Shale Development Beyond North America

Posted: August 12, 2012

Shale development in other countries


The success of the Barnett, Marcellus, and Bakken shale plays, along with other smaller plays in the U.S. and Canada seem to provide a blueprint for cheap, cleaner energy for any country having significant shale gas formations.  Russia is making preparations to for extensive hydrofracturing in the Bazhenov formation.  China, possessor of the largest shale gas formation in the world, is testing fracturing near Chongqing.  Shell has announced it will be investing $500 million in drilling in the shale gas and tight gas in China this year.  Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell signed unconventional gas development agreements, which commit them to spend up to $370 million to see if the Ukrainian prospects can be made to work.  Although Exxon announced in mid-June it would stop further shale exploration in Poland, other major companies continue to show interest.  It seems to be advantageous for emerging countries and economies to take advantage of these energy windfalls.

 For South Africa, that is not necessarily the case, says Maarten De Wit in his South Africa Journal of Science article "The Great Shale Debate in the Karoo".  De Wit says there are a number of factors to be taken into account before fracking is utilized in the Karoo region of South Africa.  The standard concerns about the composition of the fracking fluids are noted, as are improvements to make the fluid less dangerous.  What is more important, says De Wit, is that the geology of the Karoo is unique and brings a unique set of circumstances.  The shale deposits themselves vary greatly in depth; they range from multiple miles deep to being exposed at the surface.  The testing to this point suggests significant gas deposits but it is not certain how much gas really is in the formation.  The most important concern, however, is for the water in the Karoo.  Hydraulic fracturing requires immense amounts of water, a resource that is scarce in the desert that makes up much of the Karoo.  Even if it was guaranteed that the aquifer would not be polluted, the concern remains that there simply is not enough water to frack the Karoo and still have water left for consumption and agriculture.

 Bottom line is that with the U.S. shale gas revolution, other countries look at North American experiences  when considering their unconventional shale gas resources, but those assessments also warrant a note of caution, especially in terms of water, pace, and timing.