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Out of the past and into the future

by Kathy Chambers on Fri, May 17, 2013

Norris Lake

If you look closely, you can find fossilized material on the banks of the Norris Lake shoreline in Anderson County, Tennessee when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lowers the water level.  If you are really lucky, you will find traces of sea creatures or beautiful flora or fauna impressions encased between the freshly exposed layers of rock. These are ancient treasures from our country’s rich geological history.

A paleogeography reconstruction of the Earth took place some 56 to 34 million years ago during the Eocene geologic period of time .  At the beginning of the Eocene, high temperatures and warm oceans created a hothouse world.  Continents drifted toward their present positions. As Australia split from the southern continent, a cold water channel developed between the two continents and a global cooling trend began.  In western North America, mountain building started and huge lakes formed.  Oil shale was formed by deposition of silt and organic debris on lake beds and on the ocean floor.

Many of the oil shale deposits and fossil zones around the world were formed during this period of time.  The Green River Formation in the United States records 6 million years of Eocene sedimentation in a group of mountain lakes in the three basins of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 1.5 trillion barrels of shale oil are contained within Green River Formation’s oil shale. This formation is the richest and largest known oil shale resource in North America.

DOE researchers are making progress on the long road to reduce our demand on oil and make oil shale one of America’s energy options. These researchers are focusing on several new technologies to aid in the extraction of oil from the oil shale in the Green River Formation and other formations to ensure the processes are economically sound, commercial viable and environmentally safe. This truly abundant energy resource we have is a gift from our past and may be significant to our secure energy future.


Dr. William Watson of OSTI’s staff details recent oil shale research technologies in his white paper In the OSTI Collections: Oil Shales.  There are also more than 2,500 full-text research documents and over 9,000 bibliographic records related to oil shale research at DOE’s Scitech Connect

Related OSTI Products: SciTech Connect
Page last updated on 2017-08-11 04:56

About the Author

Kathy Chambers's picture
Kathy Chambers
Technical Writer, Information International Associates, Inc.