Russia joins the Shale AgeJanuary 7, 2013
Russia holds the worlds largest reserves of conventional natural gas, accounting for about 40% of the global total. Because of the size of those reserves, Russia has neglected the revolution in unconventional gas brought about by US development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. However, that revolution has collapsed the price of gas around the world as the US rose to claim the title of top producer of gas. This upended the Russian economic (and political) model that was based on monopoly pricing schemes, and the use of the “energy weapon” to pressure dependent nations for various concessions.
Now, however, Russia has succumbed to reality and has begun exploring its own unconventional reserves, which are thought to be massive. The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom recently released estimates indicating that the nation may have 2.5 times as much unconventional gas as conventional gas. The Gazprom projections include shale gas reserves of 5 to 20 trillion cubic meters (tcm), which would be between 8 and 80 times greater than estimated US reserves. This alone is just a fraction of Russian conventional gas reserves, but Gazprom boosts its unconventional estimates by including tight gas (110 tcm) coal bed methane, or CBM (50 tcm) and methane hydrates (500 tcm in its total. The latter three are problematic for different reasons. Tight gas formations are often difficult and unprofitable to release, there is as yet no commercially viable means for extracting methane hydrates, and coal bed methane typically sits closer to the water table and is much more environmentally sensitive (most of the criticisms of shale gas fracking are unfounded, but would be more accurate if applied to CBM extraction).
Still, as Russia enters the Shale Age, even the most ardent skeptics must admit that the end of fossil fuels is a distant, distant future.