As concerns about the current capacity and future availability of oil and gas supply increase, many analysts see non-conventional resources as providing assured supply for decades to come. These “resource plays” of regional extent certainly contain enormous in-place resources but are they capable of meeting forecast demand increases? E&P companies (including all of the majors) are also attracted to such resources because they have low exploration risk, material production volumes and long-lasting production at stable production rates. In addition, with the exception of Canadian oil sand bitumen production, current recovery factors are low so these accumulations have the potential for a substantial “technology dividend”. At some 7.5 trillion barrels, estimates of the in-place resource of bitumen, extra-heavy oil and shale oil are over three times greater than the 2.25 trillion barrels of recoverable conventional oil estimated to have been discovered to date. Non-conventional liquids production from Canada and Venezuela currently comprises about 2% of world liquids production. Excluding gas hydrates, remaining recoverable resources of the three principal types of gas resource play are estimated at over 1,000 trillion cubic feet. While remaining recoverable resources of discovered conventional gas are six times as large, there is significant potential for growth in non-conventional gas resources outside North America, where no estimates are available to-date for shale gas and tight gas sands. Non-conventional gas production, which currently comes almost entirely from the USA, comprises almost 7% of world gas production. The paper will discuss the current status of resource play development, production and resources worldwide with emphasis on undeveloped future potential, and will provide commentary on the environmental impact of such developments and the steps being taken to mitigate adverse effects. Conversion technologies such as coal-to-gas, coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids will not be addressed in this paper.


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