- shale oil
petroleum distilled from oil shale.[1855-60]
* * *Synthetic crude oil that is extracted from oil shale by pyrolysis, or destructive distillation.The oil obtained from oil shale cannot be refined by the methods that have been developed for crude oil, however, because shale oil is low in hydrogen and contains large amounts of nitrogen and sulfur compounds. To be made usable, shale oil must be hydrogenated and then chemically treated to remove the nitrogen and sulfur, a process too expensive to make shale oil commercially competitive with crude oil. See also kerogen, petroleum.
* * *synthetic crude oil that is extracted from oil shale by means of pyrolysis, or destructive distillation. In this process, intense heat breaks down a waxy organic matter called kerogen that is contained in the shale and thereby releases oil, gas, water, and residual solids. The oil obtained from oil shale cannot be refined by the methods that have been developed for crude oil, however, because shale oil is deficient in hydrogen and contains excessive amounts of nitrogen and sulfur compounds. To render shale oil usable, it must be hydrogenated and then chemically treated to remove the nitrogen and sulfur impurities. For this reason, shale oil has been competitive with crude oil only when the latter has been in short supply.Shale-oil extraction processes were first patented in 1694 in Great Britain, but no commercial plants were built until 1838 in France and 1862 in Scotland. Shale oil recovery operations were conducted on a limited scale in Australia, Brazil, and the United States during the 19th century and in China, Estonia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland in the early 20th century. By mid-century, however, shale oil output declined sharply because of high processing costs and the discovery of large supplies of easily accessible crude oil. Rises in the price of petroleum in the 1970s briefly renewed interest in shale oil and stimulated the improvement of recovery methods.Under present technology shale oil is recovered by either of two processes. One involves mining and crushing oil shale and then transporting the rock to a processing plant where it is heated in special retorts to temperatures of about 500° C (932° F). The intense heat releases oil vapours from the rock, which liquefy in a series of condensers. The other process involves in situ extraction. In this technique an oil shale deposit is fractured with explosives, after which a mixture of gas and air is pumped into the deposit and ignited to heat the rock. The ensuing pyrolysis of the shale produces oil vapours which, upon condensing, are pumped out much like crude oil.
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