Jordan is pressing ahead with a plan to supply 14 per cent of its energy needs from oil shale, becoming only the second country in the world to exploit the unconventional fuel source commercially.
By 2020, oil shale could be the country's biggest energy source, even as Amman pursues large-scale wind and solar development and plans to build the Levant region's first civilian nuclear power plant. Jordan has the fourth-largest oil shale accumulation in the world. The 40 billion to 70 billion tonne resource, underlying as much as 60 per cent of the country's land surface, may contain the equivalent of 100 billion barrels of oil, according to the UK firm Jordan Energy and Mining, which is one of three companies holding 40-year oil shale concessions in the kingdom.
The technical and environmental challenges to the country's commercial oil shale development are formidable but are trumped by the need for energy security, says Khalid Irani, who was the minister of energy and mineral resources before Jordan's recent cabinet shuffle.
"We cannot ignore the resource in a country poor in energy," he said yesterday in Abu Dhabi, where he attended a meeting to select the 2011 winner of the Zayed Future Energy Prize for innovation in sustainable energy, to be awarded next month in the UAE capital.
Jordan has also granted shale concessions to Royal Dutch Shell and the Estonian company Eesti Energia, which in its home country already operates power plants fuelled by the organic material that in oil shale deposits is embedded between layers of flaky rock. Petroleum geologists consider this material to be the source of the crude oil found in conventional reservoirs. Like Estonia, Jordan plans to mine oil shale as an indigenous fuel source for electricity generation. Under its agreement with Eesti, the kingdom expects to extract the equivalent of 20,000 barrels per day of oil by 2014, Mr Irani said.
Jordan is also committed to supplying 10 per cent of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2020 and 6 to 10 per cent from nuclear power. The country, which lacks conventional oil reserves and has limited gas deposits, imports 96 per cent of its fuel requirements.
Jordan will need nuclear power for water desalination and heavy industrial projects, Mr Irani said, as well as for a long-term project to pump water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to prevent the salt lake it shares with Israel from drying up.