Technological Developments

The oil shale industry dates back to late 17th century Scotland. Oil shale pyrolysis was developed in France, where in 1832, a method for producing lighting oil was developed. During the 19th century oil shale thermal processing factories also operated in Australia, the United States, Brazil, Germany, and Scotland. During the 20th century oil shale processing factories were built in several additional countries, including China and Israel. However, later most of these were closed, largely due to the rapid development of the crude oil industry.

Commercial production of shale oil using the In-Situ technology started in Sweden in the mid 1940's. Low oil prices caused the production of oil from oil shale to no longer be economically viable.

pilot area

During the energy crisis in the 1970's, the global interest in the oil shale as an alternative fuel increased, but the technology wasn't sufficient for the production to be economically viable. In addition, the environmental impact was relatively high. Since then, key development has been made in the oil industry and other related fields. Today, using new technologies, it is economically viable to produce oil from oil shale and, it can be done with low environmental impact.

The use of electric heaters to heat oil shale is not a new concept. At the beginning of World War II the Swedish government urgently ramped up its oil shale development in response to a blockade of imported oil. Four shale oil recovery processes were developed simultaneously near Kvarntorp, Sweden (100 miles of Stockholm) of which one was an in-situ process (invented by Dr. Fredrik Ljungström in 1940). Ljungström's method utilizes a hexagonal pattern of 6 heater wells surrounding a production well in the center.

Relatively light products were produced and overall the technology was a success with ratio of 3.1:1 energy out to energy in. After the war, cheaper supplies of imported oil became available again and the cost of labor and electricity increased. These factors eventually led to the closing of the In-Situ project in 1960.


Several major oil companies have been involved in developing oil shale technology for more than 50 years. A combination of laboratory and field testing has brought clearly into focus both the challenges and opportunities for a commercial oil shale projects. The American major oil company Shell has conducted eight Colorado field pilots in the oil shale resource with increasing scope, cost, and complexity. The majority of effort since the 1990s has been devoted to actively studying important elements of the In-Situ Conversion Process (ICP).

In the last decade, several major oil & gas companies obtained Research, Development, and Demonstration (RDD) leases under the terms of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for oil shale In-Situ projects.

Today, more than half a million barrels are produced daily from tar sands in the province Alberta, Canada, using the In-Situ SAG-D process.

For more information about our process, click here.