The use of horizontal drilling in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing has greatly expanded the ability of producers to profitably produce natural gas from low permeability shale formations. This technology has widely been hailed as a “game changer” for U.S. energy supplies. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2011 estimates technically recoverable U.S. shale gas resources at a whopping 862 trillion cubic feet.

In April 2010, the U.S. launched the Global Shale Gas Initiative, a program to help other countries assess and develop their unconventional gas resources. A global shale gas revolution could shake up the world’s economic and geopolitical balance drastically over the next decade. The results of the study are now available online through the U.S. Energy Information office The report assessed 48 shale gas basins in 32 countries. The initial estimate of technically recoverable shale gas resources in the 32 countries examined is 5,760 trillion cu. ft.

Adding the U.S. estimate of 862 trillion cu. ft. of recoverable shale gas results in a total shale resource base estimate of 6,622 trillion cu. ft. To put this in perspective, the world’s proven reserves of natural gas as of January 1, 2010 were about 6,609 trillion cu. ft., and world technically recoverable gas resources are roughly 16,000 trillion cu. ft., largely excluding shale gas. Thus, adding the identified shale gas resources to other gas resources increases total world technically recoverable gas resources by over 40% to 22,600 trillion cu. ft.

Two country groupings emerge where shale gas development may appear most attractive. The first group consists of countries that are currently highly dependent upon natural gas imports, have at least some gas production infrastructure, and their estimated shale gas resources are substantial relative to their current gas consumption. Countries in this group have high motivation for shale gas development and include France, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa, Morocco, and Chile.

The second group consists of countries where the shale gas resource estimate is large (above 200 trillion cu. ft.) and there already exists a significant natural gas production infrastructure for internal use or for export. In addition to the U.S., notable examples of this group include Canada, Mexico, China, Australia, Libya, Algeria, Argentina, and Brazil.

Heartening to this reporter is that most of the countries cited have friendly to cordial relationships with the U.S., or at least are an economic co-dependent (China). They would mark a welcome alternative to the energy stranglehold now inflicted by the world’s leading oil producers, which include too many backward regimes infected by radical Islam and/or hostility toward the U.S.