain oil shale resources as well. These deposits also contain potentially viable oil shale deposits.
In March of 2009, the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) completed a reassessment of the in-place oil shale reserves in this region and increased their estimate from about 1 trillion barrels of shale oil to 1.525 trillion barrels of shale oil. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that about 1.8 trillion barrels of shale oil potentially underlay Colorado, Utah and Wyoming in deposits greater than 15 barrels/ton.
Oil Shale in Colorado
Colorado contains about 1,300,000 barrels of oil per acre on average. These are the richest deposits of oil shale in the United States – and probably the World. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 80% of the recoverable oil shale in the Green River Formation is located in a roughly 35-mile by 35-mile area (784,000-acres) in Colorado’s Piceance Basin (pronounced “Pee-ance”) north of the community of Rifle. Most projections confirm that approximately 600-800 billion barrels of oil are recoverable from the shale in these three states. Therefore, these 784,000 acres potentially contain up to 640 billion barrels of oil – or, twice the oil of Saudi Arabia. Other commercially viable deposits of oil shale are located in the Sand Wash Basin of Moffatt County in far Northwestern Colorado. Large international energy companies such as Shell, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Total (France), Enefit (Estonia), and Petrobras (Brazil) are working on various technologies to extract the resource in Colorado. Shell owns three (3) 160-acre Research, Demonstration and Development (RD&D) leases on BLM lands. In addition, various smaller companies are conducting research, including American Shale Oil, LLC (“AMSO”), who owns another 160-acre RD&D lease on BLM lands. In March 2009, French energy company Total acquired a 50% interest in AMSO. Colorado’s rich oil shale reserves are attracting international attention.
Oil Shale in Utah
Utah also contains significant quantities of oil shale in the Uintah Basin – about 800,000 barrels per acre. The richest deposits are located in eastern Uintah County south of Vernal. Red Leaf Resources (utilizing their “EcoShale” In-Capsule Technology) and Enefit are two of the major operations conducting research, pilot programs, and feasibility studies on Utah’s oil shale resources. Enefit owns one 160-acre BLM RD&D lease on the lands near the White River Oil Shale Mine. Red Leaf’s operations are on State Trust lands. Over 70% of the oil shale resource occurs on public lands in Utah. The Utah Geological Survey estimates that there may be up to 150 billion barrels of shale oil located in Utah as a whole. Of this approximately, 77 billion barrels is estimated to be recoverable when considering all constraints. The BLM estimates that 31 billion barrels of shale oil are located on their lands.
Wyoming Oil Shale
Wyoming’s oil shale is contained in the Washakie and Green River Basins in the Southwestern part of the state. Wyoming has about 500,000 barrels of oil per acre. While Wyoming’s deposits may not be as rich as Colorado’s or Utah’s, there is strong potential for a viable oil shale industry in Wyoming. In June 2009 Anadarko Petroleum, in partnership with Earth Search Sciences and General Synfuels, announced a 160-acre pilot project in Sweetwater County about 35-miles south of Rock Springs, WY. They will be researching and perfecting a low-surface impact and energy self-sufficient gasification technology which consumes no outside water for its processes.