Shale is a type of sedimentary rock that is formed in thin layers which trap organic material. Because shale is an impermeable rock, the organic substance is held under pressure for a long period of time. Eventually the combination of time, temperature, and pressure cause the formation of hydrocarbons, which become oil and gas. Shale oil and gas can be released through a process known as fracking, which involves using high pressure jets of water and sediment to break open natural fissures. Oil shale, on the other hand, is a type of shale that contains kerogen, a material that is released as oil when the shale is heated.
Thanks to fracking, the U.S. shale oil and gas industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the past two decades, with the U.S. emerging as the leading producer of natural gas. Industry experts predict continuing growth in U.S. shale oil production as well. But the U.S. is not the only part of the globe with significant shale formations underground, and now the rest of the world is joining in the shale oil and gas boom. Other major shale reserves are located in every continent, though many areas have not been fully studied yet. It is not known how much shale is located in Russia or much of Africa, for example, but it can be safely assumed that large reserves exist there.
Both China and Mexico have turned their attention to shale oil and gas production in recent years. Mexico drilled its first shale gas well in 2011 in the Burgos Basin, an extension of the Eagle Formation in South Texas, where wells have yielded high production. Unfortunately criminal activity in Northern Mexico and infrastructure problems have hampered growth. China is also facing some barriers to development in the shale oil and gas industry because of its high population density, which limits water access and poses safety concerns.
Argentina is an area to watch, with one of the largest shale reserves in the world. In 2013, the government of Argentina signed a contract with Chevron to produce shale gas and oil in the Vaca Muerte basin. Since then the industry has grown slowly, but a boom may be in sight. Read more about Argentina’s role in the global shale oil and gas industry.