To Read Now
Visit the Energy Information Administration and open the "Natural Gas" section of the International Energy Outlook 2016 report. Read or browse as much as you like, but definitely read these sections in their entirety: "Overview" and "World natural gas reserves."
This document includes the following chart, which provides a snapshot of projected natural gas consumption through 2040:
In the opening section, the 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.
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."
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 charts below indicate the proved reserves of various regions since 1980. Note that the second chart contains identical data as the first, but the Middle East is removed to show more detail of other regions.
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
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).
To Read Now