Review of rare earth element concentrations in oil shales of the Eocene Green River Formation

Open-File Report 2012-1016




Concentrations of the lanthanide series or rare earth elements and yttrium were determined for lacustrine oil shale samples from the Eocene Green River Formation in the Piceance Basin of Colorado and the Uinta Basin of Utah. Unprocessed oil shale, post-pyrolysis (spent) shale, and leached shale samples were examined to determine if oil-shale processing to generate oil or the remediation of retorted shale affects rare earth element concentrations. Results for unprocessed Green River oil shale samples were compared to data published in the literature on reference materials, such as chondritic meteorites, the North American shale composite, marine oil shale samples from two sites in northern Tibet, and mined rare earth element ores from the United States and China. The Green River oil shales had lower rare earth element concentrations (66.3 to 141.3 micrograms per gram, μg g-1) than are typical of material in the upper crust (approximately 170 μg g-1) and were also lower in rare earth elements relative to the North American shale composite (approximately 165 μg g-1). Adjusting for dilution of rare earth elements by organic matter does not account for the total difference between the oil shales and other crustal rocks. Europium anomalies for Green River oil shales from the Piceance Basin were slightly lower than those reported for the North American shale composite and upper crust. When compared to ores currently mined for rare earth elements, the concentrations in Green River oil shales are several orders of magnitude lower. Retorting Green River oil shales led to a slight enrichment of rare earth elements due to removal of organic matter. When concentrations in spent and leached samples were normalized to an original rock basis, concentrations were comparable to those of the raw shale, indicating that rare earth elements are conserved in processed oil shales.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Review of rare earth element concentrations in oil shales of the Eocene Green River Formation
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Central Energy Resources Science Center
v, 20 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Green River Formation
Online Only (Y/N):