Oil Shale Resources

Oil Shale

Not to be confused with shale oil, which is oil produced via horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing, oil shale must be heated to high temperatures to convert the organic matter (kerogen) into usable oil.

Shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of mud containing clays and silt-size particles of other minerals. Some shale can also contain significant amounts (5% or more) of organic matter—the fossil remains of protozoans, microscopic animals, or plants—called kerogen. When kerogen-bearing shale is buried deeply enough and for millions of years, the natural heat and pressure of the Earth can convert the kerogen to oil (and/or gas).

However, in Utah’s oil-shale deposits, much of the kerogen-bearing rock is close to the surface and therefore has not yet generated hydrocarbons. The oil industry has for years attempted to develop economic techniques to artificially “cook” the kerogen, thus speeding up the process from millions of years to days.

Utah’s oil-shale deposits are located in the Uinta Basin of northeastern Utah. The estimated in-ground resources are over 300 billion barrels of oil—some of the largest oil-shale resources in the world.

Utah oil shale was deposited as organic-rich sediments in a freshwater lake (Lake Uinta) about 50 million years ago. These deposits are found exposed around the Uinta Basin’s rim in the Green River Formation—also a major oil and gas producer in the subsurface of the basin. Potential Green River Formation oil shale reserves based on 30 gallons per ton of rock are almost 20 billion barrels of oil.

Currently, only a few companies are pursuing oil shale development in Utah, all focusing on near surface deposits in the southeastern part of the resource.

Survey Notes Articles

Oil Shale vs. Shale Oil: What’s The Difference?
Survey Notes, v. 44 no. 3, September 2012

Exploring Utah’s Other Great Lake
Survey Notes, v. 43 no. 2, May 2011

Energy News: Evaluating Utah’s Oil Shale Resource
Survey Notes, v. 41 no. 1, January 2009

Utah likely to be a key player in future oil shale development
Survey Notes, v.38, no.1., January 2006

Projects

Uinta Basin Water Study
Water-Related Issues Affecting Conventional Oil and Gas Recovery and Potential Oil Shale Development in the Uinta Basin, Utah

Presentations

Basin-wide evaluation of the uppermost Green River Formation’s oil-shale resource, Uinta Basin, Utah and Colorado

Michael Vanden Berg, Utah Geological Survey
Presented at the 28th Oil Shale Symposium, November 2008.

pdf pdf file from PowerPoint (3MB)

Utah’s Oil Shale Deposits: Stratigraphy and Resource Evaluation

Michael Vanden Berg, Utah Geological Survey
Presented at the 27th Oil Shale Symposium, October 2007.

pdf pdf file from PowerPoint (3MB)

Re-examination of Utah’s oil shale deposits: Historical database and new resource evaluation

Michael D. Vanden Berg and David E. Tabet, Utah Geological Survey
Presented at the GSA – Rocky Mountain Section, May 2007.

pdf pdf file from PowerPoint (2MB)
Posters

Basin-wide evaluation of the uppermost Green River Formation’s oil shale resource, Uinta Basin, Utah and Colorado

Michael D. Vanden Berg, Utah Geological Survey
Presented at the AAPG Annual Conference, Denver, CO, June 2009

pdf pdf file, Poster panel 1 (4MB)
pdf pdf file, Poster panel 2 (18MB)

Utah’s Oil Shale Deposits: Stratigraphy and Resource Evaluation

Michael Vanden Berg and David Tabet, Utah Geological Survey
Presented at the AAPG-RMS, Snowbird, Utah, October 2007.

pdf pdf file, Poster part 1 (7MB)
pdf pdf file, Poster part 2 (2MB)

Re-examination of Utah’s oil shale resources: Historical database and new research

Michael Vanden Berg and David Tabet, Utah Geological Survey
Presented at the 26th Oil Shale Symposium, Colorado School of Mines, 2006.

pdf pdf file (3MB)
Publications

Basin-wide evaluation of the uppermost Green River Formation’s oil-shale resource, Uinta Basin, Utah and Coloradoby Michael D. Vanden Berg, 2008, Special Study 128 (pdf)
Plate 1. Isopach and overburden thickness for a continuous interval averaging 50 gallons per ton of rock (pdf)
Plate 2. Isopach and overburden thickness for a continuous interval averaging 35 gallons per ton of rock (pdf)
Plate 3. Isopach and overburden thickness for a continuous interval averaging 25 gallons per ton of rock (pdf)
Plate 4. Isopach and overburden thickness for a continuous interval averaging 15 gallons per ton of rock (pdf)
Plate 5. Ownership of lands containing oil-shale resources (pdf)
Plate 6. Conventional oil and natural gas fields shown with isopach and overburden thickness for a continuous interval averaging 25 gallons of oil per ton of rock (pdf)
Plate 7. BLM lands available for application for leasing under the proposed plan amendment for commercial oil-shale development in Utah (pdf)
Plate 8. Uinta Basin’s potential economic oil-shale resource (pdf)

Utah oil shale database, compiled by Michael D. Vanden Berg, John R. Dyni, and David E. Tabet, CD, 2006, OFR-469 $24.95
Summary report (pdf )
Purchase at Natural Resources Map & Bookstore.

Links