It's the big industry buzz word right now, unconventional oil. But just what is it? Well, with conventional oil, you drill a hole in the ground and pump the oil out of it. Time-tested principle, works really well. But oil isn't always available in traditional formations, and if you want to get it out, you have to put some extra effort into it. According to the International Energy Agency, there are five types of unconventional oil. However, two of them come about from non-E&P formats, namely biofuels and the creation of liquids from gas processing, so let's just stick to the three types of unconventional oils found in nature. The first, and so far the big one at the moment, is oil shales. Like unconventional gas shales, oil from these formations are extracted from sedimentary rock structures. The oil contains a chemical compound called kerogen, which itself can also be converted to oil shale. Oil shale must be converted to oil refinery quality crude through either pyrolysis, hydrogenation, or thermal dissolution. Just so you know, this isn't a new process. Oil shale has been being converted to oil ever since the Middle Ages. The second and more well-known is oil sands recovery, very popular in the Canadian Athabasca Sands in Alberta. In this case, instead of being drilled, oil is dug out of the ground, not unlike a surface coal-mining operation. Once the oil-soaked sand is extracted, it's taken to a special facility called an "upgrader" that separates the oil from the sand. Like with oil shale, the oil is then ready for the refinery. The last natural form of unconventional oil is coal liquification. In this case, the product starts out as coal and is then converted to a synthetic fuel by going through a low-pressure carbonization process that heats coal and collects the oily liquids and gas that seeps out. Hope that helps you on your way! Class dismissed! For Worldwide Geochemistry LLC founder and visiting scientist at Institut Francais de Petrole in France Dan Jarvie's thoughts on unconventional oil, click for the complimentary webinar Oil-Prone Shales: Their Nature, Location, Production Potential now available on demand. -Stephen Payne, Editor, Oil and Gas Investor This Week;;