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Unconventional gas l Exploration & Production l November 2011

An abundant and widespread resource


Unconventional gas (UCG) resources – coalbed methane, shale gas and tight gas – are abundant and found on every
continent. Their volume is comparable to that of conventional gas.

World gas RESOURCES by GAS type

Recoverable Resources,Tcf
Source: World Energy Outlook 2009

Denmark PolAND
Nordjylland Chelm
Nordsjælland Werbkowice

North America Montélimar EUROPE Asia &
4,436 & CIS pacific
8,219 5,087
United States Algeria
Barnett Shale Timimoun China
Ahnet Sulige
AFRIca &
Middle east

Latin america AustraliA

Conventional gas 2,326 Gladstone LNG project
Tight gas ArgentinA
Coalbed methane La Escalonada
Rincon La Ceniza
Shale gas Aguada de Castro
Pampa Las Yeguas II
Cerro Las Minas
Cerro Partido
TOTAL San Roque
Conv. Non conv. Aguada Pichana
Project / development / production phase Exploration phase

ccording to the International Energy nal gas reservoirs and present on every continent At the current rate of consumption, known
Agency (IEA), the volume of shale considerably enhances the exploration outlook. resources would meet global needs for more
gas, tight gas and coalbed methane than fifty years. The extremely high potential
resources is currently estimated at 380,000 billion Rising demand of unconventional gas should extend lastingly
cubic meters (Gm3), equivalent to about 50% of Unconventional gas has the potential to contribute the petroleum industry’s capacity to meet global
global gas resources. significantly to the replacement of gas resources. demand – especially the foreseeable growth in
Shale gas accounts for the biggest share of With production rising at an average annual rate natural gas’s share in electric power generation
these resources. The fact that gas shales (the of 3% over the past thirty years, natural gas has
source rock that gives rise to this unconventional grown faster than any other fossil energy.
resource) are much more extensive than traditio- There are still huge volumes of gas in the ground.

Unconventional gas l Exploration & Production l November 2011

Total, a world-class player


Total has been active for the past decade in the exploitation of tight gas resources, and has recently invested in the
development of shale gas and coalbed methane.

lready involved in the production of tight Energy Corp., the country’s second-largest
Drilling site,
gas, Total has recently invested in the producer of natural gas and the world’s leading Aguada Pichana
development of shale gas and coalbed producer of shale gas. The Barnett Shale is
methane by forming partnerships with operators America’s largest shale gas play. Its 1,900 wells
who have earned a solid reputation for expertise are currently producing 31 million cubic
in this field. meters (1,100 million cubic feet) per day,
representing nearly 8% of America’s aggregate
TIGHT GAS shale gas production.
Total is the second-largest gas producer in COALBED METHANE
Argentina and operator on the Aguada Pichana GLADSTONE LNG PROJECT, AUSTRALIA
field in the Neuquén basin. The field is char- Santos (operator, 30%) and its partners Total
acterized by highly complex geology with both (27.5%), Petronas (27.5%) and Kogas (15%) an-
conventional and tight gas reservoirs. nounced in early 2011 their decision to go ahead
In 2008, Total deployed a large-scale pilot to with the Gladstone LNG project, which represents
monitor the fracturing of these wells in order to an investment of US$16 billion (prior to the start
test various microseismic acquisition designs. of LNG deliveries). This huge integrated project
located in Queensland (eastern Australia) spans
SHALE GAS the extraction of coalbed methane (or coal seam
BARNETT SHALE, UNITED STATES gas), transmission via a 420-kilometer pipeline,
In early 2010, Total acquired an interest in the Barnett and construction of a liquefaction plant on Curtis
Shale assets of the U.S.-based Chesapeake Island, in Gladstone Harbor


U.S. production The United States pioneered the monetization of un-

conventional gas and remains the leader in this sector.
The exploitation of tight gas and coalbed methane
25 resources began in the 1970s to offset the decline in
conventional gas reserves.
Tcf per year

Shale gas production was initiated in the 1990s,

spearheaded by small independent producers. The
15 more recent arrival of industry heavyweights proficient
in advanced production technologies has spurred
10 growth in production. The share of shale gas in U.S.
gas output is projected to rise quickly from its current
5 14% of natural gas production (65 million cubic
meters/yr) to 20%, then jump to 45% by 2035.
Producing unconventional gas from the Marcellus

Shale will create 100,000 new jobs over the next



















10 years. It is estimated that 150 different profes-

sions will be involved in the operations. In Quebec,
Shale gas Tight gas plans point to the creation of 5,000 jobs for 150 wells
per year.
Coal bed methane Conventional gas Source: EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2011

Unconventional gas l Exploration & Production l November 2011

Unique production characteristics


Unconventional gas is trapped in deposits with atypical geological locations and characteristics. Releasing the gas to
allow recovery requires a specific set of production techniques.

hese resources are trapped in subsurface • Coalbed methane is trapped in coal seams. The migration into the borehole and to the surface.
formations called “reservoir rock” Despite gas is adsorbed onto the surface of the coal, Total has a proven track record in the use of both
the word’s connotation, however, these which is an excellent “storage vessel”: it can horizontal drilling and hydraulic stimulation – the
are not huge, continuous “pools” but rather mi- contain two to three times as much gas per unit technologies of choice for this context.
nuscule pores between the grains that make up of rock volume than conventional gas deposits. • Horizontal wells optimize the drainage of the
the rock matrix. deposit
Permeability challenges • Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of the rock in-
Atypical deposits Permeability is one of the parameters that distin- creases its permeability. Injecting highly pres-
The characteristics of unconventional gas depos- guish conventional from unconventional gas res- surized water into the rock creates a network
its make for uncommonly difficult recovery: ervoirs. of cracks through which the gas can migrate
• Tight gas is trapped in reservoirs characterized The unit used to measure it is the Darcy. A good- to the wells.
by very low porosity and permeability: the rock quality hydrocarbon trap will have permeability of For coalbed methane, recovery is less technology-
pores that contain the gas are minuscule, and 1 Darcy or more, while tight gas reservoirs, more intensive than producing the other types of
their interconnections are so limited that the gas compact than brick, may have permeability of only unconventional gas, but it does require a specific
can only migrate with difficulty. a few dozen microDarcy. approach: the pressure in the coal seam must be
• Shale gas is extracted from a geological layer The permeability values of gas shales are even reduced in order to free the gas. This is achieved
known as the “source rock” rather than from a lower – as little as one one-thousandth of the per- by pumping out the water that is present in the
conventional petroleum reservoir structure. This meability of tight gas formations. The unit here is coalbed’s natural fracture system
clay-rich sedimentary rock has naturally low per- the nanoDarcy.
meability. The gas it contains is either adsorbed
(i.e., closely “inserted”) into the organic matter APPROPRIATE PRODUCTION METHODS
or in a free state in the void spaces (pores) of Production methods must overcome these low Focus
the rock. permeability conditions and facilitate the gas’s

The main types of UCG

The term “unconventional gas” covers three main types
of natural gas resources: shale gas, tight gas and
geological traps coalbed methane. Conventional and unconventional
gases differ not by their chemical compositions (all
these resources are natural gas), but rather by the
geological characteristics of their reservoir rock.

What is a source rock?

The source rock is the geological layer in which oil
and gas are generated. It formed when sediments
were deposited on the bottom of oceans or lakes, then
gradually covered over by additional sediment layers.
As they became more deeply buried, the sediments
were consolidated into rock, and the organic matter
was transformed into hydrocarbons. Over time,
the hydrocarbons were gradually expelled from
the source rock. Most of the oil and gas migrated
upward through the pores and cracks of the surroun-
ding rock, sometimes reaching the surface, but some
was trapped under an impermeable rock barrier
or top seal. With time, the hydrocarbon accumulation
developed into a petroleum reservoir, the target of
conventional oil and gas exploration.
In the case of gas shale, some or all of the gas
released during the transformation of the biomatter
The unique feature of unconventional gas is its geological location: it is found in highly compact reservoirs, source rock and coal seams.
stayed in place. To be a candidate for gas extraction,
source rocks must have reached sufficient maturity
to generate the gas, without yet having expelled it.t

Unconventional gas l Exploration & Production l November 2011

Shale gas: a step-by-step appraisal

E x pL O R A T I O N

Total has five to six years to conduct a step-by-step appraisal of the potential of a permit. The results of each step will
determine whether the investigation will proceed.

1.5 TO 2 YEARS 1.5 TO 2 YEARS 1 TO 2 YEARS







At the end of this lengthy evaluation process, Total will decide whether or not to apply for a production permit.

Phase 1: Phase 2: Phase 3:

preliminary studies technical feasibility studies economic feasibility studies
This is an initial assessment of the reserve poten- This second phase will establish a quantitative This final phase of the process will evaluate the
tial, covering the entire permit acreage.Three pa- evaluation of the volume of gas in place in the economic profitability of the deposit. The capacity
rameters are decisive: the source rock thickness, source rock. This will entail: of the source rock to produce will be assessed by
its organics content, and its mineral composition, • Drilling vertical wells used to take depth samples production tests on one or two wells.
particularly the proportion of clay, which deter- (cores) and measure various physical parame- If the results of these tests are encouraging, the
mines how the rock will react to fracking. ters inside the wells (e.g., rock permeability and next steps will involve:
These preliminary studies focus on: porosity) • A dynamic appraisal of the deposit, which is vital
• Source rock samples taken from surface out- • Acquiring seismic data if needed to supplement to fine-tune estimates of the field’s productivity.
crops of the rock the results already obtained in the previous This will involve drilling, and if possible fractur-
• Reprocessing of seismic data acquired many phase ing, one, two or three horizontal wells in the
years ago over the permit area • In some cases, conducting productivity tests on productive layer, and monitoring their production
• Studies of drill cuttings from past drilling opera- the horizontal wells. pattern for a few weeks.
tions on the permit Whether or not the operations are pursued will de- • Analyses of the conditions for social and envi-
The pursuit of exploration activities is subject to pend on the estimated quantity of gas, the results ronmental acceptability, and of the technical and
the results of the analyses carried out during this of fracturing tests, and the petrophysical charac- economic feasibility of a development project
preliminary study phase. teristics of the deposit.

Unconventional gas l Exploration & Production l November 2011

Optimizing production

Optimizing production means gaining a better understanding of reservoir and source rock geology. It also means
improving the effectiveness of production methods, particularly by applying hydraulic fracturing.

HYDRAULIC FRACTURING Optimized monitoring

Total’s R&D teams are making a particular effort to opti-

mize frac monitoring, placing the accent on micro-
seismic tools. Two aspects are particularly challenging:
• measuring a very low-intensity signal;
• finding algorithms that can give the most detailed
picture of the fracture network.
A longer-term aim is to develop a method for tracking
the injection fluid as it migrates through the
crack network, because ensuring even distribution
of the proppants (the agents that hold cracks open) is
key to effective fracking performance.

Analyzing core samples helps determine the

Hydraulic fracturing creates permeability artificially, so the gas can migrate to the borehole. petrophysical characteristics of the reservoirs.

o appraise the production potential of characteristics, architecture and geometry of the • Optimization of measurement instruments (well-
source rocks, Total is focusing especially geological layers. The aim here is to characterize logging tools) and interpretation methods.
on how they formed, their composition, the hardness, porosity and the natural fracture
and their porosity and permeability characteristics. network of each interval. Enhancing fracking performance
• The first step is to analyze their organic com- Achieving the best control of source rock frack-
ponents to determine the nature and volume of PREDICTING GAS FLOW DYNAMICS ing requires a detailed understanding of the rock’s
hydrocarbons that can be extracted. Finally, a petrophysical analysis of the reservoir geomechanical properties.
• Next comes a study of their sedimentology, determines its capacity to store and flow fluids. Total’s investigations in this area aim to character-
a geological investigation that reconstructs The porosity and permeability of the rock and its ize the mechanical properties of the rock’s mineral
the conditions under which the deposit saturation with water, gas and oil, are just some of components, then identify fracturing mechanisms
formed,and therefore how its resources can the parameters measured directly in the field or in to understand which parameters determine how
be extracted. the laboratory. the frac propagates.
The facies that are the most porous, the most Total has a number of innovations to its credit, Only 3D modeling tools will provide the necessary
permeable, the most organic-rich and the most some of which have patents pending: information by performing a series of several
brittle will offer the greatest production potential. • Core sample preservation simulations, each of which introduces variations
Seismic is also utilized to determine the physical • Nanometric-scale measurement of permeability in numerous parameters

Unconventional gas l Exploration & Production l November 2011

Exploiting resources responsibly


Total is the operator of shale gas exploration permits and makes environmental criteria a central concern when
assessing the feasibility of future production. The Group is already devoting R&D resources to the issue of minimizing
the impact of its future developments.

roducing shale gas actually requires less with the aquifer). Finally, systems such as a Integrating environmental
water than the quantity needed for con- protective liner set between the soil and the pad and social constraints
ventional oil recovery stimulated by water- surface, and concrete catch drains with dedicat- Total’s approach entails both baseline studies
flooding. Even so, achieving further reductions in ed pits connected to them to collect runoff and (i.e., environmental status prior to the start of op-
water consumption is one of the highest priorities of flush waters, together provide a high degree of erations) and environmental and social impact
Total’s R&D. Several studies are under way: groundwater protection. assessments. Conducted by specialized engi-
• To ensure treatment and recycling of 100% of neering firms, these studies assess the general
the produced water Reducing the physical footprint environment of the zone affected by the explo-
• To enhance the energy efficiency of fracking Total has mastered horizontal drilling techniques ration license. They focus on aspects such as
• To develop lighter and more effective proppants for many years. In the context of UCG production, biodiversity, soils and soil quality, hydrography,
• To improve filtration efficiency when treating pro- the first challenge is to apply existing know-how hydrogeology, and landscape description.
duced water with higher saline concentrations. to extend the length of the horizontal drains, cur- This phase of studies and consultation with the
Most of the technologies needed to treat produced rently limited to about 3,000 meters. community identifies any potential environmental
water from shale gas exploitation are already avail- Longer drains will have the advantage of lowering or social impacts and issues, along with appro-
able and have been widely proven effective. the number of development wells, thus allowing priate solutions to propose. All these items are
increased well spacing. included in the project cost analysis. They will
Protecting groundwater Total’s R&D teams are also studying the feasi- factor into the decision on whether or not to go
Borehole architecture must comply with legisla- bility of applying multilateral drain technology in ahead with the project.
tion and withTotal’s internal guidelines. which several production drains extend out from a At the end of production, Total will restore the site
The Group has demonstrated the safety of its drill- single wellhead. to the same environmental condition as the one
ing techniques on numerous projects in the deep A further effort to shrink the physical footprint of described in the baseline study (status of the envi-
offshore. Additionally, Total’s drilling procedures shale gas production will entail the development ronment prior to the start of operations )
include stringent testing of well integrity in the of streamlined, mobile process units, for water
top part of the borehole (the section in contact treatment in particular.

Well cluster An array

(current configuration) of technologies

Many technologies for produced water treatment are

available and are classified according to type. Process
technologies are adapted to the composition of the
influent water and the target specifications for treated
effluent quality.
Three treatment steps are deployed:
• Removal of solid particles via a series of filtration steps
or by chemical separation
• Removal of hydrocarbons by gravity separation in
sedimentation basins
• Treatment of salinity by reverse osmosis for waters
with lower salt concentrations, or by thermal processes
(more costly) when salt concentrations are higher.

To reduce the physical footprint of the facilities, wellheads are grouped together in clusters
with 10 to 30 horizontal drains being drilled from a single central site.

See you on

Design and conception: Dixxit | Photo credits: Florian von der Fecht, Laurent Zylberman, Gilles Leimdorfer, Total | Infographic: Dixxit | © TOTAL November 2011. Certified paper
Capital stock: 5,874,102,327.50 euros
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