U.S. Oil Shale History

Over the past 100 years there have been projects designed and built that have demonstrated different retorting technologies to produce liquid oil and natural gas from our domestic oil shale rocks.

Many of these were demonstrated successfully and could be employed in large, commercial operations, when it becomes economical to do so.

Photo: Oil shale, Colorado
Fischer Assay Test Apparatus – Used to determine oil and water quantity of shale deposits.

While conventional oil remains plentiful and inexpensive, oil shale will remain on the sidelines waiting for the price of oil to increase, making it economical to develop. Or, alternatively, the government someday recognizes the need to develop oil shale for national and economic security reasons and designs a program to encourage industry to construct oil shale plants.

Sometimes these occurred due to our known oil fields being depleted and sometimes it was because of international tensions that reduced our access to imported oil.  During these times of oil supply disruptions, the nation has looked at its domestic oil shale resources as the answer and the government initiated huge programs to get oil shale commercially developed. But then the oil shortage problems would disappear, either because new deposits of conventional oil were discovered, or the trade disputes were resolved, and imports could be resumed. When this happened interest in developing oil shale would dissipate until the next time an oil shortage occurred; this has resulted in “boom-and-bust cycles” that have caused some communities to distrust anything related to oil shale. There are historical accounts that record the U.S. oil shale activities over the past 100 years. 

NOSA’s mission is to continue emphasizing the significance of this large domestic oil shale resource that should be developed in the future to fuel the nation’s economy and strengthen our national defense. Now, while we have abundant conventional oil, the nation should prudently continue working on long-term plans to develop oil shale. Demonstration plants should be built and operated to answer technical and environmental questions and show the world that the U.S. can process oil shale economically to supply its domestic needs when required. By doing this, the U.S. can lessen the threats from our foreign adversaries that might want to cut off oil supplies to the U.S. or raise oil prices as a political ploy.