Technologies available to utilise oil shale and tar sands have been investigated and their use was found to be viable in the short term. This is due to high oil prices and tension between major oil producing regions and consumers. For sustainable industries to be established on a large scale, commerciability of environmentally acceptable technologies with high recovery rates needs to be proven.
Surface mining techniques are an appropriate method for utilising shallow deposits, although cannot be used for deep reserves. Improvements in the retorting stage have the potential to greatly increase viability of operations. In-situ combustion methods have potential for a broader application and are expected to be used increasingly over surface mining when shallow deposits expire. The technology with the best performance was found to be the Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage, which has been commercialised and proven at Alberta utilising oil sands. Shell’s In-situ Combustion Process also appears to have a large potential for application, however commercial viability will not be determined until 2010.
It is expected that having a broad range of technologies available will increase stimulation for innovations and improvements to be made in the area. A major obstacle to overcome widespread oil sands, and particularly oil shale operations, is the current size of the industry and failed projects previously, providing higher risk for investors. An increase in operations will result in enhanced comfort utilising these resources; hence further increase of operations.