What's Ahead

Unconventional Resources: The New Conventional?

Max Medina, Editor-in-Chief, The Way Ahead

I am not going to pretend I am a smart young professional (YP) who knows everything to be known about unconventional hydrocarbon resources and the technical differences that distinguish them from conventional oil and gas exploitation. As a matter a fact, most of my current knowledge on the subject comes from reviewing the excellent articles we have lined up for you in this issue of TWA.

However, for the past 3 years I have worked substantially on extra heavy oil in-situ thermal recovery, which is considered part of the unconventional resources roster. Nowadays, the term “unconventional” refers mostly to shale/tight gas and liquids, leaving out other “super” unconventional resources, such as gas hydrates, extra heavy oil, and coalbed methane (CBM), among others. The bottom line is that any hydrocarbon resource that is different, in terms of origin, storage, ease of exploitation, and/or properties, falls under the umbrella of unconventional resources.

The recent history of the shale gas boom in North America is the latest proof that changing our own future is possible. We are not condemned to live the future that analysts, forecasters, and other prophets of disaster have predicted for us. We can make a difference and we are doing so.

Since 2004, I have been following the natural gas market in North America. During 2004 to 2007, I read annual outlooks on natural gas production that had only minor references to CBM activity. At the time, liquefied natural gas (LNG) seemed to be the only sustainable solution for growing gas demand in this part of the world. In 2007, a few articles started mentioning the contributions of the Devonian shale to the natural gas supply; then the industry was still praying for a technology miracle. A year later, the success stories of shale and tight gas exploitation started to spring up across the industry. Fast forward to 2012 and shale resources have been transformed from an “impossible” massive energy resource into the new conventional source of hydrocarbons. The shale revolution has fueled the global boom in E&P activity of the past couple of years with the promise of establishing itself as the energy alternative for this century. Technology saved us again and, while doing so, has proven a few of us in the energy sector wrong.

The term “unconventional” implies these resources are more challenging to develop. For those trying to produce them economically, they represent an added layer of complexity. This is just what we YPs needed: an opportunity to prove our ingenuity and creativity without having to fight established paradigms.

The young nature of unconventional resources puts us (E&P professionals) on the same level of play, because we are still in a learning mode, developing the knowledge and solutions required to economically exploit these resources. What a great opportunity for making a difference, for shaping a growing sector of our industry that requires unconventional thinking and unconventional methods for solving its challenges.

YPs are the unconventional human resource required to decipher the energy future of the world. I am convinced that sustainable development under growing energy demands cannot be achieved by continuing with the conventional thinking of our industry. Do not get me wrong. I encourage you to learn the conventional ways and established technical knowledge of our industry. But, more importantly, I challenge you to think differently and be part of the solution now.