Executive: Oil shale on brink of ‘renaissance’

GOLDEN — Technical advances in the development of oil shale as an energy resource have rendered the rock capable of being used to drive the modern economy, the executive director of the National Oil Shale Association said Monday.

“I think we are on the brink of seeing a renaissance in the oil shale business,” Glenn Vawter, a 1960 graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, told the 31st annual Oil Shale Symposium at the same school.

Growing demand for petroleum-based fuels combined with technological advances are driving the dreams of geologists and petroleum engineers into an industry, Vawter said.

At the same time, however, he noted that he was not the first to give voice to such sentiments.

Oil shale “has passed the experimental stage and has arrived,” Vawter said, quoting Victor C. Alderson, president of the School of Mines, in 1919.

This time, however, is different than that of a nearly a century ago, because of the burgeoning demand for fuels worldwide and advances in technology, Vawter said.

Just as the oil and natural gas industries have been transformed by hydraulic fracturing, resulting in large amounts of energy previously considered impossible to harness, oil shale is being developed as a result of technical development, he said.

Water, for instance, long considered an insurmountable barrier to development, is less so as a result of advances that have reduced its need.

An industry could be built on 120,000 acre feet of water, or about 2 percent of the water that flows into Lake Powell on average each year, Vawter said. Many oil shale companies already have the rights to that water, he noted.

Uncertain and contradictory federal policies, however, have slowed the development of oil shale, he said, noting that the federal government has reduced course several times over the last 40 years. That’s significant because the federal government controls 80 percent of the oil shale trapped in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The symposium continues through Wednesday in Golden and some participants will visit oil shale projects in western Colorado and eastern Utah.


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