Compared to neighboring countries that enjoy huge conventional oil and gas reserves, Jordan imports virtually all its requirement for liquid hydrocarbons. While the country is poor in term of traditional resources, Jordan enjoys significant reserves of oil shale, which underlie more than 70% of Jordanian territory.
The total resources amount to 31 billion tons of shale oil, which places Jordan among the top 10 largest oil shale holder in the world. Globally, there are 2.5 trillion to 3 trillion proven extractable shale oil resources– more than double the world’s recoverable conventional crude oil reserves.
Though Jordan has one of the largest shale resources in the world and although previous attempts to harness this energy source have been made in Jordan, none have resulted in large scale production of energy from oil shale; but due to the high local consumption which set to exceed 100,000 barrels per day according to data of energy ministry, Jordanian government has set an ambitious plan to tackle its oil shale reserves.
According to the National Energy Strategy, covering Jordan's energy requirements from 2007 to 2020, the Kingdom needs to increase its energy supply security and reduce its dependence on external energy sources by leveraging national resources such as renewable energies and oil shale. The energy strategy aims to increase the contribution of local energy sources to 39% by 2020 while reducing foreign sources from their current level of 96% to 61%.
Developing Jordan’s indigenous oil shale resources is an important part of the national energy strategy, where it considers both shale oil extraction and oil shale combustion for thermal power generation.
Jordan's most significant oil shale deposits are to be found in 26 different locations around the country, with the eight most important deposits located in the west-central region of the Kingdom. In addition to the west-central deposits, another important deposit is the Yarmouk deposit (where shale oil was first used in Jordan) located near the Kingdom's northern border, while a third shale oil region lies in the Ma'an district in southern Jordan.
El Lajjun oil shale deposit is the best known oil shale deposit in Jordan, but because of environmental concerns due to shallow ground water levels, exploitation of this deposit is environmentally not acceptable.
The Natural Resources Authority (NRA) has done extensive geological studies to delineate the oil shale reserves; in addition, the Government of Jordan commissioned different foreign governmental institutes and companies for technical assistance in order to study, test and exploit oil shale for power generation and crude oil production.
To speed up the process, the government of Jordan signed four memorandums of understanding for above-ground processing of oil shale and one memorandum for in-situ conversion processing.
Estonian energy company Eesti Energia signed a memorandum of understanding in November 2006 with the exclusive right to study about one third of the resources of El Lajjun oil shale deposit. Jordan Oil Shale Energy Company, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, was established with capacity of 36,000 barrels per day. The oil shale plant uses an Enefit processing technology, with concession agreement signed on 11 May 2010.
In March 2017, the Jordan Ministry of Environment has approved a $2.1 billion project to build the first oil shale-fired power plant in the country with a capacity of 500 MW. The project will be owned and operated by the Jordan Estonian joint venture Enefit Jordan through its purposely created subsidiary Attarat Power Company (APCO).
In addition, in August 2009, Jordanian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources signed a concession agreement with Jordan Oil Shale Company B.V (JOSCO) which is owned by Shell, granting JOSCo exclusivity for deep oil shale exploration covering an area of 22,270 sq km throughout the Kingdom. The exploration area will be narrowed down on three phases to finally reach 1,000 sq km for commercial purposes. JOSCO will use Shells’ unique technique for Oil Shale extraction "the In-Situ Conversion Process (ICP)" that converts oil shale reserves to crude oil via heating the reserves for years while still underground.
The ICP is different from conventional surface retorting methods and direct firing of oil shale for power generation, and is aimed at heating the oil shale by thermal conduction using a closely spaced array of horizontal heaters.
JOSCO’s completed in 2015 first ICP field test (Jordan Field Experiment, JFE) which aimed to validate JOSCO’s subsurface understanding of the ICP process. Following the JFE, further piloting is required in Jordan before a commercial project is envisioned, according to JOSCO. Once all phases have been achieved, a decision to proceed with a commercial project will be decided in the late 2020s.
Other oil shale exploitation contracts included a deal with Karak International Oil (KIO) signed in March 2011, covering an area of 33 sq km in Al-Lajjun area, using Canadian Technology ATP. It is expected that KIO will produce up to 50,000 bbl/d; in addition to a deal signed with Saudi Arabian Corporation for Oil Shale (SACOS) in April 2014 for shale oil production through surface retorting over an area of 11 sq km in Attarat area. SACOS will use the Russian Technology UTT3000. It is expected that SACOS will reach the production capacity of 30,000 bbl/d of oil.
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