From: Andy Soos ENN
Published December 3, 2012 08:45 AM

Shale Oil and How It Changes the World

Oil shale, also known as kerogen shale, is an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen (a solid mixture of organic chemical compounds) from which liquid hydrocarbons called shale oil can be produced. Shale oil is a substitute for conventional crude oil and the USA has a lot of it. The global energy map is changing, with potentially far-reaching consequences for energy markets and trade. It is being redrawn by the resurgence in oil and gas production in the United States due to shale and could be further reshaped by a retreat from nuclear power in some countries, continued rapid growth in the use of wind and solar technologies and by the global spread of unconventional gas production.


Extracting shale oil from oil shale is more potentially costly than the production of conventional crude oil both financially and in terms of its environmental impact. Deposits of oil shale occur around the world, including major deposits in the United States of America. Estimates of global deposits range from 2.8 to 3.3 trillion barrels. This obviously will change the picture of global economics and politics.

Mining oil shale involves a number of environmental impacts, more pronounced in surface mining than in underground mining. They include acid drainage induced by the sudden rapid exposure and subsequent oxidation of formerly buried materials, the introduction of metals including mercury into surface water and groundwater, increased erosion, and sulfur-gas emissions.

Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well
beyond North America – and the energy sector. The recent rebound in US oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity – with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge – and steadily hanging the role of North America in global energy trade. By around 2020, the United States s projected to become the largest global oil producer (overtaking Saudi Arabia until the mid-2020s) and starts to see the impact of new fuel-efficiency measures in transport.

Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the
global energy system onto a more sustainable math. Global energy demand grows by more than one-third over the period to 2035 in the New Policies Scenario, with China, India and the Middle East accounting for 60% of the increase. Energy demand barely rises in OECD countries, although there is a shift away from oil, coal (and, in some countries, nuclear) towards natural gas and renewables.

Despite the growth in low carbon sources of energy, fossil fuels remain dominant in the present global energy mix.

Natural gas is the only fossil fuel for which global demand grows in all future studied by the International Energy Agency in a 2012 report,; but the outlook varies by region. Demand growth in China, India and the Middle East is strong: active policy support and regulatory reforms push China’s consumption up. In the United States, low prices and abundant supply see gas overtake oil around 2030 to become the largest fuel in the energy mix. Europe takes almost a decade to get back to 2010 levels of gas demand: the growth in Japan is similarly limited by higher gas prices and a policy emphasis on renewables and energy efficiency.

Coal has met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand since 2000, growing
faster even than total renewables. Whether coal demand continues to rise strongly will depend on the strength of national policy measures that favor lower-emissions energy sources, the deployment of more efficient coal-burning technologies. The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in China and India which account for almost three-quarters of projected coal demand.

The world will be a different place by 2035 in more ways than one.

For further information see IEA Report.

Shale image via Wikipedia.

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