The shale oil boom that has led to resurgence in U.S. production could be replicated internationally, according to a new study from research firm IHS Global Insight.
Oil is recovered from shale formations using a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The process has also allowed for a significant increase in gas production, particularly at the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.
Domestic oil production recently hit its highest level since May 1989, driven by shale plays like North Dakota’s Bakken and Eagle Ford in Texas. Previous studies by IHS have shown North America has about 43 billion barrels of commercially recoverable oil.
The group’s latest report suggests global shale formations potentially hold seven times the amount of technically recoverable oil located in North America.
While it remains to be seen how much of the oil is commercially recoverable, the geological study from IHS identified 148 global shale plays that may have 300 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.
Because well-level data does not exist outside of North America, IHS grouped international plays based on their geographical characteristics. It then compared each play to its closest equivalent in North America to get an estimate of its technical potential.
“This study makes clear that the potential for global tight oil is there and that it is very, very large,” said IHS Research Director Jan Roelofsen, adding that oil amounts cannot be quantified “for sure until you begin to drill.”
Roelofsen called the firm’s analysis, which shows the 23 highest-ranking global plays are likely double the size of North America’s resources, a “conservative estimate.”
The 23 shale formations with the highest production potential include the Vaca Muerta Formation in Argentina, the Silurian “hot” shales in North Africa and the Bazhenov Shale in West Siberia, IHS noted. The list also includes lesser-known geological plays in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
IHS stressed that local market conditions, government policies and innovative exploration and production activity have the potential to fuel commercial development at international shale plays.
But the pace of development would hinge on many above-ground issues. Production depends on having modern rigs, modern hydraulic fracturing equipment and specialized crews. Government policy, in addition to land access constraints and regulatory frameworks, could weigh on development as well.
Most countries would also face higher production costs than in the U.S. IHS said an average oil well costs about $5.6 million in North America, compared to $8 million internationally. Wells cost an average of $13 million in parts of the Arabian peninsula.
“Given the range of below and above-ground issues to be managed, launching global tight oil development outside of North America will probably be much slower overall,” said Dr. Pete Stark, a senior research director at IHS. “But the potential is certainly there and there will be opportunities for early progress where the right conditions exist.”