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Advancing Utah's Energy Future
In Utah, scaled-down oil shale dreams still alive

Unconventional Energy

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Utah contains some of world’s most abundant unconventional energy resources, including oil shale and oil sands. The development of these resources could greatly enhance our region (and nation’s) economy, and energy security.

Quick Facts:

  • The greatest-known reserves of oil shale in the world are found in the Green River Formation, containing roughly 3.15 trillion barrels.
  • Utah Geological Survey estimates 77 billion barrels of oil located in north-central Utah could potentially be extracted.
  • Utah holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil sands, with 23-28 billion barrels of in-place potential

In addition, the state also boasts a robust energy research and development (R&D) force for advanced energy systems, including hybrid technologies such as combined heat and power, and waste heat recovery.  Utah is also home to several premier research institutes leading the way on nuclear research.

Oil Shale

Often referred to as “the rock that burns,” oil shale contains a high concentration of kerogen that ignites when exposed to sufficient heat. When oil shale is processed in a controlled system, liquid shale oil can be separated, and refined into fuel.

While deposits of oil shale are found in various locations around the world, the greatest known deposits are found in the Green River Formation and nearby parts of Wyoming and Colorado. According to the United States Geologic Survey, the area contains roughly 1.8 trillion barrels of oil. Taking into consideration current constraints on oil shale development, the Utah Geological Survey has estimated that roughly 77 billion barrels, located in north-central Utah’s oil shale, could be potentially extracted economically.

Commercial oil shale projects have been operating in Estonia, Brazil, China and other countries for decades producing tens of thousands of barrels of oil annually. Utah is working with a number of companies on state and private lands to deploy new technologies that have the potential of greatly reducing the environmental impact of producing oil from oil shale.

Oil Sands

Oil sands continue to play an increasingly important part in satisfying the world’s demand for liquid fuels. Utah’s oil sands, located in the Uinta Basin, contain an estimated 15 billion barrels of in-place oil, with an additional estimated potential of 23-28 billion barrels. Historically, oil sands have been incorrectly referred to as tar sands – however, oil sand deposits are naturally occuring, while tar is a man-made product synthetically produced though hydrocarbon degradation.

Consisting of a mixture of clay, sand, water, and bitumen (heavy black oil), Utah’s oil sands contain 90 percent less sulfur than the deposits found in Canada, whose majority of petroleum is produced from oil sands. Oil sands require the application of heat to allow the oil to flow, and new projects underway in the Uinta Basin are aiming to greatly reduce the environmental impact of commercial-scale oil sands development.

Advanced Energy Systems

Utah is fortunate including hybrid systems that combine the use of two or more forms of energy resulting in a more efficient system – such as Combined Heat and Power, and Waste Heat Recovery.

  • Combined Heat and Power systems, also known as co-generation, generate electricity and useful thermal energy in a single, integrated system.  Rio Tinto Kennecott’s refinery CHP system helps meet some of the thermal and electrical base loads.
  • Waste Heat Recovery units are energy recovery heat exchangers that recover heat from hot streams with potential high energy content – such as hot flue gases from a diesel generator, steam from cooling towers, or waste water from steel cooling.  Houwelling’s Tomatoes, located in Mona, houses a state-of-the-art unit to heat their greenhouses with waste heat from a nearby natural gas-fired electrical generation facility.

The Utah Heat and Power Working Group is dedicated to advancing opportunities for combined heat and power, waste heat recover and industrial efficiency.  Members meet on a regular basis and represent the interests and views of stakeholders from broad sectors of the State.  Click here to join.


Utah’s below renowned research institutes are actively engaged in a number of nuclear science initiatives:


BYU _Center






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