Shale Oil from Oil Shale
8.1OIL SHALE AS A SYNTHETIC FUEL (SYNFUEL)SOURCE
Interest in retorting oil from oil shale to produce a competitively priced synfuel hadintensi
ed since the oil embargo of the 1970s. Commercial interest, once very highin the 1970s and 1980s, substantially declined in the 1990s owing to the stable andlow oil price. However, interest in oil shale as a clean liquid fuel source is beingrenewed in the 21st century, mainly triggered by the sky-rocketing petroleum pricesas well as the shortage of oil in the global market. However, it should be noted thatoil shales have been used as liquid and solid fuels in certain areas for a long time,and its research also has quite a long history.Mixed with a variety of sediments over a lengthy geological time period, shaleforms a tough, dense rock ranging in color from light tan to black. Shales are oftencalled
, depending on the color. Oil shales have also beengiven various names in different regions. For example, the Ute Indians, on observingthat some outcroppings burst into
ames upon being hit by lightning, referred to itas
the rock that burns
.Oil shales are widely distributed throughout the world, with known deposits inevery continent. In this regard, oil shale is quite different from petroleum, which ismore concentrated in certain regions of the world. Table 8.1shows some published
information regarding worldwide oil shale reserves.
Depending on the data sourceand the year of reporting, the statistical values vary somewhat. Shales have beenused in the past as a source of liquid fuel throughout the world, including Scotland,Sweden, France, South Africa, Australia, the USSR, China, Brazil, and the U.S.However, the oil shale industry has experienced several
uctuations on account of political, socioeconomic, market, and environmental reasons.It is believed (evidence is lacking though supporting) that oil shales have beenused directly as solid fuels in various regions, especially in areas with rich shalesreadily available near the earth’s surface. For instance, an oil shale deposit at Autun,France, was commercially exploited as early as 1839.
As early as the 1850s, shaleoil was being promoted as a replacement for wood, which America depended on forits energy. Logically, the oil shale industry in the U.S. was an important part of theU.S. economy prior to the discovery of crude oil in 1859. As Colonel Drake drilledhis
rst oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, shale oil and its commercial productionwere gradually forgotten about and virtually disappeared with the availability of vastsupplies of inexpensive liquid fuel, i.e., petroleum. Similarly, Scotland had a viableshale industry from 1850 to 1864, when the low price of imported crude oil forcedit to cease operation. It is interesting to note that British Petroleum (BP) was
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