Companies Eagerly Look into Oil-Shale Mining

Companies Eagerly Look into Oil-Shale Mining

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John Hollenhorst ReportingWith gas prices bouncing around at record levels, what better time to develop a whole new source of oil? It's helped fuel a burst of interest in the oil-shale deposits in Eastern Utah and neighboring states. 19 companies have filed for permission to try new technologies.

A huge, expensive and thoroughly abandoned mining complex shows just how tough it is to make a nickel from oil-shale. So why would anyone apply for the right to try again?

Jim Kohler, U.S. Bureau of Land Management: "There was a 2,000 dollar application fee. That would scare away at least some of the faint of heart."

The big lure in the dry landscape along the Utah-Colorado border is a deposit of energy so huge it may compare with Saudi Arabia. At least 19 companies, some big, some small, including one called Oil-Tech, have jumped into the race, hoping to vault over the technical hurdle that has killed off many previous dreams.

Jim Kohler: "The amount of energy it takes to produce a barrel of oil. If it takes more energy or more costs than that barrel of oil is worth, then it obviously will never make it."

The BLM solicited research and development proposals and got 19 -- 10 in Colorado, one in Wyoming, eight in Utah on federal land south of Vernal. A ninth may be added later. They’re 19 experimental concepts offering a new approach to the technological problem.

Jim Kohler; “It’s new in the sense it’s unproven. But it is concepts that have been around a few years.”

History would suggest that a cold shower might be in order for certain politicians and promoters who claim that eastern Utah could become the next Persian Gulf.

Jim Kohler: “We’ve been on the brink of having oil shale here many times in the past.”

As long ago as the 1920's promoters were saying the oil-shale breakthrough "is just around the corner.' An inter-agency task force will soon begin sorting through the proposals. It's expected they'll approve a few of the best and give the go-ahead for small-scale mining and experimental production.

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