The shale gas revolution on North America has created an incentive for the rest of the world to chase this challenging hydrocarbon resource. Currently around 44% of the 20.6 tcf annual gas production in the US occurs from unconventional resources, with this forecast to rise to 65% by 2020. The pitfalls and challenges faced by North American development projects provide a wealth of experience, which can be used to understand how we can apply technology more effectively in Europe and North Africa. However, there are differences in both operating environments and gas markets between North America and Europe and North Africa, and we aim to highlight these differences as well as the similarities. Unconventional oil and gas projects in Europe and North Africa are currently at an early stage of their life cycle, exploration and appraisal. We identify the following key challenges for the European region:
The potential spread of the North American unconventional gas revolution to Europe and North Africa could create competition and depress gas prices. Reduced gas prices and increased costs will considerably reduce the margin for error in exploring for unconventional gas. Therefore there is a need to apply technology effectively, to avoid having to learn "by the drill bit".
A lack of infrastructure and specialised equipment, particularly in North Africa, leading to a higher cost base for developing the region’s unconventional resources.
The regulatory environment in Europe is not presently conducive to development of shale gas resources together with the negative public perception of the environmental risk associated with shale gas development.
Aside from these medium to long term challenges, Europe at present is facing a more critical short term challenge: the need to prove the concept by completing and producing the first economic shale gas wells.
To overcome these challenges, operating and service companies need to apply technology effectively and efficiently at an early stage in shale resource development. This paper offers a potential approach and methodology first to evaluate unconventional resources, and secondly to apply technology to unlock their potential. An integrated oilfield service approach could make unconventional gas appraisal outside of North America economically feasible and sustainable. As in conventional reservoir developments, detailed reservoir description can be used to optimize reservoir penetrations and predict well performance. In the second part of this paper we discuss how a Shale Engineering workflow that will improve the effectiveness of interaction between operators and service companies, and enable commercial production of unconventional resources outside North America.
Unconventional reservoirs are defined for the purposes of this paper as oil and gas reservoirs that exhibit low permeability such that hydrocarbons cannot be produced at economic rates without stimulation of the reservoir.