“Technically recoverable resources” - three words that refer to the amount of crude oil and natural gas that can be extracted from the ground using today’s technologies. No future innovations needed.

The magnitude of this value with respect to shale gas formations was the focus of a major report released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This report revealed their latest assessment of the total “technically recoverable” oil and gas resources found in 137 shale formations across 41 countries. According to their estimate, about 10% of the world’s technically recoverable crude oil (32% of natural gas) currently lies in these shale formations.

[This report is a follow-up to the EIA’s 2011 analysis, which looked at a smaller sample – 69 shale formations within 32 countries – and only focused on natural gas.]

Today, only the United States and Canada produce shale oil and gas in significant quantities. But, other nations are currently investigating their own production potential including Australia, China, England, Mexico, and Russia. According to the EIA, Poland has already drilled 43 test wells on prospective shale production sites.

All told, more than half of the oil resources identified in the EIA’s report are found in four countries – Russia, China, Argentina, and Libya. It is a similar story for natural gas – with China, Argentina, Algeria, Canada, and Mexico topping the list. The United States sits in the top 5 on both lists.

Notably missing in this discussion is an analysis of economically recoverable resources as well as assessments of many of the world’s prospective shale formations, including several sites across the Middle East. And, it should be clarified that the report's goal is not to say whether or not these resources should be developed. Just what could be developed. Regardless, this report signifies a step forward in understanding the potential future role of shale in the world’s energy landscape.