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World oil shale

Humans have used oil shale as a fuel since prehistoric times, since it generally burns without any processing. Britons of the Iron Age also used to polish it and form it into ornaments.  Modern industrial mining of oil shale began in 1837 in Autun, France, followed by exploitation in Scotland, Germany, and several other countries.

Operations during the 19th century focused on the production of kerosene, lamp oil, and paraffin; these products helped supply the growing demand for lighting that arose during the Industrial Revolution. Fuel oil, lubricating oil and grease, and ammonium sulfate were also produced.  The European oil shale industry expanded immediately before World War I due to limited access to conventional petroleum resources and to the mass production of automobiles and trucks, which accompanied an increase in gasoline consumption.

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. 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.  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. 

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.  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 in chemical industries in China, Estonia, and Russia.  As of 2009, 80% of oil shale used globally is extracted in Estonia.

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.

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.

World oil shale resources are currently estimated at about 2.8 trillion barrels of oil in place, of which some 2.3  trillion is in the USA.

RegionBillion barrels oil
North America2,359.5
Russia259.0
Africa159.3
Europe110.1
South America82.0
Middle East40.1
Asia24.7
Australasia24.0
Central Asia18.9