The shale to liquids industry has operated in numerous countries around the world for more than 100 years, but its earliest beginnings in fact go back as far as 1694 when shale oil was first produced in Scotland. Today, commercial oil shale industries are active in China, Estonia and Brazil.
In Australia, the first oil shale development started in 1865 at Mount Kembla in New South Wales, followed by the opening of a number of other mines in the oil shale (torbanite) rich areas of the Great Dividing Range. These mines operated until the turn of the 20th century when the importation of cheaper crude oil forced their closures. The industry underwent a resurgence during World Wars I and II when supplies of overseas oil were threatened, but high production costs led to their closures
In more recent times, the oil crisis of the 1970s triggered investigation into alternative hydrocarbon sources as a means of supplementing conventional oil supplies. A number of multinational oil companies and government agencies made large investments in oil shale research and development, particularly in the United States. Several companies including Exxon, Union Oil and Occidental ran pilot and semi-commercial plants with oil shale mined from the Green River Formation in the Colorado-Wyoming-Utah regions. Although they achieved some success, these plants were high-cost compared to the production of conventional oil. When oil prices declined dramatically in the 1980’s, these plants were closed.
Australian resources company, Southern Pacific Petroleum NL (SPP), led by Sir Ian McFarlane, successfully continued to identify and explore Australian oil shale deposits. By the early 1980s, 10 oil shale deposits had been discovered in Queensland by SPP, including the Rundle deposit near Gladstone and its southern neighbour, Stuart. These resources are now controlled by QER, which in 2004 acquired the majority of SPP’s assets, including ownership of the Stuart technology demonstration plant in Gladstone.
Australian oil shale development efforts over the past two decades have provided QER with a substantial knowledge base to support development of new and sustainable processing technology. Coupled with QER's own successful trials of the Paraho process conducted in Colorado, this knowledge means QER is well-advanced in design and engineering feasibility studies for the next phase of oil shale technology development in Australia.