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Natural gas reserves in perspective [ClearOnMoney]
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Natural gas reserves in perspective

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Commentary

Natural gas reserves in perspective

22 Jun 2012 by Jim Fickett.

Here are three facts to file away, to keep US gas reserves in perspective. First, the US is in fifth place, with four countries each having 3-5 times larger reserves than the US. Second, when reserves are scaled to the size of the gas economy, current reserves are only a little higher than they were in the 1980s. Third, total US gas, including both current reserves and future discoveries, will probably last between 2 and 5 decades.

The main reference sources on natural gas reserves have been reviewed and the two Reference pages US natural gas reserves and [World] Natural gas reserves have been updated. Out of all the details on those pages, I'll suggest three take-homes worth remembering.

The US is in a distant 5th place

Despite all the talk of the US overflowing with gas etc, there are four other countries each of which has several times higher reserves than the US. Here are the top five: Russia (45 trillion cubic meters), Iran (33 TCM), Qatar (25 TCM), Turkmenistan (24 TCM), and the US (8.5 TCM).

Despite the US shale gas revolution, reserves/production is up only moderately

In other words, when you scale known reserves according to the size of the current gas economy, reserves have grown, but are only slightly above 1980s highs. See the red line below:

US natural gas will probably last 2 to 5 decades

The ratio of US reserves to current production is about 13 years. A conservative estimate of the total amount of gas that will ultimately be recovered is about 3.4 times reserves, and an optimistic estimate is about 6.4 times reserves. Stopping somewhere in the middle, let's say ultimate recovery is about 5 times reserves, so that, if current production levels were to continue unchanged, the gas would last about 65 years.

Production levels will not remain constant. If we assume the “new normal” paradigm of slow growth will be here for the long term, and assume that the role of gas in the economy remains more or less unchanged, we might project production increases of 2% per year. In that case 65 years is reduced to 45 years or, being generous, 5 decades.

If we assume coal continues to be disparaged and oil continues to get more expensive, consumption of gas might increase 10% per year. In that case, 65 years is reduced to 20 years.

The ultimate recovery amounts are sophisticated guesses, and the assumptions going into my analysis are somewhat arbitrary. Still, 2-5 decades is a more reasonable outlook than the oft-quoted, but quite unrealistic, 100 years' supply of gas.