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EIA: It's a World of Shale Gas

North America isn't the only continent that enjoys a shale gas abundance, according to research commissioned by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As most in the gas industry already knew, EIA's study found plenty of gas around the globe, but just how much is hard to determine yet, the agency said Tuesday.

Initial assessments of 48 shale basins suggests that shale gas resources offer 5,760 Tcf of technically recoverable gas in 32 foreign countries, compared with 862 Tcf in the United States, EIA said.

In 2010 U.S. shale gas production reached 4.87 Tcf (23% of total U.S. gas production), compared with 0.39 Tcf in 2000. "This shows both the rapid growth and absolute importance of the shale gas resource to the United States," EIA said. The agency's "Annual Energy Outlook 2011" reference case projects that shale gas will account for about 46% of U.S. gas production in 2035.

But what about everywhere else, EIA wondered, and then hired Advanced Resources International Inc. to assess basins in 32 countries, containing almost 70 shale gas formations. This resulted in "World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States."

Adding the 5,760 Tcf of technically recoverable overseas shale gas to the U.S. estimate of 862 Tcf yields a total of 6,622 Tcf. For comparison, most current estimates of world technically recoverable natural gas resources include few if any of the resources assessed in the shale study and total about 16,000 Tcf, EIA said.

"Adding identified shale gas resources to current estimates of other gas resources increases total world technically recoverable resources by over 40%, to more than 22,000 Tcf," said EIA Administrator Richard Newell.

The research found risked technically recoverable shale gas resources on six continents:

"The practicality of using such resources has only recently become apparent, and many countries are just now beginning to understand how to conduct assessments of how much shale gas they may have," the agency said. "Nonetheless, the aggregate estimate is probably quite conservative, since the study excluded several major types of potential shale gas resources." Resources excluded from the study are those in nations outside the 32 countries studied, including Russia and the Middle East (which have very large resources of conventional gas); some shale basins in the countries studied; and offshore resources.

Of the countries covered in the study, two groups may find shale gas development most attractive.

The first group is those countries that currently depend heavily on natural gas imports but that also have significant shale gas resources. These include France, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa, Morocco and Chile. The second group is countries that already produce substantial amounts of gas and also have large shale resources. In addition to the United States, this group includes Canada, Mexico, China, Australia, Libya, Algeria, Argentina and Brazil.

The report said researchers would have been willing to spend their entire budget on any one of the 14 regions studied "and would have judged this more in-depth time and budget investment 'well spent'...As such, this shale gas resource assessment captures our 'first-order' view of the gas in place and technically recoverable resource for the 48 shale gas basins and 69 shale gas formations addressed in the study."

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