Shale Gas May Upset the World Order

By Editors

Shale gas reserves around the world are distributed much more evenly than oil deposits. In fact, the most notable thing about shale reserves is that they are plentiful in the two biggest importing countries, the United States and China, while being almost completely absent in the two greatest oil-producing regions, Russia and the Persian Gulf. The development of shale resources by the export of fracking techniques to other countries has the possibility of completely reversing the energy politics of the last 40 years and creating a whole new balance of power.

The map shows the distribution of shale reserves according to current estimates. Around the globe there is an estimated 188 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of gas, representing more than a third of all known gas resources. The largest deposits appear in the red circles. The smaller reserves in the next 20 countries are listed at the bottom.

The largest deposits are actually in China, 36.10 tcm. The United State is second at 24.41 tcm and Argentina, of all places, is third at 21.92 tcm. Argentina has just nationalized the Spanish-owned oil company YPF and may have some difficulty in getting private firms to invest in developing their resources.

Mexico (19.28 tcm), South Africa (13.73 tcm), Australia (11.31) and Canada (10.99 tcm) follow in that order. Of these four, South Africa and Australia have almost no domestic oil. Then come Algeria, Brazil, Libya, France and Poland. The first three are already resource-rich. France, unfortunately, is not only poor in oil and coal but has already decided not to allow fracking for natural gas as well. Since there are very few reserves among France's neighbors either, this does not bode well for the future of Western Europe.  Poland, on the other hand, is trying to develop its shale resources.

Cheap natural gas is already setting off an industrial revnaissance in the United States. It may to the same in China and parts of South America. But the key question will be whether gas can compete head-to-head with oil as a fuel for transportation. If so it will put Saudi Arabia and Russia at a severe disadvantage and essentially turn the tables on the present international order.

Will compressed natural gas cars or diesel-from-gas or methanol become a practical alternative to oil? On that question will much of the developments of the next twenty years depend.

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