The Green River Formation, a largely vacant area of mostly federal land that covers the territory where Colorado, Utah and Wyoming come together, contains about as much recoverable oil as all the rest the world’s proven reserves combined, an auditor from the Government Accountability Office told Congress on Thursday.
The GAO testimony said that the federal government was in “a unique position to influence the development of oil shale” because the Green River deposits were mostly beneath federal land.
It also noted that developing the oil would have an environmental impact and pose “socioeconomic challenges,” that included bringing “a sizable influx of workers who along with their families put additional stress on local infrastructure” and “making planning for growth difficult for local governments.”
“The Green River Formation--an assemblage of over 1,000 feet of sedimentary rocks that lie beneath parts of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming--contains the world's largest deposits of oil shale,”Anu K. Mittal, the GAO’s director of natural resources and environment said in written testimony submitted to the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
“USGS estimates that the Green River Formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil, and about half of this may be recoverable, depending on available technology and economic conditions,” Mittal testified.
“The Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, estimates that 30 to 60 percent of the oil shale in the Green River Formation can be recovered,” Mittal told the subcommittee. “At the midpoint of this estimate, almost half of the 3 trillion barrels of oil would be recoverable. This is an amount about equal to the entire world's proven oil reserves.”
In her oral statement before the subcommittee, Mittal said that developing the shale oil would create wealth and jobs for the country, but also challenges for government.
“Being able to tap this vast amount of oil locked within this formation will go a long way to help to meet our future demands for oil. The U.S. Geological Survey, as you noted, estimates that the formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil of which half may be recoverable,” she said.
“As you can imagine having the technology to develop this vast energy resource will lead to a number of important socioeconomic benefits including the creation of jobs, increases in wealth and increases in tax and royalty payments for federal and state governments,” she said.
“While large-scale oil-shale development offers socioeconomic opportunities it also poses certain socioeconomic challenges that also should not be overlooked,” she testified. “Oil shale development like other extractive industries can bring a sizable influx of workers who along with their families put additional stressed on local infrastructure. Development from expansion of extractive industries has historically followed a boom-and-bust cycle making planning for growth difficult for local governments.”
In her written testimony, Mittal noted that three-fourths of the Green River shale oil is under federal land.
“The federal government is in a unique position to influence the development of oil shale because nearly three-quarters of the oil shale within the Green River Formation lies beneath federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior’s (Interior) Bureau of Land Management (BLM),” she testified.
The GAO also cited potential environmental impacts from producing oil from the Green River shale that included the need to draw large amounts of water, possible harm to water quality, and temporary degradation of air quality and the clearing of large amounts of vegetation.
"Developing oil shale and providing power for oil shale operations and other activities will require large amounts of water and could have significant impacts on the quality and quantity of surface and groundwater resources," Mittal said in her written testimony. "In addition, construction and mining activities during development can temporarily degrade air quality in local areas. There can also be long-term regional increases in air pollutants from oil shale processing and the generation of additional electricity to power oil shale development operations. Oil shale operations will also require the clearing of large surface areas of topsoil and vegetation which can affect wildlife habitat, and the withdrawal of large quantities of surface water which could also negatively impact aquatic life."