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 (not to be confused with tight oil—crude oil occurring naturally in shales) can be produced. Shale oil is a substitute for conventional crude oil; however, extracting shale oil from oil shale is more 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. Estimates of global deposits range from 2.8 to 3.3 trillion barrels (450×109 to 520×109 m3) of recoverable oil.
Heating oil shale to a sufficiently high temperature causes the chemical process of pyrolysis to yield a vapor. Upon cooling the vapor, the liquid shale oil—an unconventional oil—is separated from combustible oil-shale gas (the term shale gas can also refer to gas occurring naturally in shales). Oil shale can also be burned directly in furnaces as a low-grade fuel for power generation and district heating or used as a raw material in chemical and construction-materials processing.
General composition of oil shales constitutes inorganic matrix, bitumens, and kerogen. While the bitumen portion of oil shales is soluble in carbon disulfide, kerogen portion is insoluble in carbon disulfide and can contain iron, vanadium, nickel, molybdenum, and uranium.Oil shale contains a lower percentage of organic matter than coal. In commercial grades of oil shale the ratio of organic matter to mineral matter lies approximately between 0.75:5 and 1.5:5. At the same time, the organic matter in oil shale has an atomic ratio of hydrogen to carbon (H/C) approximately 1.2 to 1.8 times lower than for crude oil and about 1.5 to 3 times higher than for coals.