Stopping TomCo’s Commercial Development of Oil Shale with Unproven Technology

Rob Dubuc“Granting a development permit to TomCo to use unproven technology to develop oil shale puts the cart before the horse, and the state should not permit TomCo to proceed with commercial oil shale plans”

– Rob Dubuc, Western Resource Advocates’ lead attorney in this challenge to TomCo’s permit

TomCo is Seeking a Permit to Develop Highly Polluting Oil Shale, But Lacks Technology

The Oil Shale Mining Company (TomCo), a British Company with holdings on public lands in eastern Utah, has applied for a commercial-scale permit to develop oil shale. Oil shale is neither oil nor gas. Oil shale is kerogen, a waxy precursor to oil, locked into shale rock. Given a few million years of heat and pressure, the kerogen in shale would, in theory, naturally yield oil. No commercial oil shale development currently exists in the United States, though research continues by speculators. Oil shale is one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. It requires strip mining to access the material, and toxic solvents and unproven technologies to turn the material into fuel. When burned, the fuel releases more greenhouse gases than coal. For more on the environmental nightmare of oil shale, see our oil shale overview page.

TomCo has a license agreement with Red Leaf Resources (Red Leaf) to use their EcoShale technology, which is in the initial research phase and has not been proven to be viable yet. The first step Red Leaf will undertake (funded by Total, a French oil company) is to build and test a single prototype capsule. Proof of concept is not expected until 2017. Red Leaf must prove to the State of Utah that its technology is viable and will not pollute Utah’s water or air before it can secure a commercial development permit. TomCo nevertheless is seeking a commercial development permit to develop oil shale prior to Red Leaf proving that the EcoShale process successfully extracts oil and does not pollute Utah’s environment. This is putting the cart before the horse.

TomCo Has No True Intent to Develop Oil Shale, But is ‘Packaging’ Their Technology to Sell

Further complicating matters is that TomCo’s CEO, Paul Rankine, has stated publicly that his company has no intent to actually develop oil shale at the site for which they are requesting a permit: “Once the Utah state grants our permits, TomCo will have the second commercial-scale oil shale project permitted in North America. That’s why honestly I think that with Total [the French oil company] in the picture, it’s going to be somebody with a French accent that will bring this project on stream rather than me.” It appears that TomCo is looking for Utah permits in order to put together a ‘package’ for investors to develop their leasehold.

Western Resource Advocates Urges Utah to Deny TomCo a Permit to Commercially Develop Oil Shale

Western Resource Advocates submitted a legal filing asking the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining to deny the permit because TomCo does not intend to construct a prototype capsule and is foregoing any consideration of commercial development until Red Leaf completes its prototype testing. There is no legal basis for issuing a commercial permit. We also informed the Division that TomCo is looking for investors to develop its leasehold. Issuing a permit to a company has neither the plans nor the money to develop its leases is irresponsible.

Western Resource Advocates Is Dedicated to Protecting Air, Water and Public Health from Oil Shale Development

Western Resource Advocates will continue to monitor plans for oil shale development and ensure that permitting does not proceed before testing is completed proving actual impacts to air, water, and human health and safety. It is our opinion that there is no safe means to develop this resource and oil shale should remain in the ground – and cleaner energy, such as wind and solar, should be the priority for development.

How We’re Working On Stopping Oil Shale and Tar Sands Development

Project Staff

Rob Dubuc

Rob Dubuc

Staff Attorney, Utah Office

Joro Walker

General Counsel