Estonian oil firm could employ 2,000 in a decade, director says

GOLDEN — In little more than a decade, an Estonian company could be employing as many as 2,000 people in northeastern Utah, pulling 50,000 barrels of petroleum a day from rock.

“It’s not fiction, it’s real,” Sandor Liive, CEO of Eesti Energia, the company that supplies 90 percent of the Balkan nation’s electricity from oil shale there, said at the 31st annual Oil Shale Symposium at the Colorado School of Mines.

Liive and Rikki Hrenko, the CEO of Enefit American Oil, a wholly owned subsidiary of Enefit, the international arm of Eesti Energia, spoke in interviews and addresses to the symposium.

Enefit last spring purchased the assets of OSEC in Utah and has begun an 18-month process of establishing baseline environmental data on the 30,000 acres of land in the Uintah Basin, where oil shale resources second only to those of northwest Colorado are found.

Enefit American Oil plans to break ground in 2016 on a retort using a proprietary retort technology to heat oil shale and collect petroleum-like condensate that can be shipped to Salt Lake City for refining. Plans call for a small operation to produce 5,000 barrels a day in 2020 and for full operation of 50,000 barrels a day by 2024.

Though hailing from a small European nation, Enefit is well-positioned to take on a major development such as that it anticipates in Utah, Liive said. “We are the largest oil shale company in the world,” he said

Compared to other companies, “We’re in a different league.”

Though Eesti Energia supplies electricity to Estonia from burning shale, it also expects to produce the equivalent of 1.3 million barrels of oil in Estonia, Hrenko said.

Enefit American Oil anticipates 30 years of production from its 30,000 acres, which comprise a 160-acre research, development and demonstration lease on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, as well as state school lands and private lands and a mine.

Enefit is a perfect fit for the Utah oil shale deposit because the company has twin areas of expertise, one in retorting and the other in mining, Liive said.

Most of the Utah oil shale deposit is at or near the surface, allowing it to be mined instead of heated in place as is being contemplated in the richer, but deeper Colorado deposits.

Utah’s enthusiastic greeting for an oil shale industry also played a significant role in the company’s decision to establish American operations there, Liive said.

The company uses a dry-retorting process that means it needs no water for heating, though there are other functions that will require some water, Hrenko said.

Enefit’s break-even cost per barrel is about $60, though several factors could influence that number, Hrenko said. She declined, however, to offer an estimate of the company’s investment in the Utah project.


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