walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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The World Is Swimming in Shale

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Nearly a third of the world’s technically recoverable natural gas and 10 percent of its oil can be found in shale formations, according to a new report by the Energy Information Administration.  Thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling, there’s a bounty of oil and gas available to countries around the world .

This report, which has a much larger scope than previous reports, bumped up the estimated global amount of technically recoverable shale gas by 9.3 percent. In its regional breakdown North America looks like a big winner. Of the 41 countries surveyed, Mexico had the seventh and Canada the ninth largest reserves of shale oil, while the US was second only to Russia. Meanwhile, the US, Canada, and Mexico were in fourth, fifth and sixth place, respectively in the EIA’s ranking of the largest technically recoverable shale gas reserves.

The report wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. North America’s collective estimates for shale gas finished down 7.7 percent from 2011 estimates. And the news is worse for Russia, China, and Argentina, which have large reserves but also some tricky geology that will make it difficult for them to replicate America’s success in resource extraction. Moreover, fracking is very water-intensive and requires significant human capital to do properly; few countries have the resources and expertise to frack as effectively as America.

Further muddying the picture, many of these countries will also need the price of oil and gas to stay high enough for companies to be able to profit from its extraction. Many of these newly-discovered reserves may never be drilled, then. Estimates of technically recoverable resources are all well and good, but estimates that account for economic realities give us a more accurate sense of what countries can do with shale, and reflect the often volatile price swings of these internationally traded commodities.

Still, it’s clear that there’s a lot more oil and gas out there than the peak oil Chicken Littles were predicting just ten years ago. And as drilling technology continues to expand, the shale boom will become a more global phenomenon than it already is. In the meantime, America can continue to enjoy its newfound energy bounty. There is a lot more hope for the 21st century than the Malthusians would have you believe.

[Oil rig image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • purusha

    That’s right! And who cares if it destroys our groundwater!

    Right?

  • dan7000

    While you keep waiting for shale to be cost-effective, that green energy you keep bashing is already reaching cost parity with oil and gas and will just keep getting cheaper.

    http://money.msn.com/top-stocks/post.aspx?post=0040731b-4941-432a-b1bd-3b0a04149068

    http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/deutsche-bank–sustainable-solar-market-expected-in-2014_100010338/#axzz2LyRXuVHd

    So why no articles on the wonderful world of cheap solar power that’s here today? Why only articles about how someday if only oil gets a little more expensive we will be able to buy tons of shale oil from Russia?

    Could it be that like so many conservatives you are confusing “the american interest” with oil industry interests? What’s really in the American interest is cheap, renewable energy we can generate ourselves in America. It’s already here and it’s not shale.

    • Nick Bidler

      Because, clearly, you have not read Mr. Mead’s articles on the trade war between the E.U. and China over cheaply made solar panels, wearing out in 2 years when they should last 25. Plus, China has subsidized solar panel manufacture more than any comparable country.

      Short version: ‘cheap’ solar is not only not cheap, but is producing international-politics ‘negative externalities.’

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