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Robert Johnston, PhD
Eurasia Group (Washington)
High-profile investments by super-majors and national oil companies into the tight oil resource plays of North America have characterized the oil market over the past year. These investments, echoing the still-strong investment in North American shale gas plays, are raising the profile of the tight oil resource.
The focus on tight oil could boost likely North American oil reserves by somewhere around 5-15 billion barrels—but many argue that it will not be as transformative as shale gas. Such analysis misses the potential export of tight oil production techniques and expertise around the world, where the upside for reserves growth and eventual production is much higher. Such dissemination could occur via companies such as China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and Statoil taking experience and knowledge from joint ventures in the Niobrara, Eagle Ford, and Bakken tight oil plays into other markets, while companies such as ExxonMobil are partnering with national oil companies like Rosneft to develop tight oil resources directly.
Canada is playing a central role in the emergence of the tight oil play. In addition to the presence of significant tight oil deposits in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin , Canadian oil service firms with expertise in pressure pumping, reservoir stimulation, horizontal drilling, multi-stage hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional oil production techniques are playing a key role. Companies such as Trican, Packers Plus, Sanjel, GasFrac, and Precision Drilling are among the world leaders in these areas. Canadian firms are recognized for their expertise because of the geological characteristics of the deep basin and mature oil fields of Alberta.