Shale Gas Basins Analyzed by the EIA


Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a major report assessing the potential for shale gas development in 48 basins in 32 countries around the world. (See map.) According to the report, the assessed basins, when added to previously published estimates in the United States, could contain 6,622 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas contained in shale. Until recently, many shale formations were thought to contain natural gas but could not be developed economically. Now, producers in the U.S. and Canada have demonstrated that the application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing can produce natural gas from shale at acceptable costs, causing countries around the world to wonder what resources these technologies could unlock under their land.

How much is 6,622 Tcf? It is equivalent to 40 percent of previous global estimates of all technically recoverable natural gas, estimates which largely excluded shale gas resources, as their extent had not been well-established. And the figure doesn’t even include the massive shale gas resources that are thought to reside in Russia and the Middle East, where sizable amounts of conventional natural gas will likely delay any investment in unconventional gas for the foreseeable future.

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Argentina, China, EIA, France, Mexico, natural gas, Poland, shale gas, United States

From August 31 to September 3, the National Forestry Commission of Mexico and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment held an international conference in Oaxaca, Mexico, in preparation for the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) in 2011. The focus of the workshops was on forest governance, management, and finance, with a particular emphasis on implementating the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism and the rights of communities relating to REDD+.

REDD+ measures seek to create financial incentives for developing countries to decrease their emissions from forests while at the same time alleviating poverty. However, skeptics worry that more centralized forest governance will infringe on the rights of local communities to manage their own forest resources.

Aftermath of Deforestation

All of Latin America shares similar struggles when it comes to deforestation. In most of these countries, growing populations and economies are putting a strain on limited environmental resources, including forests. In Mexico, as a result, less than 10 percent of the original tropical forest is left.

The benefits of REDD+, such as sustaining forest ecosystems and providing greater motivation to reduce climate change, seem obvious. So why is it taking so long to implement these practices? One answer raised at the conference was the difficulty in finding balance between preventing social and ecological harm and being as cost-effective as possible. It is nearly impossible to share the costs and benefits of REDD+ equally, whether internationally, nationally, or locally.

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Climate Change, developing countries, forests, governance, International Year of Forests, Latin America, Mexico, population, poverty, rain forest, REDD, United Nations Forum on Forests

The beaches of Cancun will be hosts of COP 16. After a lukewarm result from Copenhagen it will be up to the Mexican government to create the environment that will make a legally binding international agreement more likely. Beyond excellent logistics and security, the COP in Mexico will have to tackle the challenge of reaching consensus from a group of countries that appears to be even more fragmented after COP 15. The division has led many analysts to speculate that this year the Climate Change debate will shift to regional or G forums (G8, G8+5, G20 etc.), or even to bilateral negotiations between the most influential states. Reducing the number of Parties might be a good strategy to reach concrete results more efficiently, without the hassle of building consensus, but it threatens principles embedded in broader multilateralism (like equity and transparency). Historically, Mexico has been a keen adherent to these principles. The COP presidency will give the Mexicans an opportunity to uphold the UNFCCC process as the forum to reach a Climate Change global agreement.

Politically, the Mexican government has a large stake in the COP 16 success. President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa has made Climate Change a top priority for Mexico. Indeed, the Special Climate Change Program (PECC) published in the Official Gazette of the Federation late last summer offers a 51 MMt CO2e unilateral reduction target by 2012. On the international stage, Mexico’s Green Fund proposal is one of the most significant contributions from a single country to the international climate debate, designed to work effectively with broad participation from developed and developing countries alike. President Calderon was part of a handful of heads of state to drill down the Copenhagen Accord last December. And he has been active behind the scenes as well: Last November, along with Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, he brought in the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to host an unofficial breakfast on Climate Change during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November in Singapore. It’s safe to say that Mexico’s Administration has adopted Climate Change as the centerpiece of its foreign policy (some internal Mexican bureaucratic divisions non-withstanding).

The Mexican government faces the urgent need to “walk the talk.” A key piece for Mexico to meet its domestic emission reduction target will require the Energy Ministry to mandate the national public utility company (CFE) to double its renewable energy installed capacity from 3.3 to 7.6 % by 2012. This transition, neglected for too long, would mainly rely on expanding the wind energy base operated by private developers, mostly for self-supply – a scheme that makes CFE uncomfortable as it weakens its monopolistic power. Other actions contemplated in the PECC’s mitigating strategy like a REDD pilot project and the expansion of the “Green Mortgage” initiative will also face similar power struggles.

In the international sphere, consensus building needs to start now as well. President Calderon and his team need to enhance their facilitator role in the months leading up to COP 16. There is a strong opportunity this year to frame one of the most ambitious global agreements in history. It will require flexing high-level diplomatic muscle on three different fronts. First, they need to build on the willingness to cooperate from latecomer countries like China, India, Brazil and the United States to close the dividing line between Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1 countries. Second, it is essential for them to address the concerns of the most vulnerable countries, like Tuvalu, and least developed countries, like Mali, to ensure a smooth flow of discussions. Third, they should reach out to countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Saudi Arabia that consider a Climate Change accord as another plot for developed countries to get their way. This three-tier strategy will have to move forward while keeping an eye on talks behind closed doors at forums in which Mexico does not participate, as well as U.S. domestic politics. Mexico appears to have the diplomatic willingness to lead on this effort, and its international climate initiatives are not only sound and well-received but are also fairly consistent with its domestic policy. If President Calderon and his team manage to succeed, negotiations at COP 16 could be as rejuvenating as a sunny day at the beach.

This blog has been contributed by Juan Pablo Osornio, International Policy Analyst at the Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington DC, and Jonathan Pinzon, Research Director at Cassals & Associates in Mexico City.

Cancun, Climate Change, COP-16, developing countries, Mexico, negotiations, north-south divide, UNFCCC