Kevin Shaw, an energy lawyer with Mayer Brown, the law firm, says the standard joke in the oil and gas industry is you know a boom is near the top when people start talking about oil shale in Colorado. That is because what is known by purists as “oil shale” is different from the “shale oil” that is being pumped like crazy out of the Bakken oil reserve and being targeted for production in the Eagle Ford and other new hotspots across the US. ExxonMobil’s Patrick McGinn explains the difference:
The hydrocarbons locked up in oil shales in Colorado are a solid material
called kerogen, which is a precursor to oil and gas. In other words, nature
has not yet had enough time to cook the kerogen into oil and gas because of
a lack of heat (typically caused by pressure deep underground). The Baaken shale oil contains hydrocarbons that already exist as liquid oil because it was originally deep underground and had enough time and heat to convert from kerogen to oil.