Shale gas: an EM game for EM players?

Shale gas has the potential to transform the global gas industry. A lot of it is to be found in emerging markets, home to seven of the 10 biggest shale gas reserves worldwide. So you’d expect the world’s “supermajors” to be lining up for their slice of the cake.

Sure thing, says Christopher Haines, energy specialist at visiongain, a business information provider. But oil and gas companies from the developed world won’t have it all to themselves. Chinese and Indian companies will take their share, too – though other EM players may be left out.

Haines recently authored a report, The Shale Gas Market 2012-2022: Transforming the Dynamics of Natural Gas. The full report is yours for £1,699, but Haines shared some of its insights with beyondbrics.

Haines reckons the shale gas industry will double in size over the coming decade, to be worth $75bn by 2022 – a fast-growing sector in an otherwise mature oil and gas industry.

The US dominates the industry but much of its future growth will come from emerging markets. “The US is almost a mature market,” says Haines. “We can still expect growth there, but not as much as in some emerging regions like China and South America.”

China has the world’s largest shale gas reserves. Its big oil companies – especially Petrochina, Sinopec and Cnooc – aim to play a lead role in exploiting that potential and to expand internationally.

Only Chinese companies may bid for concessions to operate in China but they are allowed to form partnerships with foreign companies. PetroChina is in talks with Royal Dutch Shell and Hess on projects in Xinjiang province, for example. Sinopec has a similar agreement with ExxonMobil on projects in Sichuan province.

But such agreements are not only about China’s shale. PetroChina’s agreement with Shell, for example, will give the Chinese group access to Shell’s operations in Canadian shale. Many more such arrangements are in place or are taking shape.

“The whole idea is to gain technological experience to bring back to the domestic market and other markets around the world,” says Haines. Sinopec’s $2.1bn purchase of Canada’s Daylight Energy, he says, will allow Sinopec to apply Canadian technology in China and South America.

Haines says the other EM set to become a global player is India. That may be surprising given that India’s shale reserves are the world’s 15th biggest. But the country’s huge demand for energy has driven its national oil companies overseas in search of shale opportunities.

Gail India last year bought a 20 per cent stake in the Eagle Ford project in Texas, and is looking for more opportunities. Reliance Industries has shale gas partnerships with several US oil and gas firms including Chevron and Carrizo.

But as Chinese and Indian companies stride the globe, well-known oil companies from other emerging markets with big shale reserves appear to be missing in action.

“In Mexico, Pemex will spend on shale gas development but cheap gas imports from the US will limit potential growth in the market,” Haines says. “In South Africa, a moratorium on shale gas exploration has curtailed any initiative so far.”

Brazil’s Petrobras already has its plate full with the recently-discovered “pre-salt” oil fields and is unlikely to embark on a fresh exploration of new technology.

Then there is Argentina. It has the third biggest shale deposits in the world. As Haines notes, it should be a magnet for investors – if government policy, such as the recent nationalisation of YPF, wasn’t scaring many of them away.

Further reading:
Chart of the week: the scale of shale, beyondbrics
US shale boom to create half-million jobs, FT
China tries to copy US success in shale, FT