Oil shale reserves refers to oil shale resources that are recoverable under given economic restraints and technological abilities. Oil shale deposits range from small presently non-economic occurrences to large presently commercially exploitable reserves. 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.

There are around 600 known oil shale deposits.[1] Many deposits need more exploration to determine their potential as reserves. However, worldwide technically recoverable reserves have recently been estimated at about 2.8–3.3 trillion barrels (450×10^9–520×10^9 m3) of shale oil, with the largest reserves in the United States, which is thought to have 1.5–2.6 trillion barrels (240×10^9–410×10^9 m3).[2][3][4][5] Well-explored deposits, which could 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.[6][7]

Definition of reserves

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.[8][1]

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.[7]

Largest oil shale deposits (over 1 billion metric tons)[7]
Deposit Country Period In-place shale oil resources (million barrels) In-place oil shale resources (million metric tons)
Green River Formation USA Tertiary 1,466,000 213,000
Phosphoria Formation USA Permian 250,000 35,775
Eastern Devonian USA Devonian 189,000 27,000
Heath Formation USA 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
St. Petersburg, 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
Dictyonema shale 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

Geographical allocation

There is no comprehensive overview of oil shales 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.[1][9] 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.

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-2005 by regions and countries with resources over 10 billion barrels (1.6 km3) of in-place shale oil[2][10]
Region In-place shale oil resources (million barrels) In-place oil shale resources (million metric tons) Production in 2002 (thousand metric tons (oil))
Africa 159,243 23,317 -
Democratic Republic of the Congo 100,000 14,310 -
Morocco 53,381 8,187 -
Asia 45,894 6,562 180
China 16,000 2,290 180
Europe 368,156 52,845 345
Russia 247,883 35,470 -
Italy 73,000 10,446 -
Estonia 16,286 2,494 345
Middle East 38,172 5,792 -
Jordan 34,172 5,242 -
North America 2,100,469 303,758 -
United States 2,085,228 301,566 -
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 2,826,103 408,602 684


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.[7] 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.[11] There are also oil shale reserves in Egypt, South Africa, Madagascar, and Nigeria. The main deposits of Egypt are located in Safaga-Al-Qusair and Abu Tartour areas.[7]


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; Thailand (18.7 billion metric tons), Kazakhstan (several deposits; major deposit at Kenderlyk Field with 4 billion metric tons), and Turkey (2.2 billion metric tons).[6][7][12] Smaller oil shale reserves have also been found in Assam ( India ), Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Armenia, and Mongolia.

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. In 2002, China produced more than 90,000 metric tons of shale oil.[12] Thailand's oil shale deposits are near Mae Sot, Tak Province, and at Li, Lamphun Province. Deposits in Turkey are found mainly in middle and western Anatolia.[7]

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.[13]


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, Austria, Albania, and Romania.[2][7]

Middle East

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 Darawishare located in west-central Jordan, while the Yarmouk deposit, close to its northern border, extends into Syria.[7][14] 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.[2][7]

North America

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.[7] In Canada 19 deposits have been identified. The best-examined deposits are in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.[2]


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 km3) is recoverable.[2] The deposits are located in the eastern and southern states with the biggest potential in the eastern Queensland deposits.[7] Oil shale has also been found in New Zealand.[2]

South America

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. [6][15] Small resources are also found in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. [16]

See also


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  10. "Crude petroleum - reserves from oil shale". United Nations Statistics Division. 2008-02-21. http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=EDATA&f=cmID%3ACR%3BtrID%3A1621. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
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  13. Carroll, Alan R. (2007-10-17). "Upper Permian Oil Shale Deposits of Northwest China:World's Largest?" (PDF). 27th Oil Shale Symposium. Golden, Colorado. http://mines.conference-services.net/viewPDF.asp?abstractID=163932&conferenceID=1128. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
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