Oil shale

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{{#badges: CoalSwarm}} Oil shale is an organic-rich, fine-grained, sedimentary rock, containing significant amounts of kerogen (a solid mixture of organic chemical compounds) from which liquid hydrocarbons called shale oil can be produced. Shale oil is considered a substitute for conventional crude oil, which occurs naturally in shales; however, extracting shale oil from oil shale is more costly than the production of conventional crude oil, both financially and in terms of its environmental impact.[1]

Heating oil shale to a sufficiently high temperature causes the chemical process of pyrolysis to yield a vapor. Upon cooling the vapor, the liquid shale oil—an "unconventional oil"—is separated from oil shale gas.[2]

Oil shale often gains attention as a potential abundant source of oil whenever the price of crude oil rises.[3][4] At the same time, oil-shale mining and processing raise a number of environmental concerns, such as land use, waste management, water use, waste-water management, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution. 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.[5]

Shale oil and fracking

As of March, 2011, nine different U.S. states including California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming are actively using oil fracking technology to increase the production of their wells and in shale rock formation wells.[6]


In June 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated technically recoverable shale oil resources of 345 billion barrels in the 42 countries it surveyed, or 10 percent of global crude supplies.[7]

Oil shale and public lands

Bush's Final Gift to his Friends

In September 2008 the American Congress voted to overturn a two-year moratorium on the development of oil shale. Two months later, in November 2008, it was revealed that in its dying days, the Bush Administration had given the approval to develop oil shale deposits straddling almost two million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Critics of oil shale development claimed the Bush Administration was fast-tracking a programme without public consultation that could devastate the environment whilst emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases. At the same time the new rules would also waive royalties for oil companies under certain circumstances.

“The Bush administration is maintaining an unlawful position by amending these resource management plans without providing the public with an opportunity to have their decisions administratively appealed,” argues Melissa Thrailkill, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.“We are considering all our options. That includes legal action in federal court.” [8]

Obama rolls back expansion

In February 2011, President Obama announced a moratorium on the Bush expansion. On Feb. 3, 2012, Obama’s Department of the Interior ended the moratorium by formally rolling back the expansion, from 2 million acres to about 500,000 acres.[9]

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it was set to authorize 1,250 square miles of public land for commercial leasing of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The land is a third of the what former President George W. Bush planned to offer, and the new administration said it was taking wilderness-quality lands off the table. Some estimates put the potential oil in the region at 1 trillion barrels — but environmental groups question the estimates, and say extraction would involve ripping up public lands and depleting scarce sources of water, including the Colorado River.[10]

Articles and Resources


  1. (2007) Survey of energy resources (PDF), 21, World Energy Council, 93–115. ISBN 0-946121-26-5. Retrieved on 2007-11-13. 
  2. 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. Retrieved on 2007-07-09. 
  3. "Energy Security of Estonia" (PDF) (September 2006). Estonian Foreign Policy Institute. Retrieved on 2007-10-20. 
  4. Oil Shale and Other Unconventional Fuels Activities. United States Department of Energy. Retrieved on 2007-10-20.
  5. Raukas, Anto (2004). "Opening a new decade" (PDF). Oil Shale. A Scientific-Technical Journal 21 (1): 1–2. Estonian Academy Publishers. ISSN 0208-189X. Retrieved on 2008-05-14. 
  6. Rich Hill, "Oil Shale Fracking," Transloading.org, March 31, 2011.
  7. Gregory Meyer, "World Has 10 Years of Shale Oil: US Department of Energy," Financial Times, June 11, 2013.
  8. Jad Mouawad, "In Waning Hours, Bush Administration Fortifies Oil Shale Industry", New York Times, November 18, 2008
  9. RL Miller, "Oil shale drilling another terrible aspect of GOP transportation bill," Grist, Feb. 11, 2012.
  10. "US limits oil-shale development in Rocky Mountains," AP, Nov. 9, 2012.

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External links

Wikipedia also has an article on Oil shale. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.