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Shale gas coming to the forefront PDF Print E-mail
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Shale gas is natural gas produced from shale. Shale gas has become an increasingly important source of natural gas in the United States over the past decade, and interest has spread to potential gas shales in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. One analyst expects shale gas to supply as much as half the natural gas production in North America by 2020.

Some analysts expect that shale gas will greatly expand worldwide energy supply. A study by the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University concluded that increased shale gas production in the US and Canada could help prevent Russia and Persian Gulf countries from dictating higher prices for the gas it exports to European countries.

The Obama administration believes that increased shale gas development will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Because shales ordinarily have insufficient permeability to allow significant fluid flow to a well bore, most shales are not commercial sources of natural gas. Shale gas is one of a number of “unconventional” sources of natural gas; other unconventional sources of natural gas include coalbed methane, tight sandstones, and methane hydrates. Shale gas areas are often known as resource plays (as opposed to exploration plays). The geological risk of not finding gas is low in resource plays, but the potential profits per successful well are usually also lower.

Shale has low matrix permeability, so gas production in commercial quantities requires fractures to provide permeability. Shale gas has been produced for years from shales with natural fractures; the shale gas boom in recent years has been due to modern technology in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to create extensive artificial fractures around well bores.

Horizontal drilling is often used with shale gas wells, with lateral lengths up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) within the shale, to create maximum borehole surface area in contact with the shale.

Shales that host economic quantities of gas have a number of common properties. They are rich in organic material (0.5% to 25%), and are usually mature petroleum source rocks in the thermogenic gas window, where high heat and pressure have converted petroleum to natural gas. They are sufficiently brittle and rigid enough to maintain open fractures. In some areas, shale intervals with high natural gamma radiation are the most productive, as high gamma radiation is often correlated with high organic carbon content.

Some of the gas produced is held in natural fractures, some in pore spaces, and some is adsorbed onto the organic material. The gas in the fractures is produced immediately; the gas adsorbed onto organic material is released as the formation pressure is drawn down by the well.

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