25 February 2013, 20:27

Shale oil: no revolution on the horizon

Shale oil: no revolution on the horizon

America’s production of shale oil increased five times over the first decade of this century to more than 550 barrels a year. Many believe that beginning with 2030 the US will no longer need oil from the Persian Gulf.

PricewaterhouseCoopers points out that the world’s reserves of shale oil are at least 13 times the reserves of conventional oil and can meet the global demand for oil products for about three centuries. It says it believes that the shale revolution in natural gas will be closely followed by a shale revolution in oil, drawing down the price of this commodity to about $80 a barrel.

Chief analyst for the Nord-Kapital investment company Vladimir Rozhanovsky has his doubts:

"Most of the planet’s shale oil can only be extracted at prohibitive costs. Moreover, it will be many years before the technology to extract it hits the assembly line. America’s Marathon Oil has gone nearly bust trying to pull off ambitious shale oil projects."

At present, the extraction can only be economical if the oil shale layer is at least 30 meters thick and contains at least 90 liters of oil per ton of rock. After one year, the yield of a typical shale oil well is down by 80%. These facts are hardly compatible with the optimistic vision of a shale oil revolution on the horizon.

Russia, too, is in the shale oil game. It is considering projects in this field, but only tentatively. It is far from clear whether shale oil production will really pick pace and start reshaping the world’s energy landscape.

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