Shale gas seen reshaping research and relationships

April 5, 2010
As they reshape markets for natural gas in North America, shale plays also are changing research priorities and business relationships.

As they reshape markets for natural gas in North America, shale plays also are changing research priorities and business relationships.

Shale gas, said Jonathan Lewis, senior vice-president of Halliburton's drilling and evaluation division, is "fundamentally changing the energy landscape in North America and is doing so with unprecedented speed."

Citing the surging share of North American gas supply coming from shales, Lewis told the RMI Oilfield Breakfast Forum that reservoirs once considered unconventional now attract enough activity, such as horizontal drilling and fracturing, to be considered conventional.

He acknowledged that the new supplies, combined with growing volumes of LNG available in trade, create a "somewhat bearish picture for gas prices, certainly in the near term." But he said "considerable opportunity" remains to lower the costs of developing shale-gas reserves.

Stressing the complexity and relatively limited understanding of shales, Lewis pointed to desorption as a field of research in which advances can greatly improve recovery and economics.

Other likely areas of technical and scientific progress he cited for shale development are basin-scale modeling, formation evaluation, drilling optimization, underbalanced drilling, borehole steering, multilateral completions, and collection of data in real time.

Lewis also predicted a "new generation" of numerical simulation techniques and said that, beyond science and technology, shale plays are encouraging new "operations optimization and collaboration" as operators seek ways to "drive waste and idle time out of the process."

The efforts have increased collaboration between operators and service companies, Lewis said. They also have increased the use of packaged services, such as drilling and completion, and of incentives in contracts.

Growth industry

Another speaker called emergence of natural gas as "the new growth industry" and restructuring of the oil services industry two important trends of the next few years.

G. Allen Brooks, managing director of the investment banking firm Parks Paton Hoepfl & Brown, said the restructuring results from expansion of activity by national oil companies, the "struggle" by international oil companies "to find a new business model," the movement of gas into its role as a transition fuel, and politics and taxation.

In the longer term, Brooks said, alternative fuels and the "green revolution" might have more effect than now is expected.

"Energy efficiency, alternatives, and things like that will have a bigger role than we think," he said after calling politics "the shark in the swimming pool."

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