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Shale gas revolution changes geopolitics


Last updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013 9:25 AM

Syed Rashid Husain


New, unconventional energy resources are reshaping global economy and altering geopolitics.

By 2035, shale oil production could boost the world economy by up to $2.7 trillion, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report says. It has the potential to reach up to 12 percent of the world’s total oil production — touching 14 million barrels a day — “revolutionizing” the global energy markets over the next few decades.

Using the NiGEM model, the study projected that over the next two decades, this additional supply could push global oil prices down, by somewhere between $33 and $50 (depending on a number of variables). Hence relative to the current baseline EIA projection of $133/barrel in 2035, which assumes low levels of shale oil production, prices could go down then by around 25-40 percent, corresponding to $83-$100/ barrel in real terms. The report emphasizes that this could increase global GDP in 2035 by around 2.3 - 3.7 percent (equating to around $1.7-$2.7 trillion at today’s global GDP values).

Shale is already beginning to alter the economic topography of the United States. In order to understand the implications, one has to underline that as per the EIA, the total shale oil resources in the US have been revised upwards from 4 billion barrels in 2007 to 33 billion barrels in 2010. In the longer run, PwC estimates that shale oil could displace around 35-40 percent of waterborne crude oil imports to the US, providing the long desired energy security.

And the impact is visible and apparent. An ACC report, “Shale Gas and New Petrochemicals Investment: Benefits for the Economy, Jobs and U.S. Manufacturing” suggests that even a modest increase in natural gas supply from shale deposits would generate more than 400,000 new jobs in the US, more than $132 billion in US economic output and $4.4 billion in new annual tax revenues. IHS estimates that extraction of shale gas and oil added $62 billion in revenues to federal and state coffers last year.

Manufacturers have also announced more than $90 billion worth of investments to take advantage of its cheap natural gas — driving the country’s industrial renaissance. Petrochemicals, fuel, fertilizer and steel companies are among those that are committed to or are considering multi-billion dollar investments, courtesy the cheap energy and feedstock.

Dow Chemical and others have announced a raft of new investments to take advantage of low gas prices. Methanex, the world’s biggest methanol producer, is to dismantle a methanol plant in Chile and rebuild it in Louisiana. The US is now to be a gas exporter by 2020 instead of the previously projected 2022. Its gas exports in 2027 would reach 1.6 trillion cubic feet, doubling last year’s forecast. Last April, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a proposal by an American liquefied natural gas (LNG) Energy Company to export LNG. The approval, the first of its kind in 40 years, was a landmark for the United State’s shale gas revolution, signaling the turnaround — from an energy importer to an exporter.

And in the meantime — courtesy, the energy revolution — refineries on the East Coast, which were on the verge of closing a few years ago, stand revived today. In Philadelphia, domestic supplies have helped resurrect a facility that accounts for nearly one-fourth of East Coast refining capacity. It was put up for sale in 2011 and was expected to close for good last summer as high oil prices and slackening demand made it barely profitable. Today, it is refining up to 330,000 barrels of oil a day, getting about 10 percent of its crude from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota.

And the revolution may not stay limited to the US only. The trend is catching on. Although the development of shale oil, outside the US is still at an early stage, yet indications point to large amounts of technically recoverable resources distributed globally. Global shale oil resources are today estimated at between 330 and 1,465 billion barrels. Since the beginning of 2012, there have been a number of announcements, from Argentina to New Zealand, of discoveries of shale oil resources as well as government initiatives to encourage the exploration and production of shale oil. Investment is already underway to characterize, quantify and develop shale oil resources outside the US, for example, in Argentina, Russia and China.

Only last month, China stepped up its efforts to explore shale gas reserves by awarding exploration rights on 19 shale gas areas to 16 firms. In December, the UK government gave the go-ahead to resume fracking to exploit gas in Lancashire, which was stopped after two tremors near Blackpool.

The PwC report also underlined, and indeed correctly so, that the current major oil exporters, Russia and the Middle East, could be "significant net losers in the long term unless they can develop their own shale oil resources on a large scale." The report points out to the fact that some major net oil producers could see their current account balances deteriorate significantly as a result of lower oil prices.

Hence it suggests that OPEC governments and other major net oil exporters need to assess the likely impact of shale oil on global oil prices, on their revenues, budgets and economies, evaluating how best to respond and counteract to the potential price effect of increased non-OPEC production. Where feasible, current producers also need to consider pursuing their own shale oil exploration and production options, PwC insists.

And this development has tremendous geopolitical implications too. Wu Sike, a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and member on the Foreign Policy Consulting Committee of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affair, believes that the US-initiated shale gas revolution will not only change the global landscape of energy distribution but will also change the world’s geopolitical layout.

The US will take a more dominant position in the global energy distribution. With that in mind, observers will certainly watch how the US will adjust its global strategy, especially its Middle East policy, and ponder what kind of a situation other energy-consuming nations will face in terms of energy safety. The development of this technology will have an insurmountable impact on the Middle East, the global economy and the world’s geopolitical map, he underlined.

The energy world has changed. Let’s beware of it!

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