North America's experiments with unconventional gas are having ripple effects from the UK to Abu Dhabi.
Nova Chemicals to start using shale gas in Ontario
A major Abu Dhabi-owned petrochemical complex is due to become one of the first in the world to benefit from North America's shale bonanza.
Nova Chemicals, the Calgary-based company owned by the emirate's International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic), is due to start receiving gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus field, a major shale deposit, by the end of this year.
The gas will serve a complex in Ontario of three petrochemical plants that, before shale, were thought to have a limited lifespan.
The new lease on life for the Ipic subsidiary's operations is just one example of the effects of the revolution in unconventional gas sources rippling across industry and geography.
"Unconventional gas is likely to emerge in the next five to 10 years," said Harry Bradbury, the chairman of Five Quarter, a United Kingdom company planning to extract gas from coal formations. "You can either put your head in the sand and say it's not going to happen, or you can do something about it."
The effects have not been universally positive for Abu Dhabi companies. At Abu Dhabi National Energy, the state utility known as Taqa, profits dropped by 13 per cent last year, in part because of the low gas prices in North America where some of its fields are located.
But for downstream investors shale has been a boon. Revenues at Ipic, which in addition to Nova also owns Cepsa, the Spanish refiner, and Borealis, the Austrian petrochemical specialist, jumped by 51.3 per cent last year to US$51.90 billion.
Overall Ipic earned a profit of $1.76bn, it reported yesterday.
Nova's work in replacing its traditional feedstock sources with unconventionals began before industry insiders were crowing about a revolution. In 2010, it agreed to study the feasibility of building a pipeline from Pennsylvania to Ontario.
The following year it reached a deal to use an existing pipeline to bring in ethane - a far more desirable, easier to crack feedstock than the crude mixture it was using.
That same year, Nova also signed deals to import ethane from North Dakota shale to its complex in western Canada.
Mr Bradbury hopes to replicate the industrial revival in northern England. Instead of fracking for shale gas, his start-up plans to heat coal deposits under the North Sea to 1,200°C, transforming rock directly into gas - similar to the coal gasification in China and Australia. After field trials scheduled to take place this year, the company hopes to supply Teesside, Europe's biggest petrochemical cluster, and revive industrial development in northern England, once the world's top coal producer.
About 1,700 trillion cubic metres of such unconventional gas resources are estimated to remain globally, equal to supplies of conventional gas.
"We thought we knew the world in terms of hydrocarbons and where they were," said Mr Bradbury, a former chief economic adviser to the Bahraini government who was in Dubai to give a talk.
"But the world of unconventional resources is completely different."