Report: Oil Shale 2050 — Data, Definitions, & Everything You Need to Know About Oil Shale in the West


Oil shale has been the next big thing here in Colorado for over a 100 years now. Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

Today Western Resource Advocates (WRA) introduced a comprehensive new report about oil shale development titled: “Oil Shale 2050: Data, Definitions & What You Need to Know About Oil Shale in the West.” This timely new analysis of oil shale in the Western United States comes just one week ahead of public meetings planned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss a new federal policy on oil shale development.*

“We looked at this issue inside and out, and based on extensive research, we can’t find a good reason why commercial oil shale development should be pursued in the West,” said David Abelson, Oil Shale Policy Advisor at WRA and the lead author of Oil Shale 2050. “Frankly, I sometimes wonder why this is even a discussion. Oil shale would foul our air and water, soak up enormous amounts of water, and disrupt local economies. And nobody has been able to come up with a viable commercial process to produce it anyway.”

Oil Shale 2050 is the first report to link water demands and regulatory frameworks with potential oil shale development, examining the history of oil shale and key data points all under one cover. The release of Oil Shale 2050 is particularly timely; the BLM is holding public meetings in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming next week to discuss proposed federal guidelines for oil shale research and development, and this report is the ideal guidebook for those discussions.

The report also comes on the heels of a late February announcement by Chevron, in which the company decided to stop working on oil shale research in order to redeploy resources towards fuel sources for which extraction technologies already exist.

“Chevron’s announcement is another in a long line of examples proving that nobody knows how to develop oil shale on a commercial scale,” said Rob Dubuc, Staff Attorney and Oil Shale Expert in WRA’s Utah office. “Oil and gas companies are abandoning oil shale research independently, yet the State of Utah is still preparing to turn over public resources for speculative development. That’s like building a factory before you know how to make the widget. It doesn’t make sense.”

Oil Shale 2050 addresses these issues and more, including:

• What is oil shale and how might it be turned into a fuel source?
• Will oil shale production ever be commercially viable?
• How would oil shale development impact the environment compared to the production of more traditional sources of fuel?
• What are the impacts of diverting large amounts of water for oil shale development? How would that impact present and future demand for water?
• How is oil shale different from shale gas and shale oil?

“Even if we could develop oil shale, we would need a larger conversation about whether we should,” said Mike Chiropolos, Chief Counsel to the Lands Program at WRA. “Annual commercial oil shale production could require one-and-a-half times the water needs of all 1.3 million Denver Water customers. Where would that water come from?”

This year may well be the most important year in the history of oil shale speculation, as upcoming decisions by the Department of the Interior and Congress will fundamentally direct the course of oil shale policy for decades. Oil Shale 2050 will be an invaluable tool for decision-makers as they plot the future allocations of Western lands and energy sources.

To download the complete report or fact sheets, go to

*The BLM is holding public meetings on oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming during the week of March 12. For a list of scheduled meetings, go to:

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):

“Water is the defining resource in the West,” Mike Chiropolos, chief counsel for Western Resource Advocates, told reporters on a conference call this week. “There is an enormous uncertainty of what the impacts are of utilizing large quantities of that supply.”

The report, “Oil Shale 2050, comes in advance of the Bureau of Land Management’s meetings in Colorado and Utah next week that ask for public feedback to the Department of Interior’s plan to dramatically scale back the acreage of lands available for oil shale and tar sands development. Federal officials are proposing to cut the Bush-era oil leasing inventory from 1.9 million acres to 462,000 for oil shale and from 431,000 acres to 91,000 for tar sands.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, however, is sponsoring H.R. 3408, the “Pioneers Act,” which would revive the Bush-era plan to open vast amounts of public lands in Utah, Wyoming and western Colorado to oil shale and tar sands production. His bill made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources last month, and House Speaker John Boehner has said oil shale revenues will partly pay for national transportation projects in the next five years.

Oil shale production, however, has yet to be proven commercially viable.

More coverage from (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). From the article:

“Oil Shale 2050,” released by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, details critical links between the resource development and its use of water in the thirsty West, as well as what the group says is an unproven technology that should be abandoned in pursuit of clean energy alternatives. “The finite research and development dollars available should be invested in clean energy solutions,” said Mike Chiropolos, the group’s chief counsel of its lands programs.

Chriopolos and two other representatives from the organization spoke to the report’s findings in a Wednesday teleconference, noting that after 100 years of trying to pull deposits from the ground, the industry is no closer to success. The trio pointed to the late February decision by Chevron to give up its experimental lease for oil shale in Colorado, instead opting to direct its three staffers on that project to work in other areas. They said they hope that sends a signal to other would-be developers.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

2 thoughts on “Report: Oil Shale 2050 — Data, Definitions, & Everything You Need to Know About Oil Shale in the West

  1. The Western Resource Advocates report, masquerading as an educational resource, is certainly one of the technically weakest summaries of oil shale I have seen, and is patently a political document from the extreme end of the spectrum on this resource. Riddled with technical errors, some quoted from people who ought to know better, it reflects what one would expect from an organization of lawyers, willing to attempt to shape what you should know about oil shale. This group steadfastly avoids technical meetings on oil shale (even in their own state), preferring to cite people with little active involvement, or selectively quote those who are engaged. It would be wise to take this report with a healthy dose of salt, as it contains a significant amount of fact-based nonsense.

    Jeremy Boak, Director
    Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research
    Colorado School of Mines
    Viewpoints are mine, not positions of the Colorado School of Mines

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