Oil shale reserves

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Oil shale reserves refers to oil shale resources that are economically recoverable under current economic conditions and technological abilities. Oil shale deposits range from small presently economically recoverable reserves to large presently uneconomically recoverable resources. Defining oil shale reserves is difficult, as the chemical composition of different oil shales, as well as their kerogen content and extraction technologies, vary significantly. The economic feasibility of shale oil extraction is highly dependent on the price of conventional oil; if the price of crude oil per barrel is less than the production price per barrel of shale oil, it is uneconomic.

As source rocks for most conventional oil reservoirs, oil shale deposits are found in all world oil provinces, although most of them are too deep to be exploited economically.[1] There are around 600 known oil shale deposits around the world.[2] Many deposits need more exploration to determine their potential as reserves. Well-explored deposits, which could ultimately be classified as reserves, include the Green River deposits in the western United States, the Tertiary deposits in Queensland, Australia, deposits in Sweden and Estonia, the El-Lajjun deposit in Jordan, and deposits in France, Germany, Brazil, China, and Russia. It is expected that these deposits would yield at least 40 liters (0.25 bbl) of shale oil per metric ton of shale, using the Fischer Assay.[3][4]

A 2008 estimate set the total world resources of oil shale at 689 gigatons — equivalent to yield of 4.8 trillion barrels (760 billion cubic metres) of shale oil, with the largest resource deposits in the United States, which is thought to have 3.7 trillion barrels (590 billion cubic metres), though only a part of it is recoverable.[5] According to the 2010 World Energy Outlook by the International Energy Agency, the world oil shale resources may be equivalent of more than 5 trillion barrels (790 billion cubic metres) of oil in place of which more than 1 trillion barrels (160 billion cubic metres) may be technically recoverable.[1] For comparison, the world's proven conventional oil reserves are estimated to be 1.317 trillion barrels (209.4 billion cubic metres), as of 1 January 2007.[6]

Definition of reserves[edit]

Estimating shale oil reserves is complicated by several factors. Firstly, the amount of kerogen contained in oil shale deposits varies considerably. Secondly, some nations report as reserves the total amount of kerogen in place, including all kerogen regardless of technical or economic constraints; these estimates do not consider the amount of kerogen that may be extracted from identified and assayed oil shale rock using available technology and under given economic conditions. By most definitions, "reserves" refers only to the amount of resource which is technically exploitable and economically feasible under current economic conditions. The term "resources", on the other hand, may refer to all deposits containing kerogen. Thirdly, shale oil extraction technologies are still developing, so the amount of recoverable kerogen can only be estimated.[2][7]

There are a wide variety of extraction methods, which yield significantly different quantities of useful oil. As a result, the estimated amounts of resources and reserves display wide variance. The kerogen content of oil shale formations differs widely, and the economic feasibility of its extraction is highly dependent on international and local costs of oil. Several methods are used to determine the quantity and quality of the products extracted from shale oil. At their best, these methods give an approximate value to its energy potential. One standard method is the Fischer Assay, which yields a heating value, that is, a measure of caloric output. This is generally considered a good overall measure of usefulness. The Fischer Assay has been modified, standardized, and adapted by the American Petroleum Institute. It does not, however, indicate how much oil could be extracted from the sample. Some processing methods yield considerably more useful product than the Fischer Assay would indicate. The Tosco II method yields over 100% more oil, and the Hytort process yields between 300% to 400% more oil.[4]

Geographical allocation[edit]

There is no comprehensive overview of oil shale geographical allocation around the world. Around 600 known oil shale deposits are diversely spread throughout the earth, and are found on every continent with the possible exception of Antarctica, which has not yet been explored for oil shale.[2][8] Oil shale resources can be concentrated in a large confined deposit such as the Green River formations, which were formed by a large inland lake. These can be many meters thick but limited by the size of the original lake. They may also resemble the deposits found along the eastern American seaboard, which were the product of a shallow sea, in that they may be quite thin but laterally expansive, covering thousands of square kilometers.

Largest oil shale deposits (over 1 billion metric tons) by John Dyni[4]
Deposit Country Period In-place shale oil resources (million barrels) In-place oil shale resources (million metric tons)
Green River Formation United States Paleogene 1,466,000 213,000
Phosphoria Formation United States Permian 250,000 35,775
Eastern Devonian United States Devonian 189,000 27,000
Heath Formation United States Early Carboniferous 180,000 25,578
Olenyok Basin Russia Cambrian 167,715 24,000
Congo Democratic Republic of Congo ? 100,000 14,310
Irati Formation Brazil Permian 80,000 11,448
Sicily Italy ? 63,000 9,015
Tarfaya Morocco Cretaceous 42,145 6,448
Volga Basin Russia ? 31,447 4,500
Leningrad deposit, Baltic Oil Shale Basin Russia Ordovician 25,157 3,600
Vychegodsk Basin Russia Jurassic 19,580 2,800
Wadi Maghar Jordan Cretaceous 14,009 2,149
Graptolitic argillite Estonia Ordovician 12,386 1,900
Timahdit Morocco Cretaceous 11,236 1,719
Collingwood Shale Canada Ordovician 12,300 1,717
Italy Italy Triassic 10,000 1,431

More recent studies by the United States Geological Survey estimate that the three largest oil-shale deposits—all are part of the Green River Formation—are the Piceance Basin with 1,525,157 thousand of barrels,[9] the Greater Green River Basin with 1,444,992 thousand of barrels,[10] and the Uinta Basin with 1,318,964 thousand of barrels in-place shale oil resources.[11]

The table below reports reserves by estimated amount of shale oil. Shale oil refers to synthetic oil obtained by heating organic material (kerogen) contained in oil shale to a temperature which will separate it into oil, combustible gas, and the residual carbon that remains in the spent shale. All figures are presented in barrels and metric tons.

Shale oil: resources and production at end-2008 by regions and countries with resources over 10 billion barrels of in-place shale oil (by John Dyni)[5]
Region In-place shale oil resources (million barrels) In-place oil shale resources (million metric tons) Production in 2008 (thousand metric tons (oil))
Africa 159,243 23,317 -
Democratic Republic of the Congo 100,000 14,310 -
Morocco 53,381 8,167 -
Asia 384,430 51,872 375
China 354,000 47,600 375
Pakistan 91,000 12,236 -
Europe 368,156 52,845 355
Russia 247,883 35,470 -
Italy 73,000 10,446 -
Estonia 16,286 2,494 355
Middle East 38,172 5,792 -
Jordan 34,172 5,242 -
North America 3,722,066 539,123 -
United States 3,706,228 536,931 -
Canada 15,241 2,192 -
Oceania 31,748 4,534 -
Australia 31,729 4,531 -
South America 82,421 11,794 157
Brazil 82,000 11,734 159
World total 4,786,131 689,227 930


Major oil shale deposits are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (equal to 14.31 billion metric tons of shale oil) and Morocco (12.3 billion metric tons or 8.16 billion metric tons of shale oil). Deposits in Congo are not properly explored yet.[4] In Morocco, oil shale deposits have been identified at ten localities with the largest deposits in Tarfaya and Timahdite. Although reserves in Tarfaya and Timahdit are well explored, the commercial exploitation has not started yet and only a limited program of laboratory and pilot-plant research has been undertaken.[12] There are also oil shale reserves in Egypt, South Africa, Madagascar, and Nigeria. The main deposits of Egypt are located in Safaga-Al-Qusayr and Abu Tartour areas.[4]


Major oil shale deposits are located in China, which has an estimated total of 32 billion metric tons, of which 4.4 billion metric tons are technically exploitable and economically feasible.[4][13] The principal Chinese oil shale deposits and production lie in Fushun and Liaoning; others are located in Maoming in Guangdong, Huadian in Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Shandong.[13] Professor Alan R. Carroll of University of Wisconsin–Madison estimates that Upper Permian lacustrine oil shale deposits of northwest China, absent from previous global oil shale assessments, are comparable to the Green River Formation.[14]

In addition to China, major deposits are located in Thailand (18.7 billion metric tons), Pakistan (227 billion metric tons)of which 9.1 billion metric tons are technically exploitable and economically feasible;, Kazakhstan (several deposits; major deposit at Kenderlyk Field with 4 billion metric tons), and Turkey (2.2 billion metric tons).[3][4] Thailand's oil shale deposits are near Mae Sot, Tak Province, and at Li, Lamphun Province.[15] Deposits in Turkey are found mainly in middle and western Anatolia.[4] According to some reports, also Uzbekistan has major oil shale deposits of 47 billion metric tons, mainly located at Sangruntau but also at Baysun, Jam, Urtabulak, Aktau, Uchkyr and Kulbeshkak.[16] Smaller oil shale reserves have also been found in India, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Armenia, and Mongolia.


Outcrop of Ordovician kukersite oil shale, northern Estonia.

The biggest oil shale reserves in Europe are located in Russia (equal to 35.47 billion metric tons of shale oil). Major deposits are located in the Volga-Petchyorsk province and in the Baltic Oil Shale Basin. Other major oil shale deposits in Europe are located in Italy (10.45 billion metric tons of shale oil), Estonia (2.49 billion metric tons of shale oil), France (1 billion metric tons of shale oil), Belarus (1 billion metric tons of shale oil), Sweden (875 million metric tons of shale oil), Ukraine (600 million metric tons of shale oil) and the United Kingdom (500 million metric tons of shale oil). There are oil shale reserves also in Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Austria, Albania, and Romania.[4][5]

Middle East[edit]

Significant oil shale deposits are located in Jordan (5.242 billion metric tons of shale oil or 65 billion metric tons of oil shale) and Israel (550 million metric tons of shale oil or 6.5 billion metric tons of oil shale). Jordanian oil shales are high quality, comparable to western US oil shale, although their sulfur content is high. The best-explored deposits are El Lajjun, Sultani, and the Juref ed Darawish are located in west-central Jordan, while the Yarmouk deposit, close to its northern border, extends into Syria.[4][17] Most of Israel's deposits are located in the Rotem Basin region of the northern Negev desert near the Dead Sea. Israeli oil shale is relatively low in heating value and oil yield.[4][18]

North America[edit]

Oil shale from the Mahogany Zone of the Green River Formation, Colorado. Weathered surface on right; fresh surface on left.

At 301 billion metric tons, the oil shale deposits in the United States are easily the largest in the world. There are two major deposits: the eastern US deposits, in Devonian-Mississippian shales, cover 250,000 square miles (650,000 km2); the western US deposits of the Green River Formation in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, are among the richest oil shale deposits in the world.[4] In Canada 19 deposits have been identified. The best-examined deposits are in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.[19]


Australia's oil shale resource is estimated at about 58 billion metric tons or 4.531 billion metric tons of shale oil, of which about 24 billion barrels (3.8 billion cubic metres) is recoverable.[5] The deposits are located in the eastern and southern states with the biggest potential in the eastern Queensland deposits.[4] Oil shale has also been found in New Zealand.[5]

South America[edit]

Brazil has the world's second-largest known oil shale resources (the Irati shale and lacustrine deposits) and is currently the world's second largest shale oil producer, after Estonia. Oil shale resources occur in São Mateus do Sul, Paraná, and in Vale do Paraíba. Brazil has developed the world’s largest surface oil shale pyrolysis retort at Petrosix, with a 11-meter (36 ft)-diameter vertical shaft. Brazilian production in 1999 was about 200,000 metric tons. [3][20] Small resources are also found in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. [21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b IEA (2010), p. 165
  2. ^ a b c 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: 1–2. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
  3. ^ a b c Altun, N. E.; Hiçyilmaz, C.; Hwang, J.-Y.; Suat Bağci, A.; Kök, M. V. (2006). "Oil Shales in the world and Turkey; reserves, current situation and future prospects: a review" (PDF). Oil Shale. A Scientific-Technical Journal. Estonian Academy Publishers. 23 (3): 211–227. ISSN 0208-189X. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Dyni, John R. (2006). "Geology and resources of some world oil-shale deposits. Scientific Investigations Report 2005–5294" (PDF). U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Dyni (2010), pp. 101–102
  6. ^ "Chapter 3 - Petroleum and Other Liquids Fuels. International Energy Outlook 2007". Energy Information Administration. May 2007. DOE/EIA-0484(2007). Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  7. ^ Youngquist, Walter (1998). "Shale Oil – The Elusive Energy" (PDF). Hubbert Center Newsletter. Colorado School of Mines (4). Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  8. ^ Ots, Arvo (2007-02-12). "Estonian oil shale properties and utilization in power plants" (PDF). Energetika. Lithuanian Academy of Sciences Publishers. 53 (2): 8–18. Retrieved 2011-05-06. 
  9. ^ Johnson, Ronald C.; Mercier, Tracey J.; Brownfield, Michael E.; Pantea, M.P.; Self, Jesse G. (2009-04-02). Assessment of In-Place Oil Shale Resources of the Green River Formation, Piceance Basin, Western Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009–3012 (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  10. ^ Johnson, Ronald C.; Mercier, Tracey J.; Brownfield, Michael E. (2011-06-27). Assessment of In-Place Oil Shale Resources of the Green River Formation, Greater Green River Basin in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011–3063 (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  11. ^ Johnson, Ronald C.; Mercier, Tracey J.; Brownfield, Michael E.; Self, Jesse G. (2010-05-07). Assessment of In-Place Oil Shale Resources of the Green River Formation, Uinta Basin, Utah and Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011–3010 (PDF). Retrieved 2014-05-26. 
  12. ^ Bekri, Omar (1992). "Possibilities for Oil Shale Development in Morocco" (PDF). Energeia. University of Kentucky, Center for Applied Energy Research. 3 (5): 1–2. Retrieved 2008-06-21. 
  13. ^ a b Qian, J.; Wang, J.; Li, S. (2003). "Oil Shale Development in China" (PDF). Oil Shale. A Scientific-Technical Journal. Estonian Academy Publishers. 20 (3): 356–359. ISSN 0208-189X. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  14. ^ Carroll, Alan R. (2007-10-17). Upper Permian Oil Shale Deposits of Northwest China:World's Largest? (PDF). 27th Oil Shale Symposium. Golden, Colorado. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  15. ^ Suwannathong, Apiradee; Khummongkol, Damrong (2007). Oil Shale Resource in Mae Sot Basin, Thailand (PDF). 27th Oil Shale Symposium. Colorado School of Mines. Retrieved 2016-03-25. 
  16. ^ "Uzbekistan postpones shale plant construction". Trend News Agency. 2015-12-29. Retrieved 2016-03-25. 
  17. ^ Hamarneh, Yousef; Alali, Jamal; Sawaged, Suzan (1998) [2006]. Oil Shale Resources Development In Jordan (PDF). Amman: Natural Resources Authority of Jordan. Retrieved 2008-06-21. 
  18. ^ Dyni (2010), p. 111
  19. ^ Dyni (2010), p. 106
  20. ^ Laherrère, Jean (2005). "Review on oil shale data" (PDF). Oil Shale. A Scientific-Technical Journal. Hubbert Peak. Retrieved 2007-06-17. 
  21. ^ Russell, Paul L. (1990). Oil shales of the world, their origin, occurrence and exploitation (First ed.). Pergamon Press. pp. 162–224. ISBN 0-08-037240-6.