Oil Shale: 14 Unanswered Questions

This report summarizes research and policy documents, and provides a brief overview of the status of oil shale development in the U.S. West.

Update: Oil Shale’s Challenges Merit Further Review (Feb., 2011), a two-page summary of why continued research, review, and public comment is necessary.

The full report (“14 Unanswered Questions,” updated Jan., 2010) summarizes recent research and policy documents, and provides a brief overview of the current state of oil shale development in the U.S. West. We conclude there are at least 14 unanswered questions about the viability of oil shale production at a commercial-scale. Answering these questions will be crucial to making informed decisions about the future of the industry and the relationship between its impacts and benefits.

Recent high crude oil prices, anticipation of a peak oil crisis, and a focus on developing domestic sources of fossil fuel have contributed to a renewed interest in mining and processing the oil shale found in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado to yield a crude oil substitute. The development of a commercial-scale industry remains a tenuous proposition due to a number of technical, environmental, regulatory, and economic challenges. The viability of oil shale development relies on major assumptions regarding the industry’s ability to overcome these and other obstacles.