Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah has a new player looking to unlock the Uinta Basin’s Eocene bounty of oil shale.
London-based TomCo Energy on Monday filed papers with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining proposing large mining operations on state land in the southeast corner of Uintah County.
TomCo licensed a new extraction technology from Red Leaf Resources, which has recently lined up its permits and expects to begin mining Uinta Basin shale this spring. If successful, Red Leaf’s mine near Seep Ridge would be the nation’s first commercial oil shale operation after a century of attempts.
Red Leaf’s EcoShale method places hydrocarbon-bearing ore in lined pits where it is cooked at 725 degrees for 210 days. The process converts, or “retorts,” solid kerogen — found in a slice of the Green River Formation that geologists call the Mahogany Ledge — into liquid petroleum.
“It is more environmentally friendly, requires less water, has less emissions and the quality of the oil is better,” said TomCo publicist Ed Portman, comparing the EcoShale process with an established shale retort process proposed elsewhere in the basin.
Enefit American Oil, a state-owned Estonian company, hopes to operate such a retort plant to work shale extracted on private land not far from TomCo’s leasehold near the Colorado state line.
But environmentalists vow to fight development of Utah’s vast oil shale resource, which some believe is an unacceptably dirty fossil fuel source regardless of how it’s processed.
This is because the shale must be strip mined, then heated to high temperatures, thus spewing far more greenhouse gases than conventional oil extraction. The EcoShale method could contaminate groundwater, according to environmental groups that intend to appeal the state Division of Water Quality’s recent Red Leaf permit. (…)