When Was Shale Oil Discovered?

Shale Oil is a sedimentary rock also known as oil shale. Humans have used oil shale as a fuel since prehistoric times, since it generally burns without any processing.

In the Iron Age the Britons used to polish it and form it into ornaments. Industrial mining of oil shale fist started in 1837 in Autun, France. It was used by early Utah settlers looked very much like any other stone, but it contained large amounts of oil.

It was the oil that burned when the stone became very hot. Pioneers learned how to cook the stones in ovens called retorts. This produced a black oil that was used to lubricate machinery and firearms. Settlers in Colorado found the same strange stone, and they also built retorts to manufacture the valuable oil.

Today, we call these stones shale. It looks very much like slate, the kind of stone that many people use to make paths through a garden or the floor of a terrace. The small shale oil industry was put out of business in 1859 when the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania.

Because this oil came bubbling straight up through the ground and didn’t have to be manufactured, or “cooked,” as shale oil must be, it was less expensive for people to buy.

The strange Colorado and Utah rocks were soon forgotten, not to be remembered until the coming of the energy shortage of the mid-1970’s.