CERAWeek: Oil chiefs explain why U.S. shale boom hasn’t gone global

HOUSTON – Has billionaire oil man Harold Hamm ever been tempted to take the U.S. shale revolution abroad and expand his oil empire from North Dakota to the rest of the world?

“I have not,” Hamm told a gathering of energy executives Tuesday.

The question had come from Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS. Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, one of the biggest oil producers in the Bakken Shale, was one of three oil-company chief executives speaking from the stage during a panel at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

So why haven’t U.S. shale producers tried to tap into shale formations overseas? The best shale rock can only be found in volatile countries with unstable political regimes – in North Africa, the Middle East and Russia. In many regions outside the U.S., there’s no private mineral ownership, a factor that has driven the U.S. shale boom for the last six years, said Scott Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, one of the biggest oil producers in the Permian Basin in West Texas.

“The cost to do business is two to three times,” he said. “It’s not going to work in today’s prices at all.”

Few countries have met a reasonable criteria to make shale a viable resource, said John Hess, CEO of oil producer Hess Corp. Hess said a nation needs five key shale “enablers” that producers can find in the United States and Canada – the right geology, private mineral rights to give local land owners an incentive to let drilling rigs on their property, infrastructure capable of supporting thousands of trucks moving rig equipment, a pragmatic tax system and a pragmatic regulatory system.

Said Yergin: “How many countries meet all five criteria?”

“Not too many that we’ve found yet,” Hess said, though he noted Argentina is moving ahead with plans to exploit shale rock. “They’re at the start of the journey that the US was 10 years ago.”

Apart from Argentina and a few other small corners of the world, though, “we haven’t seen the stars align yet,” he said. China may have more natural gas than the U.S. trapped in shale, but the geology hasn’t proved as ripe as many have thought, he said.

“We’re in the very early innings of the shale boom going global, and I think we should offer a sober view about how fast that will go,” Hess said.