shale, sedimentary rock formed by the consolidation of mud or clay, having the property of splitting into thin layers parallel to its bedding planes. Shale tends to be fissile, i.e., it tends to split along planar surfaces between the layers of stratified rock. Shales comprise an estimated 55% of all sedimentary rocks. The composition of shale varies widely. Shales with very high silica content may have been formed when large quantities of diatoms and volcanic ash were present in the original sediment. Large numbers of fossils in shales may give them a high calcium content; such shales may grade into limestones. Shales that contain a large percentage of alumina are used as a source of that mineral in the manufacture of cement, and those that contain natural gas and petroleum have become a significant energy resource in the 21st cent. due to the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques in drilling. Shales containing abundant carbonaceous matter grade into bituminous coal.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Geology and Oceanography