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Relevance of Hydrocarbon sector in changing energy scenario

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] he British Royal Navy was the largest and the most technically advanced naval force in the early half of the 20th century. It was the era of coal and oil has just started flowing in the markets. As coal was more readily available in the British Isles in Cardiff and Wales, most of the Royal Navy was coal fired. However, the advantages of a Navy fuelled by oil were beginning to be seen.

Oil-Powered Ships could carry more fuel, were faster and could cover a larger patrol area. More so, the German Navy was fast catching up, both in quantity and quality. Among the debaters of the coal and oil camp was Winston Churchill, the First Sea Lord of Admiralty and a supporter of Oil. He argued strongly for the Introduction of Oil-powered engines and a move towards an Oil Navy. His detractors argued that there was little to no oil to be found with the British Isles. Among his supporters for the transition, a major concern was that the only source of oil for the Royal Navy was in Persia, separated from the British Fleet Home Bases by a thousand miles. In event of a looming war, it would become a logistical nightmare to supply the ships with oil, safely and securely. Churchill, however, dismissed all these concerns. Ships powered by Coal were being grossly outperformed in Fleet Readiness Exercises. An American Training Fleet powered by oil has just come out on top of a powerful Coal-Fired British Fleet in a training exercise, embarrassing the British Admiralty. The writing on the wall was clear. The future belonged to faster, more nimble ships which could only be possible with oil engines. But how could the mighty British Fleet rely on a single source of oil, that too thousands of miles away. Could the safety and certainty of oil be guaranteed? To this he said, “Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone.” Diversification of Energy sources was the only way out of the dilemma. And those words hold true, even to this date.

Today, is Energy a luxury or a necessity?

India, a home to over 1.2 Billion People and counting, is one of the world’s largest economies and arguably the world’s fastest growing economy. Every year, a sizable chunk of the Indian Population is pulled up from the Below Poverty Line and becomes part of the world’s largest Middle Class Population. Incomes are rising, the economy is growing, workers migrate to the cities in search of work, shops open to cater to increasing number of customers, suburbs become the part of the cities and the Indian Juggernaut lumbers along. The Economists and the Financial Markets look towards India as one the drivers of the Global Economies and the undisputed hub of the Global Services Industry. But in the all the light, lays a gaping hole of darkness, something which has the potential to snuff out all the light and put an end to the Indian/global Growth. And that darkness is akin to dilemma that the Royal Navy faced over a century ago. To fuel the temples of Economic Growth, we need Energy and lots and lots of it. To build roads, provide electricity to the ever growing population, to pump clean water for drinking, to move commerce and food stuff, heck we even need energy to create fertilizers and irrigate fields to grow food. Energy has occupied the most important place in our lives. Energy is no longer a luxury but a necessity of Human Life now. A life with energy is impossible to imagine now.

The Dilemma of Energy Supply

While the demand for Energy continues to grow, Governments and Public Utilities struggle to find ways to cope with the supply-demand equation. Also, with the coming of the 21st century and the horrors it is foretold to bring if we do not become caring for the environment, there is a need to come up with cleaner and greener sources of Energy. India, like most other counties in the world, faces the same issues. How to supply a growing Population with the means for a bountiful living balancing it with supplying the adequate means for the economy to grow while having a next to no impact on the environment? The dilemma of the policy makers is palpable. James Schlesinger, who served as the first US energy secretary, once quipped that Americans have only two ways of thinking about energy: “complacency and panic.” We’ll agree with the sentiment and substitute the word “Americans” for “people” because very few people anywhere in the world think much about where their energy comes from? And the gargantuan swings in energy markets over the past couple of years illustrate Dr. Schlesinger’s basic point. Our foremost challenge today is the need to balance energy security, employment and economic growth with the issue of climate change. While it can be possible, but not without first acknowledging that the real problem lies above ground rather than beneath it. Getting the Policy mix right is the surest way to avoid the traps of complacency and panic. So what underpins energy security? What to do to ensure that the Energy always flows? Is there the need for an out of the box thinking? Maybe. But the solution remains the same as were the words of Churchill; only this time it would be “Safety and certainty of Energy Supply lie in variety and variety alone.”

Safety and certainty of Energy Supply lie in variety and variety alone

Reliable and affordable supplies of energy have laid the foundation for the world’s extraordinary economic progress to date. Coal fuelled power plants provide electricity for factories and mills. The patriotic fervor among the coal miners in the United States was very strong as they were right to believe that the coal mined by them made Steel and that if the Steel failed, the entire country would fail. Oil made faster travel and commerce possible. Famines and food panics have been gradually reduced as markets became interconnected and it become possible to buy and sell and move goods fast. Natural Gas has made cooking a delightful experience compared to the soot filed kitchens of the past. However, these bountiful sources were very taken for granted throughout much of the 20th century. But with the coming of the 21st century is that energy security and climate change have become the defining issues. They are most important components in a complex matrix with strategic, economic and environmental dimensions.

We need to look towards the future to find out what that lays ahead. BP’s projections suggest we’ll need around 45% more energy in 2030 than we what we can consume today – and double that by 2050. That’s the rough equivalent of adding today’s biggest energy user, United States nearly twice over to world energy demand, and meeting it will require an annual investment of more than $1 trillion a year, every year till 2050. The question is so how can we deliver on that demand sustainably? Let’s be clear – there are no silver bullets here to take this big bad wolf.

Towards Energy Security

To address it, we must have clarity of thought about where we are, where we want to go and which way to go? There is a need to set out practical pathways which can lead us towards the dreamed destination. And most of all, we need a clear regulatory framework to enable businesses to invest with the confidence in building a lower carbon/ carbon free future. Hydrocarbons have, are and will continue to play the most important role in energy security. Say what the environmentalists and the climate scientists; a future full of energy without hydrocarbon is unimaginable, at least with current available technology and investment base. Despite the entire hullabaloo about renewable, they are unlikely to account for much of the energy basket. Unlike what the proponents of the renewable energy who believe the energy base transition would be as under:

energysector21

with renewable contributing a significant higher share year on year. As stated, the share of renewable energy will certainly increase, but we have to be realistic about how much it can actually contribute. All of the world’s wind, solar, wave, tide and geothermal power only accounts for around 1% of total consumption. Add up hydropower and the share goes up another 12%. While hydroelectricity can contribute a bigger share of the energy pie, the application is limited   by massive   population  displacements   and   the   ecological   impact   on   the   local communities. Projects like the Itaipu Dam (Paraguay) and the Three Gorges Dam (PR China) are becoming fewer to plan and execute and several other projects all across the world are struck in various different stages of construction and the Litigation. Governments are funding newer projects in renewable development and research, although taking at a break neck speed, has yet to come up with a game changer solution, forcing corporate to rely on current generation technology for testing and small scale projects. Given the practical challenges of scaling up such technologies, the International Energy Agency doesn’t see them accounting for much more than 5% of consumption in 2030(excluding Hydropower), even with all the aggressive policy support and governmental funding. Nuclear energy and biofuels will also play a part, and by 2030 carbon capture technology could be deployed at scale in Coal Fired power plants. But there will still be a major role for hydrocarbons, primarily Natural Gas. Indeed, the IEA analysis indicates that even in a low carbon scenario predicated on keeping the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to less than 450ppm, hydrocarbons will remain dominant. Hence, Hydrocarbons, more so, Natural Gas are the most reliable fuel for the future.

Relevance of the Hydrocarbon Sector

So we need hydrocarbons and lots and lots of it, that’s clear. The good news is that we have enough reserves of crude oil – and even more of natural gas – and these reserve estimates are rising as we continuously developing newer ways of unlocking both conventional and unconventional resources. Thereby the cornerstone of ensuring the future’s energy security is the creation of a diverse supply – diverse in the forms it can take and diverse in the places it can come from. The hydrocarbon sector must make investments in both low carbon energy business (the projects for Carbon Capture and Sequestration) and the carbon intensive programs (the production from Heavy Oils and Tar Sands) and mate them together. It’s not so much about not emitting the carbon into the system, its more about minimizing the carbon footprint of the energy. Both programs can be a part of a broad and sustainable energy basket mix that embraces oil, gas, coal and renewable, producing and using them all with innovation and efficiency.

However, the building of such a future demands action both from hydrocarbon sector and from Government. The Hydrocarbon Sector can provide the building blocks and tools – but there is a need for them to work within the architecture provided by governments. This appears to be the most logical way in which the current energy security architecture can – and it should – be strengthened.

Challenges Ahead

There is however a set of unique challenges ahead. First, with continuously increasing pressure on the supply side, it’s important to develop energy resources as efficiently as possible. For the Government, this means opening up areas that had previously been closed for exploration and allowing competitive bidding for operations. Offering access permits to a group of potential operators encourages them to come up with the most efficient solutions and often involves partnerships that develop new and innovative combinations of skills, lest they try it going in alone and losing it all. The key to producing unconventional and stranded conventional resources efficiently lies in application of advanced technology. The prime example of this thought school is the US revolution in shale gas over the past decade that has been made possible thanks to new drilling and fracturing technology. This is a real game-changer when it comes to energy security.

The second area in which policy is critical is in addressing climate change. The hydrocarbon sector along with the government can play a major role, arguably via creating a price for carbon trading through conventional market mechanisms. Needless to stress upon but only an open competition will encourage the most efficient ways of cutting emissions. The Hydrocarbon sector must factor a carbon cost into both, their investment choices and their engineering design of new projects. This is only way of ensuring that their investments are competitive not only in today’s world, but also in a future where carbon has a more robust price.

The question of Climate Change?

There are a lot of detractors and proponents of the role of hydrocarbons in the climate change but the fact remains that the world is going to use a lot more energy in the coming decades and there is a need to take urgent action to mitigate the effects of such an increase. All across the globe, millions of people are leaving poverty behind and enjoying a much better standard of living. While there are some clear signs that governments around the world are sensitive to this and are beginning to do something about it, the process remains disjointed and sometimes even frustrating for the Hydrocarbon Sector to do something positive in this regard. The key to real progress being made is alignment, rather than simple agreements – moving in the same direction, may or may not necessarily in lock-step. If the government provides a clear, stable and sustainable framework for investment, it will start to flow. But if they don’t, they run the risk that spare capacity will dwindle – and ‘complacency’ will give way to ‘panic.’

The quickest way to ensure a low carbon fuel for the future while ensuring minimum investment and with the existing infrastructure and technology is Natural Gas. Gas offers the greatest potential to achieve the largest CO2 reductions – at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest time duration all this, by using technology that is available today. It’s easily the cleanest burning fossil fuel – around 50 percent cleaner than coal. It’s very efficient, and combined-cycle turbines fuelled by natural gas are both quicker and relatively cheaper to build. More so, a lots of it is available and sometimes, more readily so.

Conclusion

The creation of a low-carbon economy will be far from easy and over-time, will require the whole-scale re-engineering of the global economy. It will demand a very significant investment by industry, which in turn requires a clear regulatory regime. There is a need to ensure that our children and grandchildren are not left with the unknown hazards of climate change and can keep their lights on in the future. If both these challenges can be met, it is only then has the Hydrocarbon Sector played a crucial role in this changing energy scenario.

Energy

Gender equality for an inclusive energy transition

MD Staff

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photo: IRENA

Women represent 32% of workers in renewables, a new survey and analysis conducted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reveals. This compares to 22% reported in traditional energy industries like oil and gas and over 48% in global labor force participation. IRENA’s report Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective highlights significant opportunities for a greater gender balance in the global energy transformation. Based on responses from nearly 1500 participants in 144 countries, this new study is one of the largest surveys conducted on gender in renewable energy to date. It was presented to IRENA Members during a Special Evening Event at the 9th Assembly taking place in Abu Dhabi from 11-13 January 2019.

The global energy landscape is witnessing a rapid and wide-ranging change driven by an unprecedented growth of renewables. This transformation enables an array of social and economic benefits, including growing employment. IRENA estimates that the number of jobs in the sector could increase from 10.3 million in 2017 to nearly 29 million in 2050. The renewable energy sector offers diverse career opportunities along the value chain, requiring different skill sets and talents. The greater participation of women would allow this rapidly growing sector to draw on untapped female talents while ensuring the socially fair distribution of socio-economic opportunities of the global energy transformation.

Adopting a gender perspective to renewables development is important to ensure that women’s skills and views are part of the growing industry, participants in the survey recommend. Responses show that 75% of women, but only 40% of men, perceive the existence of barriers to women’s entry and advancement in the sector. The survey shows a similar gap about wage equity along gender lines: 60% of male respondents assume pay equity between women and men versus only 29% of female respondents. “Woman are often offered positions and say no because they believe they cannot do it”, said María Fernanda Suárez, Energy Minister of Colombia, encouraging woman to be bold. “We tell employers to employ women,” agreed Habiba Ali, CEO of Sosai Renewable Energies in Nigeria, “and we tell woman to stand up and say: I can do it.” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, confirmed, “Gender equality is about social attitude. If this doesn’t change, nothing will move on”. Full support to gender equality in business by Harish Hande, Co-Founder of Selco India, “the fact that we are talking about gender in 2019 is shameful.”

Greater gender diversity brings substantial co-benefits, the survey finds. Mainstreaming gender perspectives, adopting gender-sensitive policies and tailoring training and skills development can help increase women’s engagement and ensure that women’s perspectives are fully articulated. Speaking at the Evening event, Gauri Singh from the Public Health & Family Welfare Department at the Renewable Energy Corporation in Madhya Pradesh agreed, calling on communities to empower woman. “We need clear and equal rules”, added Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Senator from Mexico and President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). “We have to set up an ecosystem that allows woman to combine the professional with family life.”

Women bring new perspectives to the workplace and improve collaboration, while increasing the number of qualified women in an organisation’s leadership yields better performance overall. In the context of energy access, engaging women as active agents in deploying off-grid renewable energy solutions is known to improve sustainability and maximise the socio-economic benefits. “We don’t achieve our sustainable energy for all agenda if we don’t advance on gender balance”, Sheila Oparaocha, International Coordinator and Programme Manager at ENERGIA Hivos reminded, suggesting to “start building the business case.”

IRENA’s survey reveals that modern energy access reduces drudgery, improves well-being and frees up time for women and girls to seek an education and engage in income-generating activities. Women are ideally placed to lead and support the delivery of off-grid energy solutions, especially in view of their role as primary energy users within the household and their social networks. Actively engaging women in deploying off-grid renewable energy solutions requires a particular focus on training and skills development, followed by access to finance and mainstreaming gender in energy access programmes, according to the survey respondents. The socio-economic dividends of gender mainstreaming are immense; with several examples covered in the report suggesting improvements in women’s self-perception and empowerment within the community.

During the evening’s panel discussion, Kudakwashe Ndhlukula, Executive Director from the Southern Africa Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency added that “from a renewables-side, we traditionally see women as victims. Now, we focus on ensuring that the benefits are shared equally.” Shawn Tupper, Associate Deputy Minister from Natural Resources Canada confirmed that new and 160th Member of IRENA intends to advance the gender agenda Internationally together with its partner.

While the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifically dedicates one goal to gender equality, detailed information related to gender equality in the renewable energy sector remains sparse. Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective aims to contribute to filling this knowledge gap. Findings from the survey offer a glimpse into the current status of women’s participation in the sector and provide insights on what measures are needed, and by whom, to “engender” the energy transition.

IRENA

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Energy

Winners, losers and unintended consequences in the outlook for oil product demand

Kim Tae-Yoon

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Debates about the future of oil tend to focus on total demand: how long it might continue to grow, when it might peak, and so on. But digging deeper into the prospects for individual oil products reveals a rich variety of stories of growth and decline that are also of great significance for the overall oil outlook.

Global oil consumption has been on an almost unbroken rising trend for decades, but there have already been divergent trends for individual oil products. Demand for heavy fuel oil, for example, has been declining since the 1980s, while the pace of demand growth for lighter products – such as ethane, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and naphtha – has been almost triple that of total oil demand.

In the World Energy Outlook’s New Policies Scenario, heavy fuel oil is set to face another blow when the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s regulation on the sulfur content of bunker fuels comes into effect from 2020. Gasoline demand also peaks in the late 2020s as efficiency improvements, fuel switching and electrification weigh on oil demand for cars. But there are sectors where efficiency improvements or electrification are less effective in curbing oil demand, most notably the petrochemical sector.

As a result, demand for ethane, LPG and naphtha (mainly used as petrochemical feedstocks) continues to grow much faster than total oil demand in the New Policies Scenario. Robust growth in these lighter products (also known as the “top of the barrel”) means that their share of total oil consumption rises from 19% today to 23% in 2040. In contrast, the share of gasoline and heavy fuel oil declines from 33% to 28%. Refiners have coped with divergent trends for different oil products in the past, but the pace and extent of the changes envisaged in the New Policies Scenario still pose a significant test.

In the Sustainable Development Scenario, which provides an integrated strategy to meet Paris climate targets, achieve energy access, and significantly improve air quality, the share of “top of the barrel” products grows to an even greater extent. Oil demand in cars drops significantly; consumption for other transport modes – trucks, ships and aviation – also declines; but use in the petrochemical sector remains robust due to strong demand growth for chemical products in developing economies.

These changes engender a major shift in the composition of oil product demand. Demand for gasoline and diesel falls by some 50% and 35% respectively between today and 2040. Demand for kerosene and fuel oil also falls. By contrast, demand for ethane, naphtha and LPG grows by around 25%. LPG is also key in this scenario to tackle the negative health impacts associated with the traditional use of solid biomass as a cooking fuel in many developing countries. As a result, the share of lighter products rises to over 30% by 2040 in the Sustainable Development Scenario, which poses an unprecedented challenge for refiners.

Refiners are used to coping with changing demand patterns. In the past, these efforts were mainly focused on reducing heavier yields and increasing the output of gasoline and middle distillates (diesel and kerosene). The challenge in the Sustainable Development Scenario comes from a different angle: to increase the yield of lighter products and reduce the output of traditional refined products such as gasoline and diesel. Growth in the availability of natural gas liquids (NGLs) and lighter crude oil eases some of the pressure on refiners, at least in the near term. However, production of NGLs and of tight oil are both projected to fall back post-2025, while demand for lighter products continues to increase.

The mismatch between refinery configurations and product demand in the Sustainable Development Scenario would increase the incentives for refiners to deepen integration with petrochemical operations, and thereby boost the direct production of chemical products relative to transportation fuels. There are various technological pathways to increase chemical product yields beyond the levels that a refinery can typically produce (less than 10%).

Several Asian refineries have aromatics units attached to a refinery; high-severity fluid catalytic cracking technologies are being explored; while companies in China are building integrated petrochemical and refining facilities that aim to have chemical yields of around 40%. There are even more ambitious schemes being pursued in the Middle East to bypass refining operations and produce chemicals directly from crude oil.

Implications for the refining industry

The changes in product demand could also have profound implications for the business model of the refining industry. Today, refiners typically earn most of their profit from selling road transport fuels such as gasoline and diesel. Prices for petrochemical feedstocks – the main sources of demand growth – often trend lower than crude oil prices. The significant reduction in road transport fuel demand may therefore challenge this traditional pattern.

In theory, foregone profits in one area would be compensated by higher prices for products in high demand such as naphtha and LPG. While it is conceivable for the prices of these products to increase to some degree, it is hard to envisage a rise that fully compensates for the reduction in road transport fuels sales. The current interest in petrochemical integration reflects a desire to hedge against this risk by seeking out new business lines and revenue streams.

Implications for the energy transition

The IMO sulfur regulation is expected to increase demand for diesel and reduce that for high-sulfur fuel oil (HSFO) around 2020. This raises the prospect of a spike in diesel prices and a drop in HSFO prices, which could have broader economic ramifications beyond oil product markets. The regulation may provide an illustration of how changes in product demand can send ripples through the refining industry and then through the wider energy system.

Our projections highlight other possible mismatches between products demanded and refinery configurations, causing spikes or slumps in the price of individual oil products. While policy makers need to try to minimise the potential impacts of price spikes on energy consumers, they would also need to be attentive to the unintended influences of price slumps.

For example, if policy action were concentrated narrowly on the passenger car segment while other sectors – such as trucks, aviation, shipping and petrochemicals – were left relatively untouched, it would be difficult to avoid a glut of gasoline on the market once demand started to fall back. Efforts to curb oil use in passenger cars would therefore face much stronger headwinds because cheap gasoline would make efficiency improvements and electrification more difficult and expensive.

Avoiding such rebound effects would require removing fossil fuel subsidies or putting in place an offsetting tax or duty that maintains end-user prices at higher levels. Anticipating and mitigating these feedbacks from the supply side needs to be a central element of the discussion about orderly energy transitions.

IEA

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Energy

Could tight oil go global?

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Authors: Tim Gould and Christophe McGlade*

Tight oil production is today a largely US phenomenon. From less than 0.5 mb/d in 2010, production has surged to around 6 mb/d in 2018 and this growth shows little sign of slowing down any time soon. In the most recent World Energy Outlook, tight oil output continues to rise until well into the 2020s in the New Policies Scenario, reaching more than 9 mb/d. As a result, the United States reinforces its position as the world’s largest oil producer, accounting for almost one in every five barrels of production by 2025; it also become a net oil exporter.

This dramatic turnaround in fortunes has had profound implications for energy markets, and the consequences are also being felt beyond energy, for example in the renaissance of the US petrochemical industry. This example has also led many other countries to ask whether they too could experience a shale revolution.

So, what are the prospects for tight oil going global?

One key issue with tight oil production is the sheer number of wells that are needed to reach material levels of production. Production from an individual tight oil well declines very rapidly after it has been completed. If the rate of drilling drops, production is likely to follow suit shortly after. For example, in 2017, around 8 500 tight oil wells were completed in the United States and nearly 70% of these were needed simply to compensate for declines at existing wells. If no new wells had been completed after the end of 2017, we estimate that tight crude oil production would have fallen by around 1.8 mb/d within 12 months and by a further 0.6 mb/d in the next year.

The eternal tussle between innovation and depletion

A critical determinant of future production is having a sizeable resource potential. In theory, there are major tight oil resources in multiple countries. The latest assessment estimates that there are around 350 billion tight oil barrels that are technically recoverable outside the United States (triple the amount in the United States).

However, estimates of resource potential are subject to a huge degree of uncertainty. In some cases, this results in major upward revisions and in other cases to substantial downward revisions. For example, a recent reassessment by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) of the Permian shale play indicated that there were around 20 billion barrels more technically recoverable tight crude oil resources than was previously thought.

In our modelling, increases in the estimated US tight oil resource potential translate into higher projected production levels. For example, tight oil resources in the WEO-2018 (at about 115 billion barrels) are around 10% greater than in the WEO-2017, and production in 2025 is around 0.9 mb/d higher as a result.

Many observers expect further upward revisions in US resource estimates in the coming years. These should not be taken for granted, but they would be necessary to meet oil demand in the New Policies Scenario if the US shale industry is to compensate for a continued shortage of new conventional projects elsewhere.

In the end, as the United States has demonstrated, the only way to prove whether a resource is technically or economically producible is through drilling. A huge theoretical resource potential is no real indication that a shale industry can be successfully developed.

Tight oil is a relatively new production technique and many of the increases in resources in the United States have stemmed from technological progress. Yet even with continued innovation in the New Policies Scenario many of the most productive areas in the United States start to show signs of depletion by the mid-2020s (with the recoverable resource potential that we assume).

This means the average well drilled in 2025 is less productive than today and so a larger number of wells need to be completed to maintain or increase production. We estimate that achieving more than 9 mb/d tight crude oil production in the New Policies Scenario in the United States would require around 20 000 new wells to be drilled and completed in 2025. Thereafter, with our current estimate for recoverable resources, production starts to fall gradually.

How does the success of US shale affect prospects elsewhere?

The knowledge and expertise gained in the United States can clearly be of value in developing tight oil resources in other parts of the world. But, perhaps ironically, one reason for the lack of take-off of shale production (for both oil and gas) to date has been the degree of success in the United States. US tight oil was a central reason for the drop in the oil price in 2014 (and again in recent months), which dimmed the economics of similar production elsewhere.

The US shale sector has also absorbed a large portion of the attention and capital spending of international companies that could have otherwise invested elsewhere. Outside the United States, shale remains a relatively high-cost, poorly-understood resource that poses challenges stretching from access to land and availability of water to bureaucratic hurdles. A critical mass of activity and learning is necessary to generate economies of scale and bring down breakeven prices. But getting the momentum going for this is tough.

To date, only a limited number of countries have achieved some success with tight oil production. Canada produces around 0.4 mb/d tight oil and initial drilling in Argentina has been promising and suggested that resources could be large. Production there stands at around 50 kb/d today. Results have been less promising elsewhere, China, South Africa, and Ukraine all experimented with tight oil, for example, but production targets have been lowered or drilling abandoned altogether.

Despite these near-term difficulties, the New Policies Scenario does eventually see some spread in tight oil. Projected growth is most apparent in Argentina, Canada, Russia and Mexico, and there are also increases in Australia, China and the United Arab Emirates. By 2040, there is more than 3.5 mb/d of tight oil production from areas outside the United States. Crucially, the upturn in tight oil production does not really occur until after production in the United States reaches its peak of production.

As it becomes more difficult for companies to find commercial resources to develop, this encourages them to seek out opportunities elsewhere. There is, of course, a high degree of uncertainty in these projections. Developments could take off sooner if ongoing drilling activity is particularly successful (in Argentina for example), but could also be delayed if the oil price is suppressed for extended periods.

What if the world accelerated a transition away from hydrocarbons? Lower oil demand and prices in our Sustainable Development Scenario would pose a challenge to both the established shale industry in the United States and the more nascent industry elsewhere. Yet tight oil is also arguably a logical choice for many companies faced with uncertainty about the future. Decline rates are high and so there is less need for a long-term outlook on demand and prices. Operators need just enough market visibility to know when to increase or throttle back on drilling. Tight oil is also generally a relatively light crude oil that is well suited to provide the kinds of products in most demand in the Sustainable Development Scenario.

So, an accelerated energy transition would not necessarily constrain tight oil production as much as other types of resources. But, as we have emphasised in previous WEO analysis, prospects in individual jurisdictions also depend on the way that social and environmental concerns are addressed, as the scale and intensity of shale development can have major implications for local communities, land use and water resources, as well as for emissions.

In the world depicted in the Sustainable Development Scenario, there is likely to be even greater attention placed on these aspects. The prospects for tight oil going global depend not just on what is available below the surface, but also on how effectively and credibly these ‘above-ground’ issues are managed.

*Christophe McGlade, WEO energy analyst

IEA

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