John Donnelly, JPT Editor
Investment in North American unconventional projects has increased sharply since the “shale revolution” began as operators look for ways to get into promising projects and walk away with expertise they can take back to potential shale development in their own countries. Producers and consumers are also rethinking their strategies as the shale windfall affects other industries.
Significant numbers of unconventional project farm-ins as well as outright acquisitions have occurred since 2008. Non-US oil and gas companies invested 20%, or about USD 27 billion, of the total USD 133.7 billion investment in US tight oil, shale, and other unconventional plays from 2008 through 2012, according to a new report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Since 2008, foreign companies have entered into 21 joint ventures with US acreage holders and operators, such as Sinochem’s USD 1.7 billion joint venture with Pioneer Natural Resources to buy a stake in the west Texas Wolfcamp shale play. Most of the joint venture agreements involve a cash for acreage stake with a commitment to cover the cost of drilling extra wells, according to the EIA.
The agreements give financial support to US operators while foreign companies gain experience in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that may be transferable to other regions, the EIA said. But unconventional development outside of North America is growing at a much slower pace. “Simple duplication of North America’s successful experience in shale gas development will not work in China,” Zhou Jiping, president of CNPC and vice chairman and president of PetroChina, said at the International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC) in Beijing in late March.
The M&A landscape has not been the only one affected by North American unconventional success. According to several reports, some Middle East producers are beginning to reconsider their strategies in light of predictions that the unconventional North American boom could be here to stay, despite political threats against hydraulic fracturing and the steep decline rates in shale plays. Under consideration are investments in Canadian or US shale assets, LNG terminals, and even US refineries as a way to hedge prices and shifts in supply.
Even Saudi Arabia is beginning to pursue unconventional projects at home. Shale resources in the kingdom are estimated to be as large as 645 Tcf. Saudi Aramco is moving forward in its evaluation of unconventional opportunities, Saudi Aramco CEO Khalid Al-Falih said at the IPTC. One of the hurdles to overcome in arid regions is the amount of water involved in fracturing. Aramco has committed USD 9 billion to shale pilot projects so far, according to media reports.
OPEC recently cut its forecast of oil demand for this year because of rising production from non-OPEC supplies driven by the US increase, and the organization could be headed for its lowest share of the global oil market in more than a decade. OPEC said increases in North American oil production would cut approximately 100,000 BOPD from forecast demand for its oil this year.