The oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming is a major energy resource for the United States. It can contribute greatly to the future energy independence of North America. Great progress has been made in oil shale research and development during the past few years in the United States. Commercial projects have operated for decades outside U.S. borders. Oil shale is on the brink of a technology renaissance similar to that being experienced in shale gas and tight oil development. But, significant challenges face a developer hoping to build a commercial oil shale project in the United States. Lack of consistent U.S. Federal policy for leasing and regulation, similar to what already exists for other minerals and oil & gas, is restraining long term investment in development. States with oil shale resources also have differing policies toward oil shale development. Millions of tons of oil shale have been mined and millions of barrels of shale oil produced around the world, including from plants here is the U.S. The experience gained from these projects gives developers an important tool to advance technology toward commercialization.
Facts about oil shale are often obscured by myths that have been perpetuated for decades by those that either wish to discredit the potential of this energy resource, or are simply misinformed. This paper will discuss the status of U.S. oil shale projects, and the political and regulatory hurdles facing the industry.
Today there is confusion about the definition of oil shale. Some are calling oil shale the impermeable rock from which liquid oil and gas is recovered using horizontal drilling and fracturing. " Tight Oil" or " Liquid Rich Shale" is a more accurate terminology describing deposits like the Bakken and Niobrara shales. This presentation deals only with the oil shale containing solid kerogen that requires heating to produce shale oil and gas.
Unlike conventional petroleum, shale oil cannot be pumped directly from the ground. It must be processed by a technique known as retorting, wherein the rock is heated to release crude shale oil, shale gas and water. Processing can be accomplished by mining the oil shale and retorting it on the surface, called ex-situ processing; by using underground methods known as in-situ recovery; or by a combination of the two methods. Crude shale oil is upgraded to remove certain impurities, such as sulfur and nitrogen, and then further processed in an oil refinery to produce gasoline, clean diesel fuel, jet fuel and other petroleum based products.