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USGS pegs Green River oil-shale at 1.5 trillion barrels

Estimates of North American oil-shale reserves keep climbing, with the US Geological Survey (USGS) claiming Wyoming’s Green River could hold as much as 1.45 trillion barrels

If so, it would be the largest oil-shale field in the US, representing about half the world’s known oil-shale reserves. The estimates are part of a continuing USGS assessment of US unconventional oil and gas resources. Almost 970 billion barrels, or 67%, are under federally administered lands.

By contrast, global reserves of conventional oil, excluding Canada’s oil sands and Venezuelan heavy oil, amounted to about 890 billion barrels in 2009, according to estimates by Oil and Gas Journal and World Oil.

There are about 600 known oil-shale deposits in the world, according a 2007 EU study, with significant resources in Russia, Africa and China. But the US is the undisputed leader, with about 2.6 trillion barrels assessed to date.

What is it?

Oil shale is a sedimentary rock that contains solid bituminous materials, called kerogen. The term is often confused with shale oil – liquids extracted from shale formations, typically through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. To extract oil shale, the rocks must be heated underground, liquefying the petroleum so it can be pumped to the surface, or the shale must be mined and transferred to a processing facility, where it is crushed and heated to separate out the hydrocarbons. Then oil is then upgraded into a product that is similar to conventional crude.

The shales were deposited in a large inland lake extending into Colorado and Utah that was formed in the Eocene era. To date, there has been no comprehensive overview of global oil-shale resources, but deposits have been found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

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