Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Oil Shale Country Notes
The total demonstrated oil shale resource is estimated to be in the region of 58 billion tonnes, of which about 24 billion barrels of oil is recoverable. The deposits are spread through the eastern and southern states of the country (Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania), although it is the eastern Queensland deposits that have the best potential for economic development.
Production from oil shale deposits in southeastern Australia began in the 1860s, coming to an end in 1952 when government funding ceased. Between 1865 and 1952 some 4 million tonnes of oil shale were processed.
During the 1970s and early 1980s a modern exploration programme was undertaken by two Australian companies, Southern Pacific Petroleum N.L. and Central Pacific Minerals N.L. (SPP/CPM). The aim was to find high-quality oil shale deposits amenable to open-pit mining operations in areas near infrastructure and deepwater ports. The programme was successful in finding a number of silica-based oil shale deposits of commercial significance along the coast of Queensland. Ten deposits clustered in an area north of Brisbane were investigated and found to have an oil shale resource in excess of 20 billion barrels (based on a cutoff grade of 50 l/t at 0% moisture), which could support production of more than 1 million barrels a day.
Between 1995 and February 2002 the Stuart Deposit (located near Gladstone) was developed, firstly by a joint venture between SPP/CPM and Suncor Energy Inc. of Canada and then by SPP/CPM, following its purchase of Suncor's interest. Further corporate restructuring took place when SPP became the holding company and CPM was delisted from the Australian stock exchange.
The Stuart project (found to have a total in-situ shale oil resource of 2.6 billion barrels and a capacity to produce more than 200 000 b/d) and incorporating the Alberta-Taciuk Processor (ATP) retort technology had three stages: The Stage 1 demonstration plant (producing a relatively light 42o API gravity crude with 0.4 wt% sulphur and 1.0 wt% nitrogen) was constructed between 1997 and 1999 and produced over 500 000 barrels. The plant was designed to process 6 000 tonnes per stream day of run-of-mine (wet shale) to produce 4 500 bpsd of shale oil products. Stage 2 was to be scaled up by a factor of 4 to a commercial-sized module processing 23 500 tpsd and producing 15 500 bpsd oil products. It was envisaged that multiple commercial ATP units would come on stream during 2010-2013 processing up to 380 000 tpsd and producing up to 200 000 bpsd of oil products for a period in excess of 30 years.
To meet the needs of the market, the raw oil required further processing which resulted in ultra low-sulphur naphtha and light fuel oil. Shale oil has been certified as a feedstock for jet fuel production by the world's leading accreditation agencies and a long-term contract for the sale of naphtha to Mobil Oil Australia was in place. The light fuel oil was shipped to Singapore and sold into the fuel oil blending market.
Having committed itself to ensuring that the Stuart oil shale project had a sustainable development, SPP put various schemes into operation to achieve its stated environmental goals. One in particular launched in 1998 was a reforestation carbon dioxide sink. Some 250 000 trees were planted on deforested lands in Central Queensland. In September 2000, the first carbon trade in Queensland was announced. It was between SPP and the state government and was based on the reforestation trials.
In February 2004 Queensland Energy Resources Ltd. (QERL) acquired the oil shale assets of SPP and ran final plant trials at the demonstration facility. However, no production ensued and the Environmental Protection Agency regulated operations until the plant was closed in mid-2004. The facility is now on 'care-and-maintenance in an operable condition'.
QERL continues to assess the possibilities for the future commercial operation of the Stuart project.