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Shale oil

shale oil, shale oil production
Shale oil is an unconventional oil produced from oil shale rock fragments by pyrolysis, hydrogenation, or thermal dissolution These processes convert the organic matter within the rock kerogen into synthetic oil and gas The resulting oil can be used immediately as a fuel or upgraded to meet refinery feedstock specifications by adding hydrogen and removing impurities such as sulfur and nitrogen The refined products can be used for the same purposes as those derived from crude oil

The term "shale oil" is also used for crude oil produced from shales of other very low permeability formations However, to reduce the risk of confusion of shale oil produced from oil shale with crude oil in oil-bearing shales, the term "tight oil" is preferred for the latter1 The International Energy Agency recommends to use the term "light tight oil" and World Energy Resources 2013 report by the World Energy Council uses the term "tight oil" for crude oil in oil-bearing shales23


  • 1 History
  • 2 Extraction process
  • 3 Properties
  • 4 Upgrading
  • 5 Usage
  • 6 Reserves and production
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References


Main article: History of the oil shale industry Three West Lothian shale mounds, evidence of the early paraffin oil industry in the 19th century Scotland

Oil shale was one of the first sources of mineral oil used by humans4 Its earliest recorded use was in Switzerland and Austria in the early 14th century5 In 1596, the personal physician of Frederick I, Duke of Württemberg wrote of its healing properties6 Shale oil was used to light the streets of Modena, Italy at the turn of the 17th century6 The British Crown granted a patent in 1694 to three persons who had "found a way to extract and make great quantities of pitch, tarr and oyle out of a sort of stone"678 Later sold as Betton's British Oil, the distilled product was said to have been "tried by diverse persons in Aches and Pains with much benefit"9 Modern shale oil extraction industries were established in France during the 1830s and in Scotland during the 1840s10 The oil was used as fuel, as a lubricant and lamp oil; the Industrial Revolution had created additional demand for lighting It served as a substitute for the increasingly scarce and expensive whale oil61112

During the late 19th century, shale-oil extraction plants were built in Australia, Brazil and the United States China, Estonia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland produced shale oil in the early 20th century The discovery of crude oil in the Middle East during mid-century brought most of these industries to a halt, although Estonia and Northeast China maintained their extraction industries into the early 21st century101314 In response to rising petroleum costs at the turn of the 21st century, extraction operations have commenced, been explored, or been renewed in the United States, China, Australia and Jordan14

Extraction processedit

Main article: Shale oil extraction

Shale oil is extracted by pyrolysis, hydrogenation, or thermal dissolution of oil shale1516 The pyrolysis of the rock is performed in a retort, situated either above ground or within the rock formation itself As of 2008, most oil shale industries perform the shale oil extraction process after the rock is mined, crushed and transported to a retorting facility, although several experimental technologies perform the process in place in-situ The temperature at which the kerogen decomposes into usable hydrocarbons varies with the time-scale of the process; in the above-ground retorting process decomposition begins at 300 °C 570 °F, but proceeds more rapidly and completely at higher temperatures Decomposition takes place most quickly at a temperature between 480 and 520 °C 900 and 970 °F15

Hydrogenation and thermal dissolution reactive fluid processes extract the oil using hydrogen donors, solvents, or a combination of these Thermal dissolution involves the application of solvents at elevated temperatures and pressures, increasing oil output by cracking the dissolved organic matter Different methods produce shale oil with different properties16171819

A critical measure of the viability of extraction of shale oil lies in the ratio of the energy produced by the oil shale to the energy used in its mining and processing, a ratio known as "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" EROEI An EROEI of 2 or 2:1 ratio would mean that to produce 2 barrels of actual oil the equivalent in energy of 1 barrel of oil has to be burnt/consumed A 1984 study estimated the EROEI of the various known oil-shale deposits as varying between 07–13320 More recent studies estimates the EROEI of oil shales to be 1–2:1 or 2–16:1 – depending on whether self-energy is counted as a cost or internal energy is excluded and only purchased energy is counted as input21 Royal Dutch Shell reported an EROEI of three to four in 2006 on its in situ development in the "Mahogany Research Project"2223

The amount of oil that can be recovered during retorting varies with the oil shale and the technology used14 About one sixth of the oil shales in the Green River Formation have a relatively high yield of 25 to 100 US gallons 95 to 379 l; 21 to 83 imp gal of shale oil per ton of oil shale; about one third yield from 10 to 25 US gallons 38 to 95 l; 83 to 208 imp gal per ton Ten US gal/ton is approximately 34 tons of oil per 100 tons of shale About half of the oil shales in the Green River Formation yield less than 10 US gal/ton24

The major global shale oil producers have published their yields for their commercial operations Fushun Mining Group reports producing 300,000 tons per year of shale oil from 66 million tons of shale, a yield of 45% by weight25 VKG Oil claims to produce 250,000 tons of oil per year from 2 million tons of shale, a yield of 13%26 Petrobras produces in their Petrosix plant 550 tons of oil per day from 6,200 tons of shale, a yield of 9%27


The properties of raw shale oil vary depending on the composition of the parent oil shale and the extraction technology used28 Like conventional oil, shale oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, and it is characterized using bulk properties of the oil Shale oil usually contains large quantities of olefinic and aromatic hydrocarbons Shale oil can also contain significant quantities of heteroatoms A typical shale oil composition includes 05–1% of oxygen, 15–2% of nitrogen and 015–1% of sulfur, and some deposits contain more heteroatoms Mineral particles and metals are often present as well2930 Generally, the oil is less fluid than crude oil, becoming pourable at temperatures between 24 and 27 °C 75 and 81 °F, while conventional crude oil is pourable at temperatures between −60 to 30 °C −76 to 86 °F; this property affects shale oil's ability to be transported in existing pipelines293132

Shale oil contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are carcinogenic It has described that raw shale oil has a mild carcinogenic potential which is comparable to some intermediate refinery products, while upgraded shale oil has lower carcinogenic potential as mot of the polycyclic aromatics are believed to broken down by hydrogenation33 The World Health Organization classifies shale oil as Group 1 carcinogens to humans34


Although raw shale oil can be immediately burnt as a fuel oil, many of its applications require that it be upgraded The differing properties of the raw oils call for correspondingly various pre-treatments before it can be sent to a conventional oil refinery35

Particulates in the raw oil clog downstream processes; sulfur and nitrogen create air pollution Sulfur and nitrogen, along with the arsenic and iron that may be present, also destroy the catalysts used in refining3637 Olefins form insoluble sediments and cause instability The oxygen within the oil, present at higher levels than in crude oil, lends itself to the formation of destructive free radicals30 Hydrodesulfurization and hydrodenitrogenation can address these problems and result in a product comparable to benchmark crude oil29303839 Phenols can be first be removed by water extraction39 Upgrading shale oil into transport fuels requires adjusting hydrogen–carbon ratios by adding hydrogen hydrocracking or removing carbon coking3839

Shale oil produced by some technologies, such as the Kiviter process, can be used without further upgrading as an oil constituent and as a source of phenolic compounds Distillate oils from the Kiviter process can also be used as diluents for petroleum-originated heavy oils and as an adhesive-enhancing additive in bituminous materials such as asphalt39


Before World War II, most shale oil was upgraded for use as transport fuels Afterwards, it was used as a raw material for chemical intermediates, pure chemicals and industrial resins, and as a railroad wood preservative As of 2008, it is primarily used as a heating oil and marine fuel, and to a lesser extent in the production of various chemicals35

Shale oil's concentration of high-boiling point compounds is suited for the production of middle distillates such as kerosene, jet fuel and diesel fuel304041 Additional cracking can create the lighter hydrocarbons used in gasoline3042

Reserves and productionedit

Main article: Oil shale reserves

Global technically recoverable oil shale reserves have recently been estimated at about 28 to 33 trillion barrels 450×10^9 to 520×10^9 m3 of shale oil, with the largest reserves in the United States, which is thought to have 15–26 trillion barrels 240×10^9–410×10^9 m31340 4344 Worldwide production of shale oil was estimated at 17,700 barrels per day 2,810 m3/d in 2008 The leading producers were China 7,600 barrels per day 1,210 m3/d, Estonia 6,300 barrels per day 1,000 m3/d, and Brazil 3,800 barrels per day 600 m3/d13

The production of shale oil has been hindered because of technical difficulties and costs45 In March 2011, the United States Bureau of Land Management called into question proposals in the US for commercial operations, stating that "There are no economically viable ways yet known to extract and process oil shale for commercial purposes"46

See alsoedit

  • Oil shale gas
  • Underground coal gasification


  1. ^ Reinsalu, Enno; Aarna, Indrek 2015 "About technical terms of oil shale and shale oil" PDF Oil Shale A Scientific-Technical Journal Estonian Academy Publishers 32 4: 291–292 ISSN 0208-189X Retrieved 2016-01-16 
  2. ^ IEA 2013 World Energy Outlook 2013 OECD p 424 ISBN 978-92-64-20130-9 
  3. ^ World Energy Resources 2013 Survey PDF World Energy Council 2013 p 246 ISBN 9780946121298 
  4. ^ Dostrovsky, I 1988 Energy and the Missing Resource: A View from the Laboratory Cambridge University Press p 18 ISBN 978-0-521-31965-2 Retrieved 2009-06-02 
  5. ^ "Oil Shale" PDF Colorado School of Mines 2008: 2 Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  6. ^ a b c d Moody, Richard 2007-04-20 "Oil & Gas Shales, Definitions & Distribution In Time & Space In The History of On-Shore Hydrocarbon Use in the UK" PDF Geological Society of London: 1 Retrieved 2009-01-10 
  7. ^ Louw, SJ; Addison, J 1985 Seaton, A, ed "Studies of the Scottish oil shale industry Vol1 History of the industry, working conditions and mineralogy of Scottish and Green River formation shales Final report on US Department of Energy" PDF Institute of Occupational Medicine: 35 DE-ACO2 – 82ER60036 Retrieved 2009-06-05 CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter link
  8. ^ Cane, RF 1976 Teh Fu Yen; Chilingar, George V, eds Oil Shale Amsterdam: Elsevier p 56 ISBN 978-0-444-41408-3 Retrieved 2009-06-05 
  9. ^ Forbes, RJ 1970 A Short History of the Art of Distillation from the Beginnings Up to the Death of Cellier Blumenthal Brill Publishers p 250 ISBN 978-90-04-00617-1 Retrieved 2009-06-02 
  10. ^ a b Francu, Juraj; Harvie, Barbra; Laenen, Ben; Siirde, Andres; Veiderma, Mihkel May 2007 "A study on the EU oil shale industry viewed in the light of the Estonian experience A report by EASAC to the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy of the European Parliament" PDF European Academies Science Advisory Council: 1; 5; 12 Retrieved 2011-05-07 
  11. ^ Doscher, Todd M "Petroleum" MSN Encarta Retrieved 2008-04-22 
  12. ^ "Oil Shale" American Association of Petroleum Geologists Retrieved 2008-03-31 
  13. ^ a b c Dyni, John R 2010 "Oil Shale" In Clarke, Alan W; Trinnaman, Judy A Survey of energy resources PDF 22 ed World Energy Council pp 93–123 ISBN 978-0-946121-02-1 
  14. ^ a b c Dyni, John R 2006 "Geology and resources of some world oil-shale deposits Scientific Investigations Report 2005–5294" PDF United States Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey: 1–42 Retrieved 2007-07-09 
  15. ^ a b Koel, Mihkel 1999 "Estonian oil shale" Oil Shale A Scientific-Technical Journal Estonian Academy Publishers Extra ISSN 0208-189X Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  16. ^ a b Luik, Hans 2009-06-08 Alternative technologies for oil shale liquefaction and upgrading PDF International Oil Shale Symposium Tallinn University of Technology Tallinn, Estonia Retrieved 2009-06-09 
  17. ^ Gorlov, EG October 2007 "Thermal Dissolution Of Solid Fossil Fuels" PDF Solid Fuel Chemistry Allerton Press, Inc 41 5: 290–298 ISSN 1934-8029 doi:103103/S0361521907050047 Retrieved 2009-06-09 
  18. ^ Koel, Mihkel; Ljovin, S; Hollis, K; Rubin, J 2001 "Using neoteric solvents in oil shale studies" PDF Pure and Applied Chemistry Blackwell Science 73 1: 153–159 ISSN 0033-4545 doi:101351/pac200173010153 Retrieved 2010-01-22 
  19. ^ Baldwin, R M; Bennett, D P; Briley, R A 1984 "Reactivity of oil shale towards solvent hydrogenation" PDF American Chemical Society Division of Petroleum Chemistry American Chemical Society 29 1: 148–153 ISSN 0569-3799 Retrieved 2010-01-22 
  20. ^ Cleveland, Cutler J; Costanza, Robert; Hall, Charles A S; Kaufmann, Robert 1984-08-31 "Energy and the US Economy: A Biophysical Perspective" PDF Science American Association for the Advancement of Science 225 4665: 890–897 ISSN 0036-8075 PMID 17779848 doi:101126/science2254665890 Retrieved 2007-08-28 
  21. ^ Brandt, Adam R 2009 "Converting Green River oil shale to liquid fuels with the Alberta Taciuk Processor: energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions" PDF Energy & Fuels American Chemical Society 23 12: 6253–6258 ISSN 0887-0624 doi:101021/ef900678d subscription required Retrieved 2011-07-04 
  22. ^ "Oil Shale Test Project Oil Shale Research and Development Project" PDF Shell Frontier Oil and Gas 2006-02-15 Retrieved 2007-06-30 
  23. ^ Reiss, Spencer 2005-12-13 "Tapping the Rock Field" WIRED Magazine Retrieved 2007-08-27 
  24. ^ "Fact Sheet: US Oil Shale Resources" PDF United States Department of Energy Retrieved 2009-01-10 
  25. ^ Promitis, Guntis 2008-11-03 "Oil shale promise" PDF Oil & Gas Journal PennWell Corporation: 16 Retrieved 2011-10-09 
  26. ^ "VKG Oil AS" Viru Keemia Grupp Retrieved 2011-10-09 
  27. ^ Qian, Jialin; Wang Jianqiu 2006-11-07 World oil shale retorting technologies PDF International Oil Shale Conference Amman, Jordan: Jordanian Natural Resources Authority Retrieved 2007-06-29 
  28. ^ McKetta, John J 1994 Encyclopedia of Chemical Processing and Design 50 CRC Press p 49 ISBN 978-0-8247-2601-0 Retrieved 2009-06-02 
  29. ^ a b c Lee, Sunggyu 1991 Oil Shale Technology CRC Press p 7 ISBN 0-8493-4615-0 Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  30. ^ a b c d e Speight, James 2008 Synthetic Fuels Handbook McGraw-Hill Professional p 188 ISBN 978-0-07-149023-8 Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  31. ^ Wauquier, Jean-Pierre; Trambouze, Pierre; Favennec, Jean-Pierre 1995 Petroleum Refining: Crude Oil Petroleum Products Process Flowsheets Editions TECHNIP p 317 ISBN 978-2-7108-0685-1 
  32. ^ "Market assessment for shale oil" Energy Citations Database 1979 Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  33. ^ Slawson, G C; Teh Fu Yen, eds 1979 Compendium reports on oil shale technology 1 United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Monitoring and Support Laboratory p 115 ISBN 978-2-7108-0685-1 
  34. ^ International Agency for Research on Cancer 17 June 2011 "Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1–102" PDF Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer p 5 Retrieved 16 February 2016 
  35. ^ a b Purga, Jaanus 2007-10-16 Shale Products – Production, Quality and Market Challenges PDF 27th Oil Shale Symposium Golden, Colorado: Colorado School of Mines Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  36. ^ Bo Yu; Ping Xu; Shanshan Zhu; Xiaofeng Cai; Ying Wang; Li Li; Fuli Li; Xiaoyong Liu; Cuiqing Ma March 2006 "Selective Biodegradation of S and N Heterocycles by a Recombinant Rhodococcus erythropolis Strain Containing Carbazole Dioxygenase" PDF Applied and Environmental Microbiology American Society for Microbiology 72 3: 2235–2238 PMC 1393234  PMID 16517679 doi:101128/AEM7232235-22382006 Retrieved 2008-12-28 
  37. ^ "Process for treating hot shale oil effluent from a retort – US Patent # 4181596" freepatentsonlinecom Retrieved 2008-12-28 
  38. ^ a b Oja, Vahur 2006 "A brief overview of motor fuels from shale oil of kukersite" PDF Oil Shale A Scientific-Technical Journal Estonian Academy Publishers 23 2: 160–163 ISSN 0208-189X Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  39. ^ a b c d Mölder, Leevi 2004 "Estonian Oil Shale Retorting Industry at a Crossroads" PDF Oil Shale A Scientific-Technical Journal Estonian Academy Publishers 21 2: 97–98 ISSN 0208-189X Retrieved 2008-12-25 
  40. ^ a b Andrews, Anthony 2006-04-13 "Oil Shale: History, Incentives and Policy" PDF Congressional Research Service RL33359 Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  41. ^ Andrews, Anthony 2008-11-17 "Developments in Oil Shale" PDF Congressional Research Service RL34748 Retrieved 2008-12-24 
  42. ^ James Girard 2004 Principles of Environmental Chemistry Jones & Bartlett ISBN 978-0-7637-2471-9 Fractional distillation yields mainly high molecular weight hydrocarbons, which can then be cracked to yield desirable hydrocarbons in the gasoline range 
  43. ^ "Annual Energy Outlook 2006" PDF Energy Information Administration February 2006 Retrieved 2007-06-22 
  44. ^ "NPR's National Strategic Unconventional Resource Model" PDF United States Department of Energy April 2006 Retrieved 2007-07-09 
  45. ^ Kraushaar, Jack P, and Robert A Ristinen Energy and the Environment-2nd ed New York, NY: Wiley & Sons Inc, 2006 54–56
  46. ^ Bureau of Land Management 2011-04-14 "Notice of Intent To Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement EIS and Possible Land Use Plan Amendments for Allocation of Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Lands Administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming" PDF Federal Register 76 72: 21003–21005 Retrieved 2011-10-09 

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