North America is not unique in the abundance of unconventional hydrocarbon resources (in particular, shale), yet it is the only place thus far that has seen significant progress in their extraction and monetization. This success has been driven by a flexible land leasing system for drilling rights, a mature infrastructure network for oil and gas transportation, a favorable fiscal regime, a well-established and very active service industry, and easy access to capital and world leading technologies. To what extent are these attributes singular to North America, and to what extent can the extensive development of unconventional resources seen in North America be replicated in other parts of the world?

Many countries have well established and successful conventional E&P activities and fiscal/contractual terms, but have struggled with the question as to how applicable these terms are to unconventional resource exploration, evaluation and development. This paper will seek to identify the key differences in the application of North America’s leasing, regulatory and fiscal regime to shale development, as compared to alternative systems applied elsewhere in the world.

The authors start by examining the fundamental cost and production profiles of conventional and unconventional wells in two North American onshore plays, and then in two potentially competing North American capital investment opportunities in order to establish whether there is anything fundamental in the economics of unconventional exploitation that requires different treatment. This analysis is then used to consider economics under cost, regulatory and fiscal regimes outside of North America.

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