Exploration and Production Technologies
Unconventional Resource Development


The objectives of this project are to encourage the development of U.S. oil shale and oil sands resources by creating an information website and conducting applied research that would be of general benefit in making oil sands/oil shale a viable energy resource for the United States.

National Energy Technology Laboratory
Morgantown, WV

In-house research has provided analysis of unconventional oil resources, including the evaluation of novel technological production methods.

NETL resources are used to provide technical and economic assessment on unconventional oil resources for the public.

U.S. oil resources can meet domestic needs throughout the 21st Century, if unconventional resources are developed to supplement conventional resources.

One of those unconventional resources is oil sands. Even the most conservative estimate of domestic oil sands resources indicates that they hold 40 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil available, compared with the 22.4 billion barrels of proven domestic oil reserves. A vast amount of research has been done on oil sands in the U.S.; however, little has been done to use this knowledge.

Domestic oil shale reserves dwarf oil sands resources by two orders of magnitude, but the oil shale hydrocarbons (kerogens) require much more extensive processing than oil sands.

Researchers have:

  • Developed an outline implementation plan for a web-based unconventional oil resources (UOR), production, and processing data repository (April 2004).
  • Compiled a bibliography of DOE-funded work for a UOR repository (September 2004).
  • Worked through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to assess a non-thermal oil sands recovery process (September 2004)
  • Report to Congress on a retrospective look at oil shale technology and assessed cost, economics, and environmental issues for developing a domestic oil shale industry (January 2005).
In addition, NETL researchers will work with U.S. and Canadian organizations on applied research that would be of general benefit in making oil sands/oil shale a viable energy resource for the United States. The Alberta Energy Research Institute and Western Research Institute are two organizations that will be consulted for developing potential experimental work. An experimental plan will be developed and submitted to NETL.

Current Status (July 2006) 
Accomplishments in FY 2006 have included:

  • Distribution of a CD containing a bibliography of repository information at the 2006 SPE/DOE IOR meeting in Tulsa, OK (April 2006).
  • Work on a model platform for an in-situ heating process (September 2006).
  • Identifying regions with high oil sands potential in the United States and identifying data gaps (September, 2006).

Funding This project was selected through the NETL In-House Research Program. Two tasks were cancelled and sent to the NETL University Consortium for funding ($100k).

Project Start: February 1, 2004 
Project End: September 30, 2006

Anticipated DOE Contribution: $685,000

Contact Information 
NETL – Sue Mehlhoff (sue.mehlhoff@netl.doe.gov or 918-699-2044) 
NETL – Larry Shadle (lawrence.shadle@netl.doe.gov or 304-285-4647)

Distribution of oil shale resources in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.