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Oil Shale Plan Threatens Massive Climate Pollution

White River, near the Enefit project area.

White River, north of the Enefit project area.

Ray Bloxham / Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

What’s at Stake

The climate pollution will be destructive. Producing and burning a gallon of shale oil requires up to about 40% more energy (and thus carbon pollution) than a gallon of conventional oil—more even than notoriously dirty oil sands.

Enefit proposes to use up to 100 billion gallons of water from the already overtaxed Upper Colorado River Basin, an arid region that likely will only get hotter and drier due to climate change.


The Bureau of Land Management is moving forward to grant utility rights-of-way to Enefit American Oil, a subsidiary of Estonian government-owned Eesti Energia.

Enefit seeks to strip-mine 9,000 acres for oil shale near the Green and White rivers, and ultimately expand its operations to process up to 1.2 billion barrels of kerogen oil.

Earthjustice is among fourteen conservation groups that have submitted formal comments to the BLM’s Vernal Field Office urging the Obama administration to deny rights-of-way across federal public lands that would allow an Estonian energy giant to sidestep environmental review and pave the way for the first commercial oil shale project in the United States, north of Utah’s scenic Book Cliffs. The groups also delivered more than 35,000 comments from citizens opposed to the project.

The proposed facility will be located in the Uinta Basin, approximately 12 miles southeast of Bonanza in Uintah County, Utah, near the Green and White Rivers. The project is designed to develop oil shale mining and a shale oil production complex, at full build-out producing about 28 million tons of raw oil shale ore rock per day and 50,000 barrels per day of refinery-ready shale oil from the Green River Formation.

The groups argue the BLM would be allowing Enefit to sidestep critical environmental reviews designed to protect public health, land, air, water, and wildlife. The company has yet to reveal a development plan for its mining project, but requests approval for its rights-of-way nonetheless.

The BLM lacks critical information it needs to assess whether or not the project is in the public interest, including the long-term air quality and climate impacts of emissions from mining and processing; the quantity and source of water required; water-quality impacts related to the estimated 23 million tons of spent shale waste a year the project would produce; and potential consequences for endangered species.

What oil shale mining has done to Estonia:

A closed oil-shale mine in Ida-Viru County, Estonia, has left an impressive footprint in the middle of the forest—a towering, 200 ft. mountain of limestone. There are more than 36 million tons of this material at the site. Limestone rubble is a by-product or overage of oil shale mining.

Case ID


Case Updates

August 16, 2016 | Blog Post

Testing Obama's Climate Commitment In the Utah Desert

How the Obama administration responds to a precedent setting proposal for oil shale mining in Utah poses a key test for the president’s climate commitments ratified in Paris last year.