DENVER – Trillions of barrels of potentially recoverable oil lies within the Green River Formation of Colorado and Utah, and perhaps as much or more than the current proven oil reserves for the entire world, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
In it’s May 10 report “Unconventional Oil and Gas Production: Opportunities and Challenges of Oil Shale Development” that covers testimony provided by Anu K. Mittal, Director of Natural Resources and Environment to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, the GAO updated a 2010 report, confirming that more than a trillion barrels of recoverable oil exist in the world’s largest oil shale deposits on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Mittal’s testimony began with the prospect of centuries of domestic energy production:
“Increasing domestic oil production. Being able to tap the vast amounts of oil locked within U.S. oil shale formations could go a long way toward satisfying the nation’s future oil demands. The Green River Formation—an assemblage of over 1,000 feet of sedimentary rocks that lie beneath parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming—contains the world’s largest deposits of oil shale. USGS estimates that the Green River Formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil, and about half of this may be recoverable, depending on available technology and economic conditions. The Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, estimates that 30 to 60 percent of the oil shale in the Green River Formation can be recovered. At the midpoint of this estimate, almost half of the 3 trillion barrels of oil would be recoverable. This is an amount about equal to the entire world’s proven oil reserves. [emphasis added] The thickest and richest oil shale within the Green River Formation exists in the Piceance Basin of northwest Colorado and the Uintah Basin of northeast Utah. Figure 1 shows where these prospective oil shale resources are located in Colorado and Utah.”
Mittal also concluded that socioeconomic benefits “could also yield important socioeconomic benefits, including the creation of jobs, increases in wealth, and increases in tax and royalty payments to federal and state governments for oil produced on their lands.”
The GAO testimony is careful to note the existing concern over “viable technologies” necessary to extract recoverable oil from the oil shale, as well as environmental concerns over water quantity and quality, impacts on air quality, and disruption to wildlife. Rapid socioeconomic development could falter just as quickly, as it has in the past, with an unpredictable “boom and bust” cycle.
The GAO’s best estimate of oil shale development is projected to occur at least 15-20 years from now, but notes that preparations to account for many of the environmental concerns—a factor, in part, for the longer time frame—should begin as soon as possible.
The GAO included recommendations directed at the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Services, and the Department of Energy to develop baseline measurements and inter-agency collaboration frameworks to ensure that “potential opportunities for commercial development of large unconventional oil and gas resources, such as oil shale” be undertaken in such a way to so as to “be balanced with other potential technological, environmental and socioeconomic challenges.”