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Australian oil shale

The oil-shale deposits of Australia range from small and non-economic to deposits large enough for commercial devel¬opment.  The “demonstrated” oil-shale resources of Australia total 58 billion tons, from which about 3.1 billion tons of oil (24 billion barrels) is recoverable.  This compares with Australia’s total reserves of conventional oil of 4.0 billion barrels with an additional 3.0 billion barrels of gas liquids. (GA 2012)

Australian oil-shale deposits range in age from Cambrian to Tertiary and are diverse in origin.  The deposits are located in the eastern one-third of the country, including Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania.  The deposits having the best potential for economic development are those located in Queensland and include the lacustrine Rundle, Stuart, and Condor (McFarlane) deposits of Tertiary age.  The marine Toolebuc oil shale of Early Cretaceous age occupies a large area mostly in Queensland.  The torbanite deposits at Joadja Creek and Glen Davis in New South Wales and the tasmanite deposits in Tasmania were mined for shale oil in the last half of the 1800s and into the early 1900s.  The remaining resources of these high-grade deposits are not commercially important.  Glen Davis, which closed in 1952, was the last oil-shale operation in Australia until the Stuart Project began operations in the late 1990s. About 4 million tons of oil shale were mined in Australia between 1860 and 1952.

The only developmental work on an Australian deposit is currently by Queensland Energy Resources (QER) on the Stuart Deposit near Gladstone.  QER is in the process of commissioning a small demonstration plant using a Paraho II retort with a capacity of about 40 bopd.  The first oil was produced in late 2011 and an oil upgrader is under construction.

Table 1. Demonstrated resources of oil-shale deposits in Australia (from Crisp and others, 1987, their table 1). [ton, metric ton; l/t, liters per metric ton of rock; km, kilometer; m, meter; bbl, U.S. barrel]


DepositAgeIn-situ oilYieldAreaRecoverable oil
(106 tons)  (l/t)(km2)(106 m3) (106 bbls)
AlphaTertiary 17200+101380
Condor (McFarlane)do17,00065601,1006,700
Julia CreekCretaceous 4,000702502701,700
LowmeadTertiary 1,8008425120740
Nagoorindo 6,30090244202,700
Nagoorin Southdo 1,300781874470
Rundledo 5,000105254202,700
Stuartdo 5,20094324002,500
Yaambado 6,10095324402,800
New South Wales
BaeramiPermian 11260--317
Glen Davisdo 6420--423
Mersey Riverdo 55120--848
Totals  57,000   3,900             24,000

The above numbers should be taken as a guide only, as they were compiled prior to the development of  the latest standards for resource definitions, such as JORC and the PRMS.  More recent estimates by the Queensland Government suggest that total resources could be in excess of 35 billion barrels.