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Unconventionals Rewriting Oil, NatGas Scarcity Narrative, Says ExxonMobil

The pace of technology continues to accelerate, all to the good of tight sands and shale formations, which should extend and expand the unconventional natural gas and oil boom, according to ExxonMobil Corp.

In ExxonMobil's annual forecast, "Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040," researchers said technology will continue to be the driver of all things possible in the energy world. The energy supply revolution led by North America's unconventional drilling in tight formations and shale has "rewritten the narrative of scarcity and limits that has prevailed since the 1970s."

Technology advancements have provided abundant supply and an "unprecedented range of energy choices," from "oil and gas in America's shale regions to the deepwater fields off the African coast; from new nuclear reactors in China to wind turbines and solar arrays in nations around the world."

Oil and gas resource estimates are seen escalating even more in the future as technology unlocks resources once considered too difficult or costly to produce. In the next 25 years, unconventional gas is forecast to account for about one-third of gas production.

Less than 15% of global gas resources have been produced to date, and the remaining resources "can provide more than 200 years of supply at current demand," according to ExxonMobil. More than 40% of the world's remaining gas resource is forecast by 2040 to be from unconventional sources such as tight and shale gas.

Natural gas liquids (NGL) supply growth -- also led by North America -- should surge in the coming decades, with a 20% increase in supply predicted to 2040.

"The gains largely will come from technology-enabled sources, such as tight oil, deepwater and oilsands," researchers said. "As energy markets shift, North America will become a net exporter as tight oil and NGL production grows."

North America is forecast to be the largest gas exporter by 2040, while the surge in U.S. onshore oil output should lead to net exports by 2025. As previously predicted by ExxonMobil and other Big Oil forecasts, including an annual outlook by BP plc, gas should surpass coal as the second-largest fuel behind oil within a decade.

"As technology unlocks resources previously considered too difficult or costly to produce, the prominence of natural gas in the global energy mix will continue to grow over the period from 2015 to 2040," ExxonMobil researchers said. "Total worldwide gas demand is projected to grow by about 45% with growth seen in every sector, particularly power generation."

Oil "will remain an essential energy source for transportation and chemicals production," but gas, "increasingly used for power generation as utilities look to switch to lower-emissions fuels, will expand its share of the energy mix."

Gas still should be the "largest growing fuel source," and by 2040, provide a quarter of global energy demand. "The abundance and versatility of natural gas is helping the world shift to less carbon-intensive energy for electricity generation while also providing an emerging option as a fuel for certain types of transportation."

Meanwhile, society's push for lower-emission energy sources should lead to a big increase in nuclear power and renewables, which together should approach 25% of global energy supply by 2040. "These advances have stimulated a new 'age of abundance' in energy supplies, which is good news for billions of people seeking to advance their standards of living."

Oil and natural gas likely will account for nearly 60% of global supply in 2040, while nuclear energy and renewables will grow about 50% and approach a 25% share of the world's energy mix.

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