A boom in oil production Utah has increased the state’s output to the highest level in 25 years, but that rising tide also is giving a lift to more exotic plays: petroleum trapped in sand and hard shale rock.
Eastern Utah has the largest oil sands formation in the U.S. as well as extensive oil shale rock resources—not to be confused with the shale oil extracted from the Bakken formation astride the North Dakota and Saskatchewan border. These have never been economically viable in the U.S., but a combination of advances in technology and higher crude prices has led to several new proposals for open pit mines in and around the sagebrush-covered Uinta Basin.
Among the most aggressive proponents are Calgary–based US Oil Sands Inc. and Enefit American Oil, the U.S. unit of Estonia’s state-run utility. But both companies’ projects have triggered fierce opposition from environmental groups and a healthy dose of skepticism from critics who doubt their viability.