Lets “frac” the world

On January 23, 2012, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) made the early release of its Annual Energy Outlook for 2012. On it, EIA focus and develop the different factors that are nowadays or in the future shaping the U.S. energy markets in the long run. Of those, I will focus on two that from my point of view and interests seem to be highly promising. Number one is the increase of domestic crude oil production, and with it, a slow down over the petroleum imports. This is relevant if we consider that is a change of direction of the declining curve of U.S. oil production, which since 1986 was going down slowly but firmly. EIA project that the increase will came from the continued development of tight oil and offshore resources. However, they seem to not take into account two recent players in the oil equation: oil shale and shale oil. While these two players have been seated in the bench for a long time, it seems that they are now start to figure on the radar of not only the independent but also the major oil companies [1].

Number two, and the one that I will develop further, is the increase of natural gas production during the period of analysis (2010 – 2035). EIA estimates that natural gas production will rise from 21.5 Trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2010 to almost 28 Tcf in 2035, which is almost a 30% increase in the period. The unanimously responsible of such increment is the Shale gas, and the proliferation of the hydraulic fracturing technique to obtain it. Shale gas on its own will raise its participation in the U.S. natural gas production from 23% in 2010 to 49% in 2035. (Figure 1). This is really important if we consider the advantages of Natural Gas versus Coal in the fight over global warming and CO2 emissions [1].


While this seems pretty good, and almost as the future shines as a sunny day in Texas, it is important to mention that the reader most be cautious as EIA makes the assumption that current laws and regulations will remain in place and unchanged throughout the projected period (2012-2035). This is really important if we consider the situation that shale gas production is struggling nowadays, where hydraulic fracturing and water consumption is on the radar of almost every legislator.

Despite the fact that shale gas is promising for the U.S., it is not unique to its territory. Shale gas, has become such an important player in the energy markets, that almost every country with a developed oil and gas industry or even with a developing one is trying to find out if they have within its territory this precious new energy source. Seeing this movement, EIA has made an effort in helping those (countries, E&P companies, civilians, researchers) interested in shale gas around the world. On April 2011 they released its “World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment”, a study that assessed 48 shale gas basins in 32 countries, containing almost 70 shale gas formations [2]. The report was divided in two sections: first, the most prospective shale gas resources in a group of countries that shown some level of promise in the short term; and second, basins that have a sufficient amount of geologic data for resource analysis. While, this could be thought as brilliant, the company that conducted the report, Advanced Resources International, thinks that while it is a good beginning it is too superficial. On the report’s executive summary they actually include that “The information provided in the 14 regional reports (selected by the EIA) should be viewed as initial steps toward future, more comprehensive assessments of shale gas resources. The study investigators would have, if allowed, devoted the entire study budget to just one of the 14 regions and would have judged this more in-depth time and budget investment ‘well spent.’ Alas, that was not possible.” Such strong words from the firm that actually made the study could made the reader, go away from it, and wait until one with a deeper analysis came across. However, as Natural gas is the world’s fastest-growing fossil fuel, with consumption projected to increase at an average rate of 1.6% per year between 2008 and 2035—from 111 Tcf to 169 Tcf it is important to give it a look and see how the shale gas world outside the U.S. is shaping.



[1] Annual Energy Outlook 2012 Early Release Overview

Available at: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/executive_summary.cfm

[2] World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States

Available at: http://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/worldshalegas/pdf/fullreport.pdf


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