Shale (pronounced /ˌʃæːl/) is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock composed of mud that is a mix of flakes of clay minerals and tiny fragments (silt-sized particles) of other minerals, especially quartz and calcite. The ratio of clay to other minerals is variable. Shale is characterized by breaks along thin laminae or parallel layering or bedding less than one centimeter in thickness, called fissility. Mudstones, on the other hand, are similar in composition but do not show the fissility.
Historical mining terminology
Before the mid 19th century, the terms slate, shale and schist were not sharply distinguished. In the context of underground coal mining, shale was frequently referred to as slate well into the 20th century.
Shale typically exhibits varying degrees of fissility breaking into thin layers, often splintery and usually parallel to the otherwise indistinguishable bedding plane because of parallel orientation of clay mineral flakes. Non-fissile rocks of similar composition but made of particles smaller than 0.06 mm are described as mudstones (1/3 to 2/3 silt particles) or claystone (less than 1/3 silt). Rocks with similar particle sizes but with less clay (greater than 2/3 silt) and therefore grittier are siltstones. Shale is the most common sedimentary rock.
Composition and color
Shales are typically composed of variable amounts of clay minerals and quartz grains and the typical color is gray. Addition of variable amounts of minor constituents alters the color of the rock. Black shale results from the presence of greater than one percent carbonaceous material and indicates a reducing environment. Black shale can also be referred to as black metal. Red, brown and green colors are indicative of ferric oxide (hematite - reds), iron hydroxide (goethite - browns and limonite - yellow), or micaceous minerals (chlorite, biotite and illite - greens).
Full article ▸