Digging for oil? They're trying it in the Basin
People drill for oil, but can they mine for it?
The answer is yes as oil shale and tar sands development begin to take place in earnest just over the ridge Carbon County residents call the Book Cliffs.
Red Leaf Resources is preparing to now go into full commercial development and production about 40 miles southwest of Vernal, and the process for getting the oil out of oil shale is by extracting it from the ground, putting the rock into cells, applying 900 degree temperatures, at which point after 210 days, oil of different grades, water and gases that could be captured to continue the heating process come out of the rock.
As graders and earth haulers were scraping the ground around the test facility last week, getting ready to install new cells to produce the extracts, project manager Les Thompson said that he hopes the road known in the Uintah Basin as Seep Ridge Road is soon extended from the Uintah County line to I-70. Not only then could the company be closer to a rail line to transport oil but they could also utilize the work force that is situated (a group that understands mining) in Emery and Carbon Counties.
"If those miners could get here, we can use that workforce to help us mine this shale," he said. "Right now there is no viable way for them to out site."
The drive right now from Carbon County to the site would take about three and a half hours one way. With that road installed it could be as little as two hours.
At this point the road is a two lane highway from U.S. 40 about 14 miles west of Vernal to the Uintah/Grand County line. The road, improved and paved only a few years ago by the Uintah County Special Transportation District, is now viable for all kinds of travel, unlike how it was when oil and gas development in the area first began in a big way.
"If you went down that road in the days before the project you had to have a couple of spare tires and plan on a long trip," said Adam Massey, the head of the district.
Beyond the pavement the roads that span out are all like the old road used to be and for many reasons could not handle much traffic safely or efficiently. The part of the road that is now paved has made the energy development much more viable.
The costs of building the road all the way through the Book Cliffs north of Moab, however, is more than the construction money it would take to do that. That money could be secured. It is, instead, the environmental concerns and worries that one of the last and least developed places in the continental United States, would then become accessed more easily by not only industry, but by recreationists and tourists. While some see this as a bad thing others see it as a good thing.
While many people think that such a highway would go through Sego Canyon and then on to Thompson, most officials say they are looking at the road going through Hay Canyon, east of Sego instead. Environmental and historical cultural treasure concerns lead the list as to why Sego would not be a good choice they say.
Grand County has to be involved in any such planning. For years officials there have thought about the possibility of a road, but in the past the county commission then council turned down even looking at such a possibility. However things seem to be changing in Moab.
According to a story printed in the Moab Times-Independent on July 3, the Grand County Transportation and Special Service District has appropriated $10,000 as a contribution to a study concerning both a road and a pipleline from the Uinta Basin. The entire study is expected to cost around $645,000 with about $300,000 coming from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The Uinta Basin district would be putting in about $220,000 for the study. According to the Times-Independent article the study would decide if a route is viable, and what the environmental impacts may be.
While the study has not been done, early estimates put the cost of building such a highway at about $140 million (through the Hay Canyon route). It is believed a Sego Canyon route would cost more than twice that much.