The United States is the undisputed leader in the development of unconventional natural gas resources. However, much of the rest of the world is on to the shale gas promise and will soon be exploiting its reserves, according to a new analysis by Douglas-Westwood.

“The U.S. currently accounts for over 90% of global shale gas and coalbed methane production, while drilling in the country represents an equally high cut of the global trend. However, rapid development is set to occur in Europe, Asia and Australasia, with China and Australia leading the growth,” analyst Joseph Dutton wrote in the firm’s recently released “Unconventional Gas World Production & Drilling Forecast.”

The Douglas-Westwood study relied on intelligence gathered from the firm’s clients, including national oil companies, international oil companies, drillers and oilfield service providers. It focused in particular on shale gas and coalbed methane.

Leading the unconventional gas charge will be Asia, Douglas-Westwood said, outstripping all other regions. Unconventional gas production in Asian countries is forecast to rise by more than 1,000% by 2020. Additionally, with a forecast output of more than 65 billion cubic meters (Bcm), “Australia will see growth of a near-exponential nature, with unconventional output reaching over 69 Bcm by 2020…” the report said, noting that most of this will be from coalbed methane.

In Europe the unconventional focus is largely on shale gas, the firm said. “Shale gas production in Europe is estimated to reach 35 Bcm by 2020, with Poland and the United Kingdom being the leading countries in development,” Douglas-Westwood said. “With production forecast to begin in Poland in 2013 and 2014 in the UK, output is forecast to reach 11 Bcm and 2 Bcm by 2020, respectively.”

Also reaching commercial levels of shale gas production in Europe by 2020 will be Germany, France and the Netherlands, the firm said.

Asia and Europe will see the debut of shale resources first, but near the end of this decade countries in Africa and Latin America will see their shale gas industries emerging, the firm predicted. Shale gas production in Latin America is forecast to reach 5 Bcm by 2020, particularly on the strength of production from basins in Argentina. In Africa shale gas output is forecast to grow to 5 Bcm by 2020, thanks to development in South Africa and Tunisia, Douglas-Westwood said.

For these forecasts to come true, though, drilling activity will have to step up worldwide, Dutton wrote.

“…[T]he total [global] well stock will need to reach over 250,000 by 2020, with an annual well drilling total in excess of 25,000 globally,” he said. “Although North American drilling and well stock totals currently and will continue to form the vast majority of the global total, strong growth at a regional level in well numbers will need to occur to enable large-scale production.”

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