By Conrad Prabhu -
MUSCAT — Oman is keen to attract international oil companies to evaluate and develop its untapped, yet potentially prodigious, shale gas resources, according to a top official of the Ministry of Oil and Gas.
Nasser bin Khamis al Jashmi, Under-Secretary, said international investment could help unearth, explore and exploit the Sultanate’s shale gas potential.
“We think Oman has good shale gas potential, and we working on this. At the moment, we have some programmes to explore and assess (this resource). We believe shale as a potential resource is not limited to PDO’s concession, but can be found elsewhere as well. We are trying to attract international companies to come and explore in this area,” Al Jashmi said in comments to the Observer.
Earlier this year, the Ministry announced that it had commissioned a study to assess the country’s potential of shale gas — an unconventional energy resource that’s rapidly supplanting conventional natural gas as a mainstay resource in a number of countries around the world, chiefly the United States and Canada.
According to oil industry experts, Oman and the wider region sit on huge shale formations that can potentially serve as a source of natural gas and even petroleum. Shales are fine-grained sedimentary rocks in whose tiny bores may be trapped natural gas. Because shales ordinarily have insufficient permeability to allow significant fluid flow to a well bore, most shales are not commercial sources of natural gas unless developed through a technique known as hydraulic fracturing (fraccing). New fraccing technologies have helped create artificial fractures around well bores, thereby fuelling a boom in shale gas production globally.
In the Sultanate, a number of oilfield companies are currently exploring for shale plays as part of their routine exploration activities within their respective concessions, say officials. The drive to explore for shale-based hydrocarbons has been fuelled by the enormous success of the shale gas industry worldwide, especially in North America, it is pointed out.
“Shale is a resource we have to explore because of its growing global appeal,” commented an expert at the Oil & Gas West Asia Exhibition & Conference 2012, which opened here yesterday. “In the past, as oil prices were generally low, we couldn’t pursue shale plays because the unit technical costs were high at the time. But with energy prices now soaring, shale can be tackled as a resource. Hopefully, it will provide Oman with a potentially limitless energy resource, going by what we presently know about shale formations in this region.”
According to the expert, fraccing holds the key to the development of potential shale reserves in the Sultanate. “Production costs depend largely on whether the shale plays are at shallow or deeper depths. If at shallow levels, then production costs are relatively less, which will not be case if the formations go deeper. In addition to drilling, there will be a fraccing cost because of the extremely tight rocks in which this unconventional resource is generally trapped. Fraccing is thus the key. Once we have a good and economical design for fraccing, Oman will be in business,” he added.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into the well to unlock the hydrocarbons trapped in shale formations by opening cracks (fractures) in the rock and allowing natural gas to flow from the shale into the well.
When used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing enables gas producers to extract shale gas at reasonable cost. Without these techniques, natural gas does not flow to the well rapidly, and commercial quantities cannot be produced from shale.
In addition to gas shales, there is also potential for oil shales in Oman, he explained. “Depending upon the maturity of the organic matter within the shale formation, you can have either gas or oil. If it’s within the oil window, then the shale will yield oil, but if it’s within the gas window, it will yield gas.”