EME 444
Global Energy Enterprise

Where is Natural Gas located; how much is there?

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To Read Now

  • Go to the Energy Information Administration's (EIA's) International Energy Outlook 2017 page (IEO 2017) and open up the PDF version of the report. Read through the entire natural gas section.
  • The EIA produces an IEO every year. The 2016 IEO (as I noted previously) provides more comprehensive information. Visit the IEO 2016 and navigate to the "Natural Gas" section. Read or browse as much as you like, but definitely read the "World natural gas reserves" section in its entirety.

This document includes the following chart, which provides a snapshot of projected natural gas consumption through 2040:

Chart of natural gas consumption by region. See link in caption for text version
Figure 7.4: World Natural Gas Consumption Projection through 2040, OECD and non-OECD. Click link to expand for a text description of Figure 7.4
World natural gas consumption, 2015-2040 (quadrillion Btu)
Year OECD Non-OECD
2015 59.0 65.1
2020 59.9 66.9
2025 62.0 76.0
2030 64.8 83.7
2035 69.1 93.2
2040 73.5 103.5
Credit:U.S. Energy Information Administration. Data available for download here.

In the opening section, the 2016 Outlook report contains this statement, which emphasizes the role of unconventional natural gas reserves.

Although there is more to learn about the extent of the world's tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane resource base, the IEO2016 Reference case projects a substantial increase in those supplies—especially in the United States and also in Canada and China (Figure 3-3). The application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies has made it possible to develop the U.S. shale gas resource, contributing to a near doubling of estimates for total U.S. technically recoverable natural gas resources over the past decade. Shale gas accounts for more than half of U.S. natural gas production in the IEO2016 Reference case, and tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane resources in Canada and China account for about 80% of total production in 2040 in those countries.

Things had not changed by the time the 2017 report was published.

  • In the United States and China, increases in natural gas production between 2016 and 2040 are projected to mainly come from the development of shale resources...
  • Shale resource development accounts for 50% of U.S. natural gas production in 2015, increasing to nearly 70% in 2040, as the country leverages advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques and taps into newly discovered technically recoverable reserves.
  • Shale resource developments are projected to account for nearly 50% of China’s natural gas production by 2040, making the country the world’s largest shale gas producer after the United States.
  • In Canada, future natural gas production is expected to come mainly from tight resources, from several regions in British Columbia and Alberta.

Remember the IEO "Reference" case refers to IEO projections about the future that are based on the assumption that legislation and policy related to energy stays the same as when the report was generated. The Reference case "does not incorporate prospective legislation or policies that might affect energy markets."

Chart of natural gas by source (shale, tight, coalbed methane, other) in Canada, China, and the U.S. in 2015 and 2040.
Figure 7.5: Natural Gas Production by Type in the U.S., China, and Canada, 2015, 2030, and 2040.
Click link to expand for a text description of Figure 7.5. Note that the IEO 2017 data do not disaggregate tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane. Data available for download here.
Natural gas production by type in U.S.
gas type 2015 2030 2040
tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane 19.2 28.8 31.9
other gas 7.8 6.1 5.8
total gas 27.0 34.9 37.7
Natural gas production by type in Canada
gas type 2015 2030 2040
tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane 3.2 4.4 5.9
other gas 2.2 1.3 1.2
total gas 5.5 5.6 7.1
Natural gas production by type in China
gas type 2015 2030 2040
tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane 0.6 5.0 9.7
other gas 4.1 3.7 4.5
total gas 4.6 8.7 14.1

Clearly, shale gas, and to a lesser extent, tight gas and coalbed methane, are to play an increasingly important role in global natural gas production!

The 2016 IEO provides the following chart for natural gas proved reserves (this information is not available in the 2017 report).

Chart of natural gas reserves by region. See link in caption for text version
Figure 7.6: World Natural Gas Proved Reserves as of January 1, 2016.
Click link to expand for a text description of Figure 7.6
World proved natural gas reserves by region as of January 1, 2016
Country Trillion Cubic Feet
Middle East 2,810.23
Eurasia 2,184.56
Africa 605.27
Asia 502.12
OECD Americas 457.27
Non-OECD Americas 271.62
Europe 118.71

The data in the second chart represents proved reserves. The Outlook study says, "the world's proved natural gas reserves have grown by about 40% over the past 20 years, to a total of 6,950 Tcf as of January 1, 2016."

As with coal, "proved reserves" means the natural gas that has been discovered and defined at a significant level of certainty and that can be economically recovered. "Technically recoverable" resources are estimates of the amount of gas that can be recovered, using current technology, without regard to cost. The chart below demonstrates that even as natural gas use increases, proved reserves continue to (paradoxically) increase. This is the result of improved extraction technology rendering natural gas increasingly economic, particularly with regards to unconventional sources. (For example, the 2013 International Energy Outlook stated that reserves had grown by 39 percent over the past 20 years, and that the total reserves were 6,793 Tcf, both of which are smaller than the 2016 numbers.) The chart below indicate the proved reserves of various regions since 1980. The exact numbers in the chart are not important, but it should give you a feel for the general trend over time.

Proved natural gas reserves by region, 1980 - 2015. All regions have increased proved reserves.

Figure 7.7: Proved reserves of natural gas by geographic region, 1980 - 2015. (Interactive and customizable version of map)
Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The nuances of resource estimates for non-renewable energy sources are incredibly complex. (For those who are interested, here is a full discussion of natural gas resource classifications.) For all of us, the larger point is the importance of being fully aware of these concepts and qualifiers whenever you are working with or analyzing data related to reserves of non-renewable energy sources.

Shale Gas, the Play

Dry natural gas production by type in the U.S. from 1995 -2040. Shale gas and tight oil plays will continue to be the biggest growth sector through 2040.
Figure 7.8: Total U.S. Dry Natural Gas Production by Type through 2040. 
Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017 Annual Energy Outlook, p. 58.

Contributing mightily to the interest in natural gas, are new extraction techniques that make it economical to recover gas from "unconventional" sources, which (as defined by the EIA) include tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane.

Coalbed methane we understand from our previous lesson. "Tight gas" refers to natural gas that is locked in extraordinarily impermeable hard rock or that is trapped in sandstone or limestone formations that are impermeable or nonporous ("tight sand"). "Shale gas" refers to natural gas that is trapped within shale, a formation of fine-grained sedimentary rocks.

In the International Energy Outlook 2013, the EIA reports, "In the United States, one of the keys to increasing natural gas production has been advances in the application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, which have made it possible to develop the country's vast shale gas resources and have contributed to a near doubling of estimates for total U.S. technically recoverable natural gas resources over the past decade" (p. 41). This trend, as clearly indicated above, continues today.

To Read Now

From the Department of Energy's Energy in Brief series, read "What is shale gas and why is it important?" (the statistics are outdated, but the descriptions are concise and valid) and "Natural Gas and the Environment" from the U.S. EIA.

Hydraulic fracturing brings with it a host of potential problems, but that aside, natural gas is a much "cleaner" burning fuel than coal or oil. The chart below from the National Energy Technology Laboratory demonstrates the benefits of burning natural gas relative to other fossil fuels. Note that this only indicates the direct emissions from burning the fuels, and also keep in mind that most renewable energy is emissions-free! The data below come from a very informative report about natural gas and hydraulic fracturing by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is run by the U.S. Department of Energy. Feel free to browse through it!
Combustion Emissions, pounds per billion BTU of energy input
air pollutant natural gas oil coal
Carbon dioxide 117,000 164,000 208,000
carbon monoxide 40 33 208
nitrogen oxides 92 448 457
sulfur dioxide 0.6 1,122 2,591
particulates 7.0 84 2,744
formaldehyde 0.750 0.220 0.221
mercury 0.000 0.007 0.016