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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when crude oil prices were high, government and private-sector energy experts took a hard look at the costs and benefits of extracting oil from the vast deposits of oil shale that lie beneath the western United States (much of it under government land). Oil prices soon subsided, and interest in the topic waned. With oil prices again spiking and global demand showing no signs of abating, it makes sense to reexamine the costs and benefits of oil shale development. In this report, the authors describe the oil shale resources (estimated at more than triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia); the suitability, cost, and performance of technologies for developing these resources; and the key energy, environmental, land-use, and socioeconomic policy issues that need to be addressed by government decisionmakers. The authors conclude by outlining both the challenges and opportunities for early action with regard to those policy issues.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    The U.S. Oil Shale Resource Base

  • Chapter Three

    Oil Shale Technologies

  • Chapter Four

    The Strategic Significance of Oil Shale

  • Chapter Five

    Critical Policy Issues for Oil Shale Development

  • Chapter Six

    The Development Path for Oil Shale

  • Appendix

    Cost Estimation Methodology and Assumptions

The research described in this report was conducted within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE), a division of the RAND Corporation, for the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

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