Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Oil Shale Country Notes
There are about 24 known occurrences, which result in Jordan having an extremely large proven and exploitable oil shale resource. Geological surveys indicate that the existing shale reserves cover more than 60% of the country and amount to in excess of 50 billion tonnes.
The eight most important deposits are located in west-central Jordan and of these, El Lajjun, Sultani, and the Jurf Ed-Darawish have been the most extensively explored. They are all classified as shallow and most are suitable for open-cast mining, albeit some are underlain by phosphate beds. One more deposit, Yarmouk, located close to the northern border is thought to extend into Syria and may prove to be exceptionally large, both in area and thickness. Reaching some 400 m in thickness, it would only be exploitable by underground mining.
The naturally bituminous marls of Jordan are generally of quite good quality. The oil content and calorific value vary quite widely between deposits but research has shown that 20-30% of the original thermal content remains in the retorted residue, thus providing a source of fuel for the production of heat or electricity. Additionally, it has been shown that the levels of sulphur and mineral content would not cause technological or environmental problems.
During the past two decades the Government has undertaken a number of feasibility studies and test programmes. These have been carried out in co-operation with companies from Germany, China, Russia, Canada and Switzerland. They were all intended to demonstrate utilisation through either direct burning or retorting. All tests proved that burning Jordanian oil shale is very stable, emission levels are low and carbon burn-out is high. Furthermore, research on catalytic gasification was undertaken in the FSU, with positive results. Solvent extraction of organic matter was the subject of a joint study by the Jordanian Natural Resources Authority and the National Energy Research Center.
The eventual exploitation of Jordan's fuel resource to produce liquid fuels and/or electricity, together with chemicals and building materials, would be favoured by three factors - the high organic matter content of Jordanian oil shale, the suitability of the deposits for surface-mining and their location - away from centres of population but having good transport links to potential consumers (i.e. phosphate mines, potash and cement works).
In recent years the price of crude oil has not been high enough to justify the financial commitment of developing Jordanian oil shale. The National Resources Agency proposed that it should continue to monitor both technological advances and the economic aspects of prospective projects. However, the Government now considers that owing to the rapid increase in demand for electricity, the prospective grid connections between countries in the region and significantly higher oil prices, the required investment is not only becoming feasible but should be pursued through joint ventures and BOT projects.
The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (MEMR) stated in its 2005 Annual Report that a study on the future strategy of the nascent industry would be financed by the US Trade Development Agency. The 2006 study was due to address the question of the shale oil being utilised directly for electricity generation or sent for distillation.
In November 2006 Eesti Energia of Estonia announced that the company had been awarded the right to explore 300 million tonnes of the El Lajjun reserve. A study to establish whether the construction of a shale oil facility would be feasible and mutually beneficial is estimated to take 18 months.
Early in 2007, it was reported that Petrobras of Brazil had signed an MOU with the MEMR to study the economic viability of using the company's Petrosix process on the oil shale of the Attarat Umm Ghudran deposit.