”A study by the Rand Corporation estimates the sedimentary rock in the corner where Utah borders Colorado and Wyoming holds about 800 billion barrels (of oil). That's three times the size of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.”
Oil shale is trapped oil in rock, or kerogen inside of sedimentary rock, which can be turned into synthetic crude oil. It is not counted among oil reserves because it is not commercially excavated, yet, due to the (previously) heavier cost, money and environmentally, in extraction. I can be produced at $50 a barrel though, which is far preferable to the $140+ costs we have seen lately. “The chemical process of pyrolysis can convert the kerogen in oil shale into synthetic crude oil. Heating oil shale to a sufficiently high temperature will drive off a vapor which can be distilled (retorted) to yield a petroleum-like shale oil—a form of non-conventional oil—and combustible shale gas.” (Dyni) The only successful process, baking underground has been futile, includes dumping crushed oil shale into 1,000 Fahrenheit temperatures until organic material vaporizes. It takes about a ton of rock per barrel of oil, and currently one operation near the abandoned White River Mines, is putting out 24 barrels a day in this fashion. “Oil shale does not have a definite geological definition nor a specific chemical formula. Oil shales vary considerably in their mineral content, chemical composition, age, type of kerogen, and depositional history.” (Altun) Oil shale has a 5:1 EROI ratio.
”The high cost of crude oil has many people looking for new sources of energy -- and taking a second look at some old ideas. Oil shale is an idea that was tested a generation ago, then abandoned when the price of crude oil plunged.” (NPR)
You could be the next oil man
Just like Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood I’m sure the oil shale race will be just as difficult, and yet rewarding. The largest deposit of oil shale in the world is in the Rocky Mountains, The future oil capital of the world, where Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado intersect, with the highest concentration near Utah’s Green River. Bryon Merrell is the future oil man, because now that crude oil barrels are over quadruple prices a generation ago, it is now at least economical. He is innovating new technologies to commercialize oil shale as a viable energy option. He is hanging around Vernal, Utah, a town of 25,000 residents. When this business booms, it will likely reach 100-200,000 residents over a 3 year time period. Just like any other gold rush or oil rush, a barren land will see thousands migrate to get a piece of the deal.
”Exxon's announcement that it was closing its oil shale project in 1982 is still referred to as "Black Sunday."(NPR)
"It leaves huge, lasting scars, and eastern Utah, western Colorado is a landscape that heals very slowly from that type of damage," says Stephen Block, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. However, the Bureau of Land Management has said that no significant impacts were likely. The DOW and the U.S. Geological Survey also said information was inadequate on the kinds of substances that will be released.
Besides our one-man-band oil man, there are federal permits given to a few gas companies. “The Interior Department authorized 10-year leases for Shell Frontier Oil & Gas Co., Chevron USA and EGL Resources Inc. for 160-acre parcels for research and development projects in northwest Colorado.” (MSNBC) The cost has been rather cheap, at only $30 a barrel in production costs, these companies are investing about $100 million dollars per year in the innovative process. These companies are trying to resurrect the underground baking process, with 700 Fahrenheit degree temperatures.
Dyni, John R.. "Geology and resources of some world oil-shale deposits. Scientific Investigations Report 2005–5294" (PDF). . U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey
Altun, N. E. (2006). "Oil Shales in the world and Turkey; reserves, current situation and future prospects: a review" (PDF). Oil Shale. A Scientific-Technical Journal 23 (3): 211–227. Estonian Academy Publishers. ISSN 0208-189X.