Shale gas is everywhere. China's estimated technically recoverable shale gas resources, at 1,275 Tcf, are almost 50% greater than those touted in the US. Argentina, with 774 Tcf, contains 150 Tcf more than all of Europe. These numbers were spelled out in “World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment,” a study released April 2011 under the auspices of the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), which commissioned the study from Advanced Resources International (ARl).

China, in fact, ranks first in shale gas resources, followed by the US, Argentina, Europe, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Although the study is preliminary and excludes areas like Russia and the Middle East, there is no doubt shale gas resources exist in abundance worldwide. The numbers ARl arrived at are rough. With more extensive data and more time to assess it, ARl stated, the amounts would be higher.

However, Donald L. Gautier, chief of the US Geological Survey (USGS) World Petroleum Project, introduced a note of caution regarding the EIA study's figures. The USGS is in the midst of its own assessment of global continuous accumulations, including technically recoverable gas from source rock systems such as gas shales. Initial results from the first basins assessed will be released within the next few months. According to Gautier, the USGS approach, which is geologically based, probabilistic, and emphasizes application of well performance data from analog shale plays in North America, is quite different from that of ARI. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results are as different as the methodology,” he said.

Shale Gas Economic Requisites

While shale yields approximately 20% (4.8 Tcf in 2010, according to the EIA) of US natural gas consumption, this resource has yet to contribute more than negligibly in regions elsewhere. Yet many countries, buoyed by and in some cases participating in US shale gas exploitation, appear poised to initiate shale gas development within their borders. However, with a lack of shale drilling and completion services, as well as gas production and transportation infrastructure, promising shale gas reservoirs need at least five to 10 years before production would be economic.

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