According to energy.gov, shale energy development is one of the fastest growing trends in US domestic energy exploration and production, and the American Fuel and Chemical Manufacturers (AFPM) state that “The shale energy revolution has resulted in a dramatic change in energy production in the US. Today, an unprecedented supply and production of US oil and natural gas has resulted in American refiners and petrochemical manufacturers combining low-cost raw materials and fuels, with advantages in existing infrastructure and diverse manufacturing capabilities.” Shale energy development continues to be discussed as a domestic energy resource. In the article below we explore what shale is, the extraction process of developing shale oil, the economic potential of oil shale and its associated environmental concerns.
What is Shale
Shale is a sedimentary rock that is essentially fossilized mud, made up of a mixture of clay mineral flakes and microscopic, silt-sized particles of quartz and calcite. Sedimentary rocks such as shale and limestone are formed through the laying down and solidification of mineral sediments over time that have been deposited in a pancaking fashion by rivers, lakes, oceans, glaciers and wind. Fossils are often found embedded within the parallel layers of shale, and these layers, like the pages of a book, are especially effective for interpreting the geological record.
Shale Oil Extraction
The extraction of oil from deposits of shale is an industrial process that produces what is known as “unconventional oil” – derived from non-crude and non-natural gas sources that include oil sands, tar sands and shale. The process of shale oil extraction converts kerogen – solid, fossilized organic matter found within sedimentary rocks that consists of immense deposits of carbon – into viable petroleum products via pyrolysis, hydrogenation or thermal dissolution. The resultant product is either a fuel oil or it can later be refined to satisfy feedstock specifications with the introduction of certain additives and the removal of impurities such as sulfur and nitrogen. Shale oil, often referred to as “synthetic crude” can be extracted and heat processed using a variety of aboveground and below ground techniques. The most common extraction process of decomposing shale to become an oil is via pyrolysis, also known as destructive distillation, whereby the shale is heated to produce condensable shale oil vapors and non-condensible oil shale gas. This vapor and gas is then collected and cooled, which causes the oil to condense. A byproduct of oil shale processing is “spent oil shale,” a solid, carbonaceous, char residue that can be burned off to produce oil shale ash, which can then be used as additives for the manufacturing of cement and bricks.
Shale Energy Development and Economics
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