As it looks more and more likely that the Keystone XL pipeline will be rejected, it may actually turn out that the US can develop their own tar sands. Yesterday the Department of Energy unveiled a new technology that can be used to make US oil sands and heavy oil economically viable for refining.
If the new technology proves a success it could encourage a mining boom of shale oil in the Green River Basin in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, as well as enable oil companies to extract heavy oil that has been left in oil fields along the North Shore of Alaska and off the coast of California.
Jenny Hakun, a spokeswoman for the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, stated that “estimates for the U.S. heavy oil resource total about 104 billion barrels of oil in place — nearly five times the United States’ proved reserves. Although no commercial-scale development of U.S. oil sands or oil shale has yet occurred, both represent another potential future domestic unconventional oil resource.” (Related article: Are Canadian Oil Policies Misguided?)
The problem with heavy oil is that it is too viscous to flow through pipes, and too contaminated with sulphur and heavy metals to be refined. This was traditionally solved by saturating the oil with hydrogen, but this was always too expensive to make the extraction of heavy oil a viable business. This new technology uses alkali metals to extract he heavy metals and sulphur in a much cheaper manner.
It was developed by Ceramatec of Utah who said that “the Green River Basin shale oil resource contains over one trillion barrels,” and they hope that “this technology may contribute toward developing this important energy resource and reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil supplies.”