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The push to develop Utah's oil shale resources steps into a new phase this month as an Estonian firm seeks permission to build a 19.5-mile utility corridor from its project area in eastern Uintah County to a power plant and an existing oil pipeline.
Enefit American Oil, a Utah-based subsidiary of the energy company that is headquartered in the tiny Baltic nation, hopes to begin mining and building a shale-processing plant in 2016 and piping 25,000 barrels of daily crude to Salt Lake City refineries by 2020, according to CEO Rikki Hrenko.
"It doesn't come overnight, there's a lot of work to be done, but we're moving forward," said Hrenko, whose firm acquired the shale assets of OSEC two years ago. Enefit is seeking to become the first company to turn a profit on Utah oil shale, which exists in great abundance but has yet to yield commercially viable petroleum after decades of trying.
The Bureau of Land Management has initiated an environmental review of the right-of-way Enefit needs for its proposed utility corridor, which would connect its mine and processing plant to the Bonanza Power Plant outside Vernal. The corridor would also carry a 16-inch pipeline to Chevron's east-to-west line that runs 11.5 miles north of the mine, as well as an 8-inch natural gas line, a 30-inch water line and a second 138-kilovolt power line. The pipelines would run underground.
"We need power and water to construct the facility. Right now it's completely [undeveloped]. The lines go into together all in one right-of-way so we have minimal disturbance," Hrenko said.
BLM will host public "scoping" meetings Tuesday in Vernal and Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
Utah political leaders are eager to see oil shale and tar sands tapped, but environmentalists remain skeptical of the "unconventional" energy development's impacts on the landscape, air quality and water resources. Critics like Western Resources Advocates suspect getting oil from shale could consume as much energy as it would yield and "will create far more problems than it will solve."
Enefit's process requires strip mining and heating kerogen-bearing ore, which emits greenhouse gases as the solid hydrocarbons embedded in the rock vaporize.
But Hrenko stressed that Enefit's "retort" process uses no water, although some will be needed for dust control and returning spent shale to the mine for reclamation. She assured that the reclaimed mine will be contoured to fit the natural topography and reclamation will proceed quickly so that the mine pit will never be larger than a few hundred acres.
The company said it believes it can recover up to 2.6 billion barrels from its Utah holdings, which underlie private, state and federal land. The first phase targets 13,000 acres of private leasehold on the south end of the project area.
At full development, the project will produce 50,000 barrels a day for 30 years, keeping 3,000 people employed, Hrenko said. This volume of oil represents one-third of Utah's current demand. Meanwhile, Enefit expects to tap waste heat from its retort process to generate electricity.
"It's an extremely efficient process where we produce all the power to operate the project and we'll put power into the grid," Hrenko said.
Enefit oil shale project meetings
The BLM hosts meetings Tuesday in Vernal and Wednesday in Salt Lake City to discuss plans by oil shale developer Enefit American Oil to build a 19.5-mile utility corridor, connecting its eastern Uintah County project area with existing infrastructure to the north.
Tuesday • Vernal City Hall, 6 to 8 p.m.
Wednesday • Salt Lake City Public Library, Level 4 conference room, 6 to 8 p.m.