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Global Shale Oil Estimate Grows Tenfold

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Geoffrey Styles, The Energy Collective

Recently revised estimates of global shale oil and gas resources from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy represent a significant increase over the EIA’s 2011 estimates.

Technically recoverable shale oil (tight oil) grew more than tenfold, due to the inclusion of formations outside the US, while estimated global shale gas resources rose by 10%. With these revisions, shale formations now constitute 10% of global crude oil resources and nearly a third of global natural gas resources, although the actual impact of these resources on production and markets is still likely to vary greatly from region to region and country to country.

This year’s report reflects a greater focus on tight oil, incorporating insights from the significant development of US tight oil resources that has occurred since the previous report was published. Tight oil development is largely responsible for the 19% increase in US crude oil production from 2010 to 2012.  The smaller adjustment to shale gas is the net result of downward revisions for some countries assessed in 2011, such as Poland and Norway, together with the inclusion of resources in additional shale formations and countries, including Russia, Indonesia and Thailand.

The EIA and the consulting firm that prepared the report were careful to differentiate the technically recoverable resources (TRRs) identified in this data from the more restrictive categories of economically recoverable resources and proved reserves. In other words, these figures represent the quantities of oil and gas that could be recovered if prices justified development and infrastructure was available to carry them to market, not the amounts that producers currently plan to develop.  At the same time, these estimates constitute only a small fraction–at little as 5-25%–of the oil and gas thought to be present in the assessed shale deposits.  Further improvements in technology could substantially increase future TRRs.

It’s interesting to note that although the US leads the world in production of both tight oil and shale gas, it ranks second and fourth, respectively, in global resources of these fuels.  The report also indicates that estimated US tight oil resources of 58 billion barrels (bbl) are more than double current proved oil reserves, which represent just under 7 years of current production.  That’s significant, because a sizable fraction of the 139 billion bbls of US conventional unproved TRR–non-shale crude oil not currently included in proved reserves–sits in onshore and offshore areas currently off-limits to drilling. So shale provides a pathway for US oil production to sustain higher output than in the recent past, without having to overcome barriers such as those impeding development offshore California or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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