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This "box cut" at the Enefit project site in Utah south of Vernal was made several years ago to gather a bulk sample of the oil shale for testing. More than 600 tons of the rock have already been collected and several thousand tons more will be collected for testing this year.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management's Vernal Field Office released its final environmental impact statement on Friday for a proposed utility corridor to support what could be the nation's largest commercial oil shale mining project.

Mary Archbold
Enefit oil shale project site Amy Joi O'Donoghue

Enefit American Oil plans to develop operations encompassing 7,000 to 9,000 acres of commercial oil shale mining and retorting in eastern Uintah County near the Colorado border. The land is private or land owned by the Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

The "South Project" is on a 30,000-acre oil shale property, one of the largest tracts of privately owned oil shale property in the United States, according to the BLM. It covers 13,441 acres of oil shale containing an estimated 1.2 billion barrels of shale oil.

The actual utility corridor involves some land controlled by the BLM, which is reviewing the potential grant of five rights-of-way to Enefit American Oil and the Moon Lake Electric Association. It would supply natural gas, electrical power, water, and other needed infrastructure through one or more utility corridors to produce and deliver shale oil.

Under the proposal, project proponents would construct 19 miles of water supply pipeline, 9 miles of natural gas supply lines, 11 miles of oil product line and 30 miles of 138-kilovolt power lines. It also involves 6 miles of Dragon Road upgrading and pavement.

The BLM, in its analysis, pointed out it has no decision-making authority on the South Project because it does not involve federal land.

It noted that full build-out of the South Project would occur regardless of the proposed utility corridor because Enefit already has vehicle access to its land, water can be trucked into the South Project site, and product can be trucked out

Rikki Hrenko, CEO of Enefit American Oil.

Enefit anticipates producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day over the 30-year life of the mine site, which is in the Green River Formation that holds the world's richest, most concentrated oil shale deposits.

As much as 1 trillion barrels of oil equivalent are within the formation, which by comparison is four times the amount of proven oil reserves in Saudia Arabia. Not all of it is recoverable, however.

Enefit American Oil's parent company in Estonia is the world's largest producer of oil and electricity from oil shale, providing over 90 percent of the country's energy demand through oil shale thermal power plants.

The company, on its website, said it expects it could meet one-third of Utah's demand of liquid fuels when the South Project is fully operational.

Comments will be accepted on the final environmental impact statement beginning Friday through July 2.

In a company statement, Enefit said it expects approval of the utility corridor project if no unforeseen or last-minute issues surface from the public comment period.

While appeals are expected, the company added it believes those concerns were resolved through the environmental review process.

Groups such as Western Resource Advocates and the Center for Biological Diversity are opposed to developing oil shale resources because of their carbon emissions and environmental impacts from the mining.

The project has been under development and permitting for years and no formal mine plan has been submitted to state regulators.

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But Rob Simmons, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, said if Enefit's project in Utah proves successful, its mining operations will be the largest of its kind in the country.

"The cool story about Enefit is they are one of the world's foremost experts, if not the most, when it comes to oil shale."

Oil shale is a sedimentary rock that contains up to 50 percent organic matter rich in hydrogen that is known as kerogen. The extracted rock can be processed to produce shale oil, which in turn can be refined into gasoline, diesel or jet fuels.