EXXON: UNCONVENTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Global energy demand is expected to increase 35% to 2040, translating to 120 billion boe/year, or nearly 350 million boe/d, stated Rocky Becker, vice-president, Europe-Caspian-Russia at ExxonMobil Exploration Co.
As part of a panel speaking at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) International Conference and Exhibition on Sept. 15, Becker outlined the contributing factors to US success in unconventional resource development and how these might be applied in international prospects to help meet increasing demand levels.
"We know how difficult it is finding a 350-million-bbl discovery; imagine finding one of those a day," he told conference attendees.
Meanwhile, the global economy is expected to grow 2.8%/year through 2040, with China leading the trend with an expected growth of 20% during the same period, Becker said. With population growth and increased GDP for many non OECD countries, natural gas will make up a major portion of the increased energy demand—or 25% of total energy supply by 2040.
"The projection in energy demand includes significant efficiency improvements and the growing use of natural gas generation," Becker explained. "Without these efficiencies we would expect energy demand to be about 70% higher for the same period." The savings are roughly the amount of current energy consumption worldwide.
Remaining natural gas supplies are estimated to be 28,000 tcf, which is equal to 200 years at current consumption rates. "Unconventional gas makes up 40% of this resource globally and in North America unconventional gas makes up 60% of its remaining supply," Becker said.
ExxonMobil, the largest producer in the US, currently produces the majority of its natural gas from unconventional plays. "Broad investment in North American unconventional resources has positioned us to capture knowledge on these developments and to identify new opportunities globally," Becker said.
Due to North America's success with unconventional development, many countries are now prospecting potential for shale discoveries. However, the challenge facing international development is converting unconventional resource opportunities to profitable ventures on a scale similar to what has been achieved in North America. While drilling and completion technologies can be transferred and applied, other variables also contribute to overall success.
According to Becker, "The path to success for each individual development is unique." The convergence of subsurface performance, market access, and consistent regulatory regimes has given North American exploration companies an ample proving ground for unconventional resource development.
Although each play is unique, there are common attributes that Becker says are crucial to broadening unconventional resource development on a global scale.
"For initial entry, it is critical to have good resource quality, stable fiscal terms that attract investment, and regulatory certainty," he said.
Other important factors include access to infrastructure, high-value markets, areas with an active service industry, and a supply chain geared toward unconventional resource development. "Critical industry mass is also beneficial for driving down costs and maximizing earnings."
For unconventional resource development to succeed outside of North America, newer regions require operators with experience and solid partnerships among resource owners, regulators, service providers, and local communities.
While Europe continues to investigate potential for unconventional resources and their safe development, North America exemplifies how these resources can provide benefits for both economic and industrial growth. In 2010, unconventional resource development supported 1 million jobs and, according to Becker, continued development is expected to support 1.5 million by next year. By 2015, unconventional activity will have contributed $50 billion to federal, state, and local taxes and royalties.
Commenting on the environmental benefit of developing a cleaner burning fossil fuel resource, Becker added, "Increased use of natural gas has helped the US achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions not seen since the 1990s."
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