Europe’s unconventional commercial gas reserves likely rival those in North America and could begin making contributions to supply in 10 to 15 years, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (IHS CERA).

“Breaking with Convention: Prospects for European Unconventional Gas” estimated that Europe’s total unconventional gas in place — shale and coalbed methane — could be 173 trillion cubic meters (Tcm), or 6,115 Tcf. The study was issued on Wednesday at CERAWeek 2011 in Houston.

The study is the first of a series by IHS CERA about the prospects for unconventional gas development worldwide. Using data from key unconventional gas plays in Europe and IHS proprietary databases, the authors explored the extent to which the potential of unconventional gas may be realized and what it means for European gas markets.

Unconventional gas production in Europe “is likely to make significant contributions to supply in the next 10 to 15 years,” the study said. IHS CERA estimated that production levels ranging from a minimum of 60 billion cubic meters (Bcm) — less than half of current shale gas production in North America — to 200 Bcm around 2025.

“Key challenges” will determine the “ultimate productivity in Europe” because the regulatory environment currently is “ill-suited to unconventional gas,” the authors said.

“Regulations designed for traditional exploration and production have not been adapted to reflect the character of unconventional gas,” said IHS CERA’s Jonathan Parry, global gas director. “But there are significant challenges ahead, including uncertainties over length of tenure, permitting regimes and norms and water management, among others.”

The delivery price of unconventional gas also is expected to be higher than the current prices of Europe’s current import sources, the study found.

However, IHS CERA’s oil price assumptions place the cost of unconventional gas “on par” with the long-term average price of contract gas, given the expectation that long-term contracts that incorporate linkage to the price of oil will remain the norm for a “considerable” time.

“Unlike in the United States, where the revolution in unconventional gas production has made the market nearly self-sufficient, unconventional volumes of gas in Europe are likely to keep domestic supplies stable in the face of declining conventional production,” said Jan Roelofsen, IHS Global senior product manager.

The impact of a stable supply of gas, “though not as revolutionary, could be substantial,” said the study. A stabilized domestic supply could alleviate current fears over supply security and increase the comfort level in relying more on gas, including imported gas. European policymakers, said the authors, then could be faced with an ” important strategic choice” between a secure unconventional gas and more costly zero-emission alternatives.

“There is no question that substantial production of unconventional gas in Europe would have a major impact on the dynamics of Europe and Asian gas markets,” said IHS CERA’s Shankari Srinivasan, managing director of Europe, global gas.