Iran discovers new oil shale fields

Oil shale
Source: "Messel oil shale sideritic laminae" by Gretarsson - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Iran – the country with the world’s fourth largest oil reserves (at estimated 150 billion barrels) and largest natural gas reserves (at 34 trillion cubic meters) has also recently discovered possible oil shales in southeast Kerman and northern Semnan.

On July 11th, the official IRNA news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying that shale reserves have already been confirmed in Iran’s Zagros Basin and near Aligudarz in the Lorestan province. Additional reserves as thought to be located in the Kerman and Semnan provinces.

“Preliminary explorations have found three or four oil shale horizons with signs of kerogen near Kerman and southern Semnan,” he said, adding: “The Garoo formation in Lorestan contains the biggest shale reserves yet and the Kajdomi formation in Gachsaran also holds a significant capacity.”

However, the country’s abundance in conventional resources means that shale exploration in Iran is not likely to go beyond exploration and identification, with no plans for production. This is supported by the fact that each barrel of conventional crude oil in the Persian Gulf costs Iran between five and 10 dollars to retrieve versus $40-80 for the shale oil.

As the Trend News Agency reports, once the second-largest producer in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, Iran’s crude output has been reduced to about 2.8 million barrels a day, from 3.6m b/d in 2011, by EU and US sanctions aimed at reining in the country’s nuclear activities. Exports stand at about 1.1m b/d, half their pre-sanctions level.

Oil shale, also known as kerogen shale, is an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen from which liquid hydrocarbons called shale oil (not to be confused with tight oil—crude oil occurring naturally in shales) can be produced.

Unlike natural gas and crude produced from shale deposits using hydraulic fracturing, shale oil is produced from oil shale rock fragments by pyrolysis, hydrogenation, or thermal dissolution. These processes convert the organic matter within the rock (kerogen) into synthetic oil and gas. The resulting oil can be used immediately as a fuel or upgraded to meet refinery feedstock specifications by adding hydrogen and removing impurities such as sulfur and nitrogen. The refined products can be used for the same purposes as those derived from crude oil.

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