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Unconventional gas – A review of regional and global resource estimates


  • McGlade, Christophe
  • Speirs, Jamie
  • Sorrell, Steve


It is increasingly claimed that the world is entering a ‘golden age of gas’, with the exploitation of unconventional resources expected to transform gas markets around the world. But the future development of these resources is subject to multiple uncertainties, particularly with regard to the size and recoverability of the physical resource. This paper assesses the currently available evidence on the size of unconventional gas resources at both the regional and global level. Focussing in particular on shale gas, it first explores the meaning and appropriate interpretation of the various terms and definitions used in resource estimation and then summarises and compares the different regional and global estimates that have been produced to date. It shows how these estimates have increased over time and highlights their variability, the wide range of uncertainty and the inadequate treatment of this uncertainty by most studies. The paper also addresses coal bed methane and tight gas and identifies those estimates that appear to be most robust for each region. The paper concludes that unconventional gas could represent 40% of the remaining technically recoverable resource of natural gas, but the level of uncertainty is extremely high and the economically recoverable resource could be substantially smaller.

Suggested Citation

  • McGlade, Christophe & Speirs, Jamie & Sorrell, Steve, 2013. "Unconventional gas – A review of regional and global resource estimates," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 571-584.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:energy:v:55:y:2013:i:c:p:571-584
    DOI: 10.1016/

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Howard Rogers, 2011. "Shale gas--the unfolding story," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 27(1), pages 117-143, Spring.
    2. Sorrell, Steve, 2007. "Improving the evidence base for energy policy: The role of systematic reviews," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 1858-1871, March.
    3. Mohr, S.H. & Evans, G.M., 2011. "Long term forecasting of natural gas production," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(9), pages 5550-5560, September.
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    9. Wang, Jianliang & Mohr, Steve & Feng, Lianyong & Liu, Huihui & Tverberg, Gail E., 2016. "Analysis of resource potential for China’s unconventional gas and forecast for its long-term production growth," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 389-401.
    10. Zou, Youqin & Yang, Changbing & Wu, Daishe & Yan, Chun & Zeng, Masun & Lan, Yingying & Dai, Zhenxue, 2016. "Probabilistic assessment of shale gas production and water demand at Xiuwu Basin in China," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 185-195.
    11. Trobajo, J.R. & Antuña-Nieto, C. & Rodríguez, E. & García, R. & López-Antón, M.A. & Martínez-Tarazona, M.R., 2018. "Carbon-based sorbents impregnated with iron oxides for removing mercury in energy generation processes," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 648-655.
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    13. Sheridan Few & Ajay Gambhir & Tamaryn Napp & Adam Hawkes & Stephane Mangeon & Dan Bernie & Jason Lowe, 2017. "The Impact of Shale Gas on the Cost and Feasibility of Meeting Climate Targets—A Global Energy System Model Analysis and an Exploration of Uncertainties," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(2), pages 1-22, January.
    14. Tunstall, Thomas, 2015. "Iterative Bass Model forecasts for unconventional oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 93(P1), pages 580-588.
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    17. Saif, Tarik & Lin, Qingyang & Butcher, Alan R. & Bijeljic, Branko & Blunt, Martin J., 2017. "Multi-scale multi-dimensional microstructure imaging of oil shale pyrolysis using X-ray micro-tomography, automated ultra-high resolution SEM, MAPS Mineralogy and FIB-SEM," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 202(C), pages 628-647.
    18. Griffiths, Steven, 2017. "A review and assessment of energy policy in the Middle East and North Africa region," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 249-269.
    19. Gracceva, Francesco & Zeniewski, Peter, 2013. "Exploring the uncertainty around potential shale gas development – A global energy system analysis based on TIAM (TIMES Integrated Assessment Model)," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 443-457.
    20. Hongxun Liu & Jianglong Li, 2018. "The US Shale Gas Revolution and Its Externality on Crude Oil Prices: A Counterfactual Analysis," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(3), pages 1-17, March.
    21. McGlade, Christophe & Speirs, Jamie & Sorrell, Steve, 2013. "Methods of estimating shale gas resources – Comparison, evaluation and implications," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 116-125.
    22. Millar, Graeme J. & Couperthwaite, Sara J. & Moodliar, Cameron D., 2016. "Strategies for the management and treatment of coal seam gas associated water," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 669-691.
    23. Middleton, Richard S. & Carey, J. William & Currier, Robert P. & Hyman, Jeffrey D. & Kang, Qinjun & Karra, Satish & Jiménez-Martínez, Joaquín & Porter, Mark L. & Viswanathan, Hari S., 2015. "Shale gas and non-aqueous fracturing fluids: Opportunities and challenges for supercritical CO2," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 500-509.


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