Demographics And Shale Gas

EIAshalegas.jpgBy John Richardson

GLOBAL shale resources are large enough to cover more than a decade of oil consumption, writes the FT in this article, quoting the US Department of Energy.

And as my colleague Nigel Davis writes in this, as usual, excellent Insight article, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has upwardly revised its estimate of worldwide recoverable shale oil and shale gas (see the above map showing the EIA’s latest estimates).

“Estimated volumes of technically recoverable shale gas have been revised upwards by 10%, the EIA said on Monday,” adds Nigel.

“That may not seem a lot but the addition of these sometimes wet gas resources, largely unrecognised until only a few years ago, lifts the global gas reserves total by 47%, or 7,299 trillion cubic feet (tcf). An energy bonus writ large.

“The agency has also revised upwards its US shale oil and tight oil reserves estimates, taking the international total to 345bn barrels.

” ‘Globally, 32% of the total estimated natural gas resources are in shale formations, while 10% of estimated oil resources are in shale or tight formations,’ ” the EIA says.

“The agency’s data show how tight oil and shale gas have revolutionised the US energy picture, accounting for 29% of total national crude oil production and 40% of US natural gas production in 2012.

“The big question over time will be how other nations, principally those with the largest deposits, but also some relatively smaller players, will facilitate cost and environmentally effective shale gas and oil development.”

This last point, we think, is the key to the future.

For example, Germany might face a choice between preserving its ancient beer industry and fracking, if the alarm-mongers are to be believed.

“German brewers have warned Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government that any law allowing the controversial drilling technique known as fracking could damage the country’s cherished beer industry,” writes Reuters in this story.

“The Brauer-Bund beer association is worried that fracking for shale gas, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into the ground, could pollute water used for brewing and break a 500-year-old industry rule on water purity.”

Not meaning to sound flippant, but could part of the resistance in Germany come from the fact that it has an ageing population? If you are near retirement, or already retired, you might prefer to spend your time sipping good beer in a street side café, overlooking beautiful scenery, rather than feel it necessary to buy overseas, mass-produced beer as you stare at an ugly oil or gas rig.

But if you are younger, and are perhaps therefore more willing to accept change, you might be more willing to accept compromises on the environment – if such compromises are really necessary in order for fracking to work economically.

Of course, though, Germany has long had a very strong environment lobby, which has often been inspired and driven by young people.

Europe’s petrochemicals industry, as it rapidly loses competitiveness, needs to find a way through such complex debates if it is to secure its long-term future.

And all of this serves to underline how we live in an ever-more complex world, where demographics will play a huge role in shaping not only demand, but the future behaviour of many societies.

Social mores will evolve as populations grow older in the West.

Older people are more conservative in both how they spend their money and how they behave.

But also, as the proportion of younger people declines, this will affect their behaviour in ways that we have yet to fully understand.

As they face declining employment prospects, for instance, they may become more politically radical, more prepared to take to the streets and thus bring governments down.

And/or they may simply emigrate, which would obviously accelerate the ageing of the countries that they leave.

This is incredibly difficult and so the temptation is to give up before we even start.

We cannot afford to give up. Demographics are just too important.

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