A looming gas crunch in the Arab world can be offset by tapping unconventional reserves, according to a state-backed financier for regional energy projects.
The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is home to proven reserves of 88 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, more than 40 per cent of the world's total, says the Arab Petroleum Investment Corporation.
This alone secures supplies lasting more than 30 years, said Ali Aissaoui, a senior consultant at the development bank.
"Mena proved reserves are substantial and their combined dynamic life is a little beyond the traditional 30-year strategic planning horizon for E&D [exploration & development]," he said.
But a growing demand because of population growth, industrial expansion and wasteful consumption is forcing governments to add to supply, and the Mena region will be part of the trend towards unconventional production that has already flooded North America with shale gas.
While hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has released gas stuck in shale rock formations in the United States and Canada, GCC countriesare also exploiting unconventional resources to bridge a growing supply-demand gap.
"Reserve depletion in more than half our large sample of countries has critically neared if not already reached the point that warrants drastic actions to curb demand and support a supply response. The opportunities for the latter will be driven by a vast potential for reserve expansion," said Mr Aissaoui.
In the UAE, Abu Dhabi is undertaking the huge Shah Gas project, where sour gas is stripped of its poisonous sulphur, to add 500 million cubic feet of usable gas to supply. Much of the emirate's gas is sour, and a joint venture between Germany's Wintershall and Austria's OMV is appraising a further gasfield for a similar project. Al Hosn, the joint venture between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the US company Occidental Petroleum is set to complete Shah by 2014, is ready to take on further projects, the chief executive Saif Al Ghafli told The National in October.