Étienne Angles d'AuriacVice President, Strategy, E&P at Total
"Shale oil currently accounts for only a small 5% share of global production."
The Development of Natural Gas: A Matter of Vital Importance
HydrocarbonsThe final phase in petroleum system formation, after a deposit has accumulated... , that is to say oil and gas, will continue to be essential over the next decades, despite the need to develop every other form of energy possible. The underlying issue is not a competitive one; the world simply needs all types of energy. In light of this, what is the outlook for oil and gas production over the coming century? In this article, Étienne Anglès d’Auriac, Vice President, Strategy, Exploration & Production at Total, offers his analysis.
For decades now, there has been debate surrounding how much longer oil and gas reserves will last worldwide and the question continues to go unresolved because it depends on many factors that evolve over time: exploration and extraction technologies and their costs, changes in global demand, the accessibility of deposits in light of global geopolitics and many other factors still.
The current state of oil and gas can be characterized as follows:
- For 30 years now, we have consumed more oil than we have discovered, while for natural gas the situation is the opposite.
- Natural gas is expected to remain “abundant”, despite strong growth in demand of approximately 2% each year.
- The seeming abundance of oil, on the other hand, as illustrated by the falling price per barrelUnit of volume measurement for crude oil that is equivalent to approximately 159 liters (0.159 cubic meters)... , may be short-lived, and is attributable to the recent U.S. shale oilRefers to liquid hydrocarbons extracted from oil shale (see definition) by heating, pyrolysis or hydrogenation. and gas revolution. Nevertheless, shale oil currently accounts for only a small 5% share of global production.
- Between 2013 and 2014, the oil industry invested more than $700 billion per year, but today, this amount has dropped to just a little over $400 billion, which is not enough to renew reserves.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at “unconventional” hydrocarbons, such as shale oil and gas, which are produced together. Gas is actually a vital part of the shale oil extraction process: if only oil is present in the underground deposits, extraction is difficult. The ideal situation is to have the right balance of both. With the development of shale oil, a substantial volume of additional natural gas became available on the U.S. market, thereby increasing the abundance of gas and bringing prices down to some of the lowest in the world.
When shale oil production began to expand significantly in the United States, the response of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPECCreated in 1960, OPEC currently has 12 members: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia... ) was to increase its own output to bring down prices, based on the idea that exploiting shale deposits would became too expensive and therefore slow down. However, two events proved this prediction wrong: technological improvements doubled productivity and significant new potential was discovered in the form of the Permian Basin in Texas. As a result, shale oil has become to a large extent profitable when prices reach $50 per barrel, with a break-even point of less than $40 per barrel for top-producing wells, which is far below the current price per barrel. These levels are becoming comparable to those of conventional offshore oilDescribes crude oil produced offshore, either in shallow water (depths up to 700 meters) using standard methods, or in deep water... operations.
Nevertheless, shale oil currently accounts for just 5% of global production, and is not expected to exceed 10% within the next ten years. Conventional oil will therefore continue to play an essential role, as will deepwater operations.
The Impact of the Climate Change Debate
What is left of available oil and gas reserves and how much longer will they last? Based on current conditions, it is estimated that 2,900 billion barrels worth of oil remain. Currently known conventional reserves should ensure more than 40 years of production. Future discoveries may increase this period to 60 years, while unconventional resources such as shale oil and heavy oil could translate into 90 years.
For natural gas, the time span is even longer. Gas resources are estimated at 3,200 billion barrels of oil equivalent, meaning an availability of 70 years for conventional resources, 90 years if estimated future discoveries are taken into account, and 150 years if shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... is included. However, shale gas discoveries are difficult to estimate given that they tend to occur gradually over time as wells are drilled.
Before these resources can become reserves, they must be profitable and ready for production. This is where the climate change debate comes in. Not all of these abundant resources will necessarily be produced. The highly ambitious scenario put forward by the International Energy Agency (IEA)An independent, intergovernmental organization founded within the framework of the OECD... , which aims to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2°C, predicts annual demand will increase by 0.9% for natural gas and decrease by 0.9% for oil. To meet the 2°C objective, use of coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... , which continues to be the top source of electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... in the world, will have to decrease very sharply over the next 20 years to the benefit of natural gas. As we have seen, gas is abundantly available and emits half as much greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... for the same quantity of powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... generated.
For all of these reasons, the development of natural gas has become and will remain a matter of vital importance for the world’s major companies.
Etienne Anglès d’Auriac is Vice President, Strategy, E&P at Total. A graduate of ESPCI Paris, École Centrale and INSEAD, he has more than 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and has worked all over the world, including in Dubai, Argentina and the United Kingdom.