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Measures of technically recoverable shale gas still rising

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Assessments of world shale gas resources are still rising.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's current estimate of technically recoverable shale gas resource is up 10 percent from its 2011 estimate, now coming to about 7,300 trillion cubic feet.

Shale resources in the United States and in 41 other countries represent 10 percent of the world's crude oil and one-third of the world's natural gas, according to "Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources," released June 10 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"Technically recoverable resources" are those that can be produced using current technology without reference to economic profitability.

More than half of the identified shale oil resources outside the United States are concentrated in four countries — Russia, China, Argentina, and Libya — while more than half of the shale gas resources outside the U.S. are concentrated in five countries — China, Argentina, Algeria, Canada, and Mexico.

The United States is ranked second after Russia for shale oil resources and fourth after Algeria for shale gas resources among the 41 countries assessed.

While the current report considers more shale formations than the last assessment, the EIA said, it still does not assess many prospective shale formations, such as those underlying the large oil fields located in the Middle East and the Caspian region.

Currently, only the United States and Canada are producing shale oil and shale gas in commercial quantities.

While the 2011 EIA study focused exclusively on natural gas, the new world shale assessment includes shale oil, which recently has been produced in significant volumes in the United States.

More and better geologic information has become available for shale formations located outside the United States, the agency said.

Shale oil and shale gas resource estimates are highly uncertain and will remain so until they are extensively tested with production wells, the agency said. The new report's methodology for estimating the shale resources outside the United States is based on the geology and resource recovery rates of similar shale formations in the United States that have produced shale oil and shale gas from thousands of producing wells.

Shale oil and gas resources have revolutionized U.S. oil and natural gas production, providing 29 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 40 percent of total U.S. natural gas production in 2012, according to the EIA. However, given the variation across the world's shale formations in both geology and above- ground conditions, the extent to which global technically recoverable shale resources will prove to be economically recoverable is not yet clear.

Several nations have begun to evaluate and test the production potential of shale formations located in their countries. Poland, for example, has leased prospective shale acreage and drilled 43 test wells as of April 2013, the agency said. Argentina, Australia, China, England, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have begun exploration or expressed interest in their shale formations.