Many countries are dealing with depleting oil reserves and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal or carbon energy resources. As they are striving for a much greener and more-sustainable environment, natural gas – particularly unconventional gas such as coalbed methane (CBM), one of the cleanest fossil fuels – could provide an alternative energy source.
Australia, which is hoping to reduce the national mandated GHG emission target to 5.0-15.0 per cent by 2020, is increasing the production of cleaner burning fuels such as coal seam gas (CSG)/CBM, shale gas and tight gas.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (energy.frost.com), Asia Pacific Unconventional Gas Markets, finds that the total project-based investments from 2012 to 2018 in Australia are anticipated to be worth US$9.32 billion, due to demand from the coal seam gas (CSG)-to-liquefied natural gas (LNG) market. A few CSG-to-LNG projects in Australia, such as Impel's Southern Cross LNG in Queensland, are expected to begin production after 2013 and continue until 2016. Hence, the significant increase in investments will include the development cost of these projects, if production commences.
Australia and Indonesia's usage of gas-produced electricity is among the lowest in the Asia Pacific. Unconventional gas supplies from these two nations can satisfy the growing demand for energy, help displace higher-emission fuels and streamline supply from renewable sources.
The high supply and low prices of unconventional gas are encouraging further drilling of the gas. As the cost of producing unconventional gas is significant due to the need for advanced technologies for permeation, fiscal incentives from the government are crucial.
"With the prices of crude oil per barrel soaring due to the political situation in the Middle East, unconventional gas exploration has increased tremendously in gas-rich countries such as Australia and Indonesia," says Frost & Sullivan Research Associate Sara Elisya. "Indonesia has one of the world's largest CBM reserves, with 453 million Tcf, while Australia has reserves of over 300 million Tcf."
These abundant reserves have prompted Australia to consider energy exports to China and Southeast Asia. Unconventional gas is likely to become the dominant fuel source for Asia, as the demand for gas in Asia is expected to double between 2005 and 2030.
Unconventional gas fuels are expected to play a major role in bridging the gap between the supply and demand for gas. Therefore, apart from being a cleaner-burning, safer and more efficient fuel than other conventional sources, unconventional gas provides Asia Pacific with the energy security needed to meet their current and future demands for electricity.
To further advance the unconventional gas market and convince investors of the energy security the fuel can provide, utility companies have to focus on the fuel's commercialisation and large-scale production. Owing to stiff competition from conventional gas sources, Australia and Indonesia produce CBM, shale gas and tight gas on a much smaller scale than North America, where commercialised CBM and shale gas have increased the profitability of developers.
Commercialisation of unconventional gas requires constant end-user support, trust and the ability to penetrate the international market.
"To go global, the current scales must expand, enabling producers to increase LNG exports and adopt international gas-market prices," notes Elisya. "A pilot plant needs to be evaluated prior to exploration and production, to ensure commercial viability."
Australia is looking to replicate the North American scaling model to succeed in the international gas market. By shifting to large-scale production, it is hoping to increase the attractiveness of its unconventional gas market among nearby countries and ease its entry into the global market.
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