Exploration and Production Technologies

Utah Heavy Oil Program


The goal of the Utah Heavy Oil Program (UHOP) is to provide research support to federal and state constituents for addressing the wide-ranging issues surrounding the creation of an industry for unconventional oil production in the United States.

University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States had an active program in oil shale research. Most of that research was scaled back or abandoned because of the subsequent availability of crude oil at much lower costs. With energy security becoming an important priority again, there is an increased interest in advancing an oil shale industry in the United States.

Information obtained on U.S. unconventional oil resources is dated, and economics, markets, and prospects for production have changed. Today, there is a growing awareness of the limitations on conventional petroleum supply, as well as the need for development of energy-efficient unconventional resources.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) directed UHOP to complete an update to the 1987 technical and economic assessment of domestic heavy oil resources that was prepared by Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). The update is to include publicly available information and data already compiled by groups such as NETL, as part of its Unconventional Oil Resources Project, and the Canadian work on oil sands in Alberta. It will also include an analysis of available resources, discussion of the state-of-the-art production and processing technologies, and economics of utilization and environmental impacts. A publicly accessible online repository will be developed that is highly searchable and accessible to the unconventional oil community and other interested parties.

UHOP also supports Center-based research geared toward promoting the economic and environmentally safe development of the Nation’s unconventional oil resources. The center’s research will be broad and interdisciplinary in nature and will involve researchers from many departments and colleges at the University of Utah and elsewhere. It will encompass technical challenges, such as materials processing, fuel extraction, and fuel processing, as well as societal issues such as environmental impacts, water consumption, land use, law, and economics.

Close-up of fractured oil shale specimen from the Uinta Basin, Utah, showing weathered (white) and unweathered (black) surfaces. Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

New sources of hydrocarbons are needed to meet increasing U.S. demand for oil. Unconventional oil has the potential to increase domestic oil production, thereby filling at least part of America’s growing oil demand. The center’s mission is to provide research support to Federal and State constituents for addressing the issues surrounding the creation of an industry for unconventional oil production in the United States—including heavy oil, tar sands (oil sands), and oil shale. This support will accelerate the cost-effective and environmentally safe development of unconventional oil resources.

The heavy oil resources report [PDF] was completed in September 2007. Over 1,000 copies of the publication have been printed and distributed throughout North America. The online repository, essentially an online library containing scientific papers related to heavy oil, tar sands, and oil shale, has been completed and is available for public use. The repository is fully searchable by resource, geographic region, author, title, and key word. There is also a geographical interface that allows users to see resources by geographic region on a map server, and then get related papers from that area. The repository may be accessed at http://ds.heavyoil.utah.edu/dspace/index.jsp.

In early 2007, the UHOP issued a request for Center-sponsored research. Eleven proposals were received and in April five projects were notified that they were selected for funding. Work on these five projects began in August 2007.

On February 22, 2008 UHOP hosted the Western U.S. Oil Sands Technology Transfer Meeting in Salt Lake City. This was a very successful first of its kind conference with nearly 70 participants. Information on this meeting can be found at http://www.heavyoil.utah.edu/ [external site]. On March 12, UHOP held a project meeting with DOE representatives to review the ongoing research related to this project. On February 27, 2009 the second annual Western U.S. Oil Sands Conference was held with a keynote address by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT). Participation at this conference grew to 100 attendees reflecting the growing interest in the Nation’s oil sands resource.

Current Status (January 2010)
A Webex conference meeting was held September 17, 2009 to review the final results for all Center-sponsored research activities. The Final Technical Report has been approved by DOE and contains detailed discussions for each of the Center-sponsored research efforts conducted under this project. The final report is listed below under "Additional Information".

Project Start: June 21, 2006 
Project End: October 20, 2009

DOE Contribution: $1,442,376 
Performer Contribution: $360,594 (20 percent of total)

Contact Information: 
NETL – Robert Vagnetti (Robert.vagnetti@netl.doe.gov or 304-285-1334)
U. of Utah – Philip Smith (smith@crsim.utah.edu or 801-585-3129)

Additional Information 
Quarterly Progress Report with Summaries of Center-sponsored Research Projects – October-December 2007 [PDF 591KB]

Quarterly Progress Report January - March, 2008 [PDF-189KB]

Quarterly Progress Report April - June, 2008 [PDF-845KB]

Quarterly Progress Report July - September, 2008 [PDF-750KB]

Quarterly Progress Report – October-December 2008 [PDF 2.11MB]

Quarterly Progress Report – January-March 2009 [PDF 661KB]

Quarterly Progress Report – April - June 2009 [PDF 389KB]

Quarterly Progress Report – July - September 2009 [PDF 200KB]

Final Technical Report [PDF-28.6MB]