Unconventionally Speaking

What is Oil Shale?

Different types of shale plays

Oil and gas from shale is a popular topic and in the unconventional oil and gas industry, there are two types of shale plays that are important.  I thought it important to make the distinction between the two main types of shale plays from which oil and gas products are recovered.  Shale is basically a fine grain sedimentary rock that is made up of many thin layers. The most frequently discussed type, is an oil-bearing shale, which occurs when the oil and gas are fully formed but trapped within the layers of shale due to the low permeability of the shale itself.  Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” combined with horizontal drilling is the most effective method used today to recover the oil and gas from the shale.  These plays include the Barnett Shale in Texas, Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.  The oil and gas recovered from these types of shale plays are commonly called “tight-oil” or “tight-gas” and is very similar to conventional oil and gas.

The other type is oil shale. The difference is oil shale contains a solid organic matter called kerogen.  The kerogen is typically heated to a high temperature, which converts through pyrolysis into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons.  Our Geothermic Fuel Cell™ (GFC) technology was designed to recover oil and gas from this type of shale.  Instead of using hydraulic fracturing as the production method, the GFCs produce very clean heat and electricity in-situ (in place) and converts the kerogen into oil and gas.  Most of the oil shale plays in the United States are concentrated in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.  These include the Green River basin, the Uinta basin and the Piceance basin.  Oil shale deposits in the United States are estimated to contain over a trillion barrels of shale oil.  The cost of heating the ground has always been a barrier to recovering oil from oil shale.  High thermal efficiency is the key to unlocking this incredible resource and our GFC technology was designed to do just that.

More information on oil shale resources can be found here:


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