Countries throughout the world are trying to develop oil and natural gas drilling programs based on the success of the ongoing U.S. shale boom.
It’s not an easy prospect.
While oil and natural gas development has been ongoing in many parts of the world for up to a century, modern unconventional shale drilling poses serious challenges that make it much more difficult to replicate in other parts of the world.
The shale boom was sparked by a combination of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other technologies, including three-dimensional seismic imaging, which allows producers to better understand rock layers beneath the surface and target the best places to drill.
Fracking requires large amounts of water and sand as well as other chemicals used to shatter the rock and hold the sand in the cracks. And 3D seismic requires specialized equipment both to cause vibrations and to measure how those small seismic vibrations react with the rock layers.
The biggest challenge is more fundamental.
In almost every country outside the United States, land owners have no rights to the minerals beneath them. Without the ability to profit financially from the drilling, the people who live near potential drilling sites are less likely to cooperate with the drilling program.
Another difference is that most American wells are drilled by companies owned by individuals or shareholders. Internationally, most oil companies are owned by the state.
Fourteen of the world’s top 20 oil companies are national oil companies. ExxonMobil, the largest international oil company and one of the two largest companies in the world, is only No. 12 among the world’s top oil companies.
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