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Oil shale
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oil shale, an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock, Oil shale

contains significant amounts of kerogen (a solid mixture — Sedimentary Rock —
of organic chemical compounds) from which liquid
hydrocarbons can be extracted. Kerogen requires more
processing to use than crude oil, which increases its cost
as a crude-oil substitute both financially and in terms of
its environmental impact.[1][2] Deposits of oil shale occur
around the world, including major deposits in the United
States of America. Estimates of global deposits range
from 2.8 trillion to 3.3 trillion barrels
(450 × 109 to 520 × 109 m3) of recoverable oil.[2][3][4][5]

The chemical process of pyrolysis can convert the

kerogen in oil shale into synthetic crude oil. Heating oil
shale to a sufficiently high temperature will drive off a Combustion of oil shale
vapor which processing can distill (retort) to yield a
petroleum-like shale oil—a form of unconventional
oil—and combustible oil-shale gas (the term shale gas can Primary Kerogen, Quartz, Feldspar, Clay,
also refer to gas occurring naturally in shales). Industry Carbonate, Pyrite
can also burn oil shale directly as a low-grade fuel for Secondary Uranium, Iron, Vanadium, Nickel,
power generation and heating purposes and can use it as a Molybdenum
raw material in chemical and construction-materials

Oil shale has gained attention as an energy resource as the price of conventional sources of petroleum has
risen and as a way for some areas to secure independence from external suppliers of energy.[7][8] At the
same time, oil-shale mining and processing raise a number of environmental concerns, such as land use,
waste disposal, water use, waste-water management, greenhouse-gas emissions and air pollution.[9][10]
Estonia and China have well-established oil shale industries, and Brazil, Germany, Israel and Russia also
utilize oil shale.[2]

1 Geology
2 Reserves
3 History
4 Industry
5 Extraction and processing
6 Applications and products
7 Economics
8 Environmental considerations
9 See also
10 References
11 External links


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Main article: Oil shale geology

Oil shale, an organic-rich sedimentary rock, belongs to the group of

sapropel fuels.[11] It does not have a definite geological definition nor
a specific chemical formula, and its seams do not always have
discrete boundaries. Oil shales vary considerably in their mineral
content, chemical composition, age, type of kerogen, and
depositional history and not all oil shales would necessarily be
classified as shales in the strict sense.[12] Oil shale differs from
bitumen-impregnated rocks (oil sands and petroleum reservoir rocks),
humic coals and carbonaceous shale. While oil sands originate from
the biodegradation of oil, heat and pressure have not (yet) Outcrop of Ordovician oil shale
(kukersite), northern Estonia
transformed the kerogen in oil shale into petroleum.[2][13][14]

Oil shale contains a lower percentage of organic matter than coal. In commercial grades of oil shale the ratio
of organic matter to mineral matter lies approximately between 0.75:5 and 1.5:5. At the same time, the
organic matter in oil shale has an atomic ratio of hydrogen to carbon (H/C) approximately 1.2 to 1.8 times
lower than for crude oil and about 1.5 to 3 times higher than for coals.[2][11][15] The organic components of
oil shale derive from a variety of organisms, such as the remains of algae, spores, pollen, plant cuticles and
corky fragments of herbaceous and woody plants, and cellular debris from other aquatic and land plants.
Some deposits contain significant fossils; Germany's Messel Pit has the status of a Unesco World
Heritage Site. The mineral matter in oil shale includes various fine-grained silicates and carbonates.[6][11]

Geologists can classify oil shales on the basis of their composition as carbonate-rich shales, siliceous shales,
or cannel shales.[17] Another classification, known as the van Krevelen diagram, assigns kerogen types,
depending on the hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen content of oil shales' original organic matter.[12] The most
commonly used classification of oil shales, developed between 1987 and 1991 by Adrian C. Hutton of the
University of Wollongong, adapts petrographic terms from coal terminology. This classification designates oil
shales as terrestrial, lacustrine (lake-bottom-deposited), or marine (ocean bottom-deposited), based on the
environment of the initial biomass deposit.[6][18] Hutton's classification scheme has proven useful in
estimating the yield and composition of the extracted oil.[2]

Main article: Oil shale reserves

As with all oil and gas resources, analysts distinguish between oil
shale resources and oil shale reserves. "Resources" refers to all oil
shale deposits, while "reserves", represents those deposits from
which producers can extract oil shale economically using existing
technology. Since extraction technologies develop continuously,
planners can only estimate the amount of recoverable kerogen.[1][6]
Although resources of oil shale occur in many countries, only
33 countries possess known deposits of possible economic value.
Well-explored deposits, potentially classifiable as reserves,
include the Green River deposits in the western United States, the Fossils in Ordovician oil shale
Tertiary deposits in Queensland, Australia, deposits in Sweden and (kukersite), northern Estonia
Estonia, the El-Lajjun deposit in Jordan, and deposits in France,
Germany, Brazil, China, southern Mongolia and Russia. These deposits have given rise to expectations of
yielding at least 40 liters of shale oil per tonne of oil shale, using the Fischer Assay.[6][12]

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A 2005 estimate set the total world resources of oil shale at 411 gigatons — enough to yield 2.8 to 3.3 trillion
barrels (520 km3) of shale oil.[2][3][4][5] This exceeds the world's proven conventional oil reserves, estimated
at 1.317 trillion barrels (209.4 × 109 m3), as of 1 January 2007.[21] The largest deposits in the world occur in
the United States in the Green River Formation, which covers portions of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming;
about 70% of this resource lies on land owned or managed by the United States federal government.[22]
Deposits in the United States constitute 62% of world resources; together, the United States, Russia and
Brazil account for 86% of the world's resources in terms of shale-oil content.[19] These figures remain
tentative, with exploration or analysis of several deposits still outstanding.[2][6] Professor Alan R. Carroll of
University of Wisconsin–Madison regards the Upper Permian lacustrine oil-shale deposits of northwest
China, absent from previous global oil shale assessments, as comparable in size to the Green River

Main article: History of the oil shale industry

Humans have used oil shale as a fuel since prehistoric times, since it
generally burns without any processing.[24] Britons of the Iron Age
also used to polish it and form it into ornaments.[25] Modern
industrial mining of oil shale began in 1837 in Autun, France,
followed by exploitation in Scotland, Germany, and several other
countries.[2][26] Operations during the 19th century focused on the
production of kerosene, lamp oil, and paraffin; these products helped Production of oil shale (megatons) in
supply the growing demand for lighting that arose during the Estonia (Estonia deposit), Russia
Industrial Revolution.[27] Fuel oil, lubricating oil and grease, and (Leningrad and Kashpir deposits),
ammonium sulfate were also produced.[28] The European oil-shale United Kingdom (Scotland, Lothians),
industry expanded immediately before World War I due to limited Brazil (Irati Formation), China
access to conventional petroleum resources and to the mass (Maoming and Fushun deposits), and
production of automobiles and trucks, which accompanied an Germany (Dotternhausen) from 1880
increase in gasoline consumption. to 2000[6]

Although the Estonian and Chinese oil-shale industries continued to

grow after World War II, most other countries abandoned their projects due to high processing costs and the
availability of cheaper petroleum.[2][6][26][29] Following the 1973 oil crisis, world production of oil shale
reached a peak of 46 million tonnes in 1980 before falling to about 16 million tonnes in 2000, due to
competition from cheap conventional petroleum in the 1980s.[9][19] On 2 May 1982, known in some circles
as "Black Sunday", Exxon canceled its US$5 billion Colony Shale Oil Project near Parachute, Colorado
because of low oil-prices and increased expenses, laying off more than 2,000 workers and leaving a trail of
home-foreclosures and small-business bankruptcies.[30] In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law
the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 which among other things abolished the
United States' Synthetic Liquid Fuels Program.[4]

The global oil-shale industry began to revive at the beginning of the 21st century. In 2003, an oil-shale
development program restarted in the United States. Authorities introduced a commercial leasing program
permitting the extraction of oil shale and oil sands on federal lands in 2005, in accordance with the Energy
Policy Act of 2005.[31][32]

Main article: Oil shale industry

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As of 2008, industry uses oil shale in Brazil, China, Estonia and to

some extent in Germany, Israel, and Russia. Several additional
countries started assessing their reserves or had built experimental
production plants, while others had phased out their oil shale
industry.[2] Oil shale serves for oil production in Estonia, Brazil, and
China; for power generation in Estonia, China, Israel, and Germany;
for cement production in Estonia, Germany, and China; and for use Shell's experimental in-situ oil-shale
in chemical industries in China, Estonia, and Russia.[2][29][33][34] As facility, Piceance Basin, Colorado,
of 2009, 80% of oil shale used globally is extracted in Estonia.[33][35]

Romania and Russia have in the past run power plants fired by oil shale, but have shut them down or
switched to other fuel sources such as natural gas. Jordan and Egypt plan to construct power plants fired by
oil shale, while Canada and Turkey plan to burn oil shale along with coal for power generation.[2][19][36] Oil
shale serves as the main fuel for power generation only in Estonia, where the oil-shale-fired Narva Power
Plants accounted for 95% of electrical generation in 2005.[37]

Extraction and processing

Main article: Shale oil extraction

Most exploitation of oil shale involves mining followed by shipping

elsewhere, after which one can burn the shale directly to generate
electricity, or undertake further processing. The most common
methods of surface mining involve open pit mining and strip mining.
These procedures remove most of the overlying material to expose
the deposits of oil shale, and become practical when the deposits
occur near the surface. Underground mining of oil shale, which
removes less of the overlying material, employs the room-and-pillar
method.[38] Overview of shale oil extraction.

The extraction of the useful components of oil shale usually takes place above ground (ex-situ processing),
although several newer technologies perform this underground (on-site or in-situ processing).[39] In either
case, the chemical process of pyrolysis converts the kerogen in the oil shale to shale oil (synthetic crude oil)
and oil shale gas. Most conversion technologies involve heating shale in the absence of oxygen to a
temperature at which kerogen decomposes (pyrolyses) into gas, condensable oil, and a solid residue. This
usually takes place between 450 °C (842 °F) and 500 °C (932 °F).[1] The process of decomposition begins at
relatively low temperatures (300 °C/570 °F), but proceeds more rapidly and more completely at higher

In-situ processing involves heating the oil shale underground. Such technologies can potentially extract more
oil from a given area of land than ex-situ processes, since they can access the material at greater depths than
surface mines can.[41]

Several companies have patented methods for in-situ retorting. However, most of these methods remain in
the experimental phase. One can distinguish true in-situ processes (TIS) and modified in-situ processes
(MIS). True in-situ processes do not involve mining the oil shale. Modified in-situ processes involve
removing part of the oil shale and bringing it to the surface for modified in-situ retorting in order to create
permeability for gas flow in a rubble chimney. Explosives rubblize the oil-shale deposit.[42]

Hundreds of patents for oil shale retorting technologies exist;[43] however, only a few dozen have undergone
testing. As of 2006, only four technologies remained in commercial use: Kiviter, Galoter, Fushun, and

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Applications and products

Industry can use oil shale as a fuel for thermal power-plants, burning it (like coal) to drive steam turbines;
some of these plants employ the resulting heat for district heating of homes and businesses. Sizable
oil-shale-fired power plants occur in Estonia, which has an installed capacity of 2,967 megawatts (MW),
Israel (12.5 MW), China (12 MW), and Germany (9.9 MW).[19][45]

In addition to its use as a fuel, oil shale may also serve in the production of specialty carbon fibers, adsorbent
carbons, carbon black, phenols, resins, glues, tanning agents, mastic, road bitumen, cement, bricks,
construction and decorative blocks, soil-additives, fertilizers, rock-wool insulation, glass, and pharmaceutical
products.[33] However, oil shale use for production of these items remains small or only in its experimental
stages.[2][6] Some oil shales yield sulfur, ammonia, alumina, soda ash, uranium, and nahcolite as shale-oil
extraction byproducts. Between 1946 and 1952, a marine type of Dictyonema shale served for uranium
production in Sillamäe, Estonia, and between 1950 and 1989 Sweden used alum shale for the same
purposes.[6] Oil shale gas has served as a substitute for natural gas, but as of 2009, producing oil shale gas as
a natural-gas substitute remained economically infeasible.[46][47]

The shale oil derived from oil shale does not directly substitute for crude oil in all applications. It may
contain higher concentrations of olefins, oxygen, and nitrogen than conventional crude oil.[4] Some shale oils
may have higher sulfur or arsenic content. By comparison with West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark
standard for crude oil in the futures-contract market, the Green River shale oil sulfur content ranges from
near 0% to 4.9% (in average 0.76%), where West Texas Intermediate's sulfur content has a maximum of
0.42%.[48] The sulfur content in shale oil from Jordan's oil shales may rise even up to 9.5%.[49] The arsenic
content, for example, becomes an issue for Green River formation oil shale. The higher concentrations of
these materials means that the oil must undergo considerable upgrading (hydrotreating) before serving as
oil-refinery feedstock.[17] Above-ground retorting processes tended to yield a lower API gravity shale oil
than the in situ processes. Shale oil serves best for producing middle-distillates such as kerosene, jet fuel,
and diesel fuel. Worldwide demand for these middle distillates, particularly for diesel fuels, increased rapidly
in the 1990s and 2000s.[4][50] However, appropriate refining processes equivalent to hydrocracking can
transform shale oil into a lighter-range hydrocarbon (gasoline).[4]

Main article: Oil shale economics

During the early 20th century, the crude-oil industry expanded.

Since then, the various attempts to develop oil shale deposits
have succeeded only when the cost of shale-oil production in a
given region comes in below the price of crude oil or its other
substitutes. According to a survey conducted by the RAND
Corporation, the cost of producing a barrel of oil at a surface
retorting complex in the United States (comprising a mine,
retorting plant, upgrading plant, supporting utilities, and spent
shale reclamation), would range between US$70–95
($440–600/m3, adjusted to 2005 values). This estimate considers
NYMEX light-sweet crude oil prices
varying levels of kerogen quality and extraction efficiency. In
1996–2009 (not adjusted for inflation)
order to run a profitable operation, the price of crude oil would
need to remain above these levels. The analysis also discusses

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the expectation that processing costs would drop after the establishment of the complex. The hypothetical
unit would see a cost reduction of 35–70% after producing its first 500 million barrels (79 × 106 m3).
Assuming an increase in output of 25 thousand barrels per day (4.0 × 103 m3/d) during each year after the
start of commercial production, RAND predicts the costs would decline to $35–48 per barrel ($220–300/m3)
within 12 years. After achieving the milestone of 1 billion barrels (160 × 106 m3), its costs would decline
further to $30–40 per barrel ($190–250/m3).[33][38] Some commentators compare the proposed American
oil-shale industry to the Athabasca oil-sands industry (the latter enterprise generated over one million barrels
of oil per day in late 2007), stating that "the first-generation facility is the hardest, both technically and

Royal Dutch Shell has announced that its in situ extraction technology in Colorado could become
competitive at prices over $30 per barrel ($190/m3), while other technologies at full-scale production assert
profitability at oil prices even lower than $20 per barrel ($130/m3).[42][53][54] To increase efficiency when
retorting oil shale, researchers have proposed and tested several co-pyrolysis processes.[55][56][57][58][59]

A 1972 publication in the journal Pétrole Informations (ISSN 0755-561X (

/search?fq=x0:jrnl&q=n2:0755-561X) ) compared shale-based oil production unfavorably with the coal
liquefaction. The article portrayed coal liquefaction as less expensive, generating more oil, and creating
fewer environmental impacts than extraction from oil shale. It cited a conversion ration of 650 litres
(170 U.S. gal; 140 imp gal) of oil per one ton of coal, as against 150 litres (40 U.S. gal; 33 imp gal) of shale
oil per one ton of oil shale.[26]

A critical measure of the viability of oil shale as an energy source lies in the ratio of the energy produced by
the shale to the energy used in its mining and processing, a ratio known as "Energy Returned on Energy
Invested" (EROEI). A 1984 study estimated the EROEI of the various known oil-shale deposits as varying
between 0.7–13.3[60] although known oil-shale extraction development projects assert an EROEI between 3
to 10. Royal Dutch Shell has reported an EROEI of three to four on its in situ development, Mahogany
Research Project.[53][61][62] The water needed in the oil shale retorting process offers an additional
economic consideration: this may pose a problem in areas with water scarcity.

Environmental considerations
Main article: Environmental impact of the oil shale industry

Mining oil shale involves a number of environmental impacts, more pronounced in surface mining than in
underground mining. They include acid drainage induced by the sudden rapid exposure and subsequent
oxidation of formerly buried materials, the introduction of metals including mercury[63] into surface-water
and groundwater, increased erosion, sulfur-gas emissions, and air pollution caused by the production of
particulates during processing, transport, and support activities.[9][10] In 2002, about 97% of air pollution,
86% of total waste and 23% of water pollution in Estonia came from the power industry, which uses oil
shale as the main resource for its power production.[64]

Oil-shale extraction can damage the biological and recreational value of land and the ecosystem in the
mining area. Combustion and thermal processing generate waste material. In addition, the atmospheric
emissions from oil shale processing and combustion include carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Environmentalists oppose production and usage of oil shale, as it creates even more greenhouse gases than
conventional fossil fuels.[65] Section 526 of the Energy Independence And Security Act prohibits United
States government agencies from buying oil produced by processes that produce more greenhouse gas
emissions than would traditional petroleum.[66][67] Experimental in situ conversion processes and carbon
capture and storage technologies may reduce some of these concerns in the future, but at the same time they

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may cause other problems, including groundwater pollution.[68] Among the water contaminants commonly
associated with oil shale processing are oxygen and nitrogen heterocyclic hydrocarbons. Commonly detected
examples include quinoline derivatives, pyridine, and various alkyl homologues of pyridine (picoline,

Some commentators have expressed concerns over the oil shale industry's use of water. In 2002, the oil
shale-fired power industry used 91% of the water consumed in Estonia.[64] Depending on technology,
above-ground retorting uses between one and five barrels of water per barrel of produced shale-oil.[38]
A 2008 programmatic environmental impact statement issued by the US Bureau of Land
Management stated that surface mining and retort operations produce 2 to 10 U.S. gallons (7.6 to 38 l; 1.7 to
8.3 imp gal) of waste water per 1 short ton (0.91 t) of processed oil shale.[70] In situ processing, according to
one estimate, uses about one-tenth as much water.[73]

Water concerns become particularly sensitive issues in arid regions, such as the western US and Israel's
Negev Desert, where plans exist to expand oil-shale extraction despite a water shortage.[74]

Environmental activists, including members of Greenpeace, have organized strong protests against the oil
shale industry. In one result, Queensland Energy Resources put the proposed Stuart Oil Shale Project in
Australia on hold in 2004.[9][75][76][77]

See also
Core Research Center – a United States Geological Survey facility dedicated to preserving valuable
rock-samples threatened with disposal or destruction — including oil shales
Kukersite – a well-analyzed marine oil shale found in the Baltic Sea basin
Mitigation of peak oil – discussion of attempts to delay and minimize the impact of "peak oil" (the
point in time of maximum global petroleum production), including the development of unconventional
oil resources
Narva Power Plants – as of 2010 the world's largest complex fired by oil shale
Oil reserves – discussion of global crude-oil supplies
Tar sands
Tasmanite – a marine oil shale found in Tasmania
Torbanite – a lacustrine oil shale found in Scotland
World energy resources and consumption

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External links
"Oil Shale. A Scientific-Technical Journal" ( . Estonian Academy
Publishers. ISSN 0208-189X ( . Retrieved 2008-04-22.
"Related Oil Shale Publications and Data" ( .
U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved
The Scandinavian Alum Shales (
norec=1&service=sgu&lang=eng) . Uppsala: Sveriges geologiska undersökning. 1985. pp. 49 pp.
ISBN 91-7158-334-3.
field1=all&logic1=&attr1=@attr+4%3D2&page=1&norec=1&service=sgu&lang=eng. Retrieved
"30th Oil Shale Symposium, October 18–22, 2010" (
/index.html?CMSPAGE=Outreach/cont_ed/oilshale/index.html) . Colorado School of Mines.
/index.html. Retrieved 2010-03-18.
Fine, Daniel (2007-03-08). "Oil Shale: Toward a Strategic Unconventional Fuels Supply Policy"
Supply-Policy) . Heritage Foundation.
a-Strategic-Unconventional-Fuels-Supply-Policy. Retrieved 2007-10-20.
"Statement Of Thomas Lonnie Assistant Director for Minerals, Realty & Resource Protection, Bureau
of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior before the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee. Oversight Hearing on Oil Shale Development Efforts" (
/ocl/2005/OilShaleDev.htm) . U.S. Department of the Interior. 2005-04-12.
/ocl/2005/OilShaleDev.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-20.
"This Oven Makes Oil Out Of Rocks", February 1949, Popular Science (
ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=true) primer article with illustrations on basic of the oil shale
production process

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