Shale Gas Initiative Brings Morocco to My Doorstep

by | published December 13th, 2010

On Friday morning, I met with a delegation from Morocco. The five officials were from ONHYM (Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines), the national agency overseeing oil, gas, and mining. They’re here in the U.S. under the provisions of a Department of State (DOS) initiative on the major new energy source – shale.

And they gathered in my conference room in Pittsburgh to discuss how to best manage this significant new source of fuel.

The DOS project is the Global Shale Gas Initiative (GSGI), launched in April to help make the U.S.’ extensive experience in shale production available to countries around the world. The emphasis so far has been on the shale gas side – although North Africa in general, and Morocco in particular, may also have significant deposits of oil shale.

GSGI recognizes two very important developments.

First, shale is going to change the energy sourcing mix significantly. (As game-changers go, this one is huge.) Second, it may just be the most significant opportunity for the export of American hydrocarbon technology and knowhow to come along in generations.

Both of these developments are going to provide major advantages for rest of the world… and major profits for us.

Moving forward, new oil and gas shale production will be providing considerable options for plays in exploration and production (E&P) companies, as well as in technical providers.

I have already written here several times on the shale gas moves in the U.S. (see “Marcellus Shale About to Take Off on One Sweet Ride“) and Canada (“Natural Gas Comes Roaring Back in Western Canada“), as well as oil shale in California (“The ‘Granddaddy’ of Shale Formations Just Got Profitable Again“).

Yet this is hardly a North American play only.

Shale gas is already under development in Western Europe, and plans are advancing quickly for major projects in China. However, the geology tells us that the MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa) may well hold more shale than any other area on Earth.

And that’s what brought this Moroccan delegation to Pittsburgh to see me.

To Develop Shale Gas, You Need Three Things

There is no question North Africa is excited about its shale prospects. Yet several of the countries have had difficulty identifying projects.

That has led the Tunisian oil and gas authority – the Entreprise Tunisienne d’Activités Pétrolières (ETAP) – to organize a workshop devoted to unconventional gas early next year.

Only a few potential deposits of shale gas have been identified thus far in Tunisia. But on the other hand, the country has a number of tight gas reservoirs that are hard to exploit because they lack natural links leading to drilled wells. The reserves must be artificially stimulated in order for the gas to be extracted.

Tight gas – like shale gas – requires hydrofracking and horizontal drilling. Thus far, deposits have been identified in Tunisia on blocks under development by Italian major Eni (NYSE:E), Austrian state company OMV (LSE:0MKH-EUR.UK; OTC:OMVKY), Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD), and several smaller private companies.

ETAP would like to hammer out a contractual framework to organize exploration for unconventional gas. (That’s the same reason the ONHYM delegation came to talk to me.) Sonatrach, the Algerian state company, is probably furthest along in the region – having already spudded test wells and identified shale gas reserves at the Belkacem Boumediene deposits.

But everybody in the region needs three things: 1) a plan; 2) access to technology; and 3) help in developing what are likely to be very large blocks.

That is where the GSGI project comes in.

Morocco Needs the U.S. to Help Tap 37 Billion Barrels

Morocco has known about its potential shale boon for several years. ONHYM has been trying to make the most out of three shale oil deposits located near Tangiers, Timahdit, and Tarfaya.

The junior San Leon Energy (OTC:SLGYF), owned by Irish businessman Oisin Fanning, holds rights on Tarfaya, while Brazilian major Petrobras (NYSE:PZE) is exploring the Timahdit deposit. But no significant work has yet been carried out on the two permits (although San Leon is moving ahead with an oil shale test plant that should be operational next year).

Despite the lack of early success, there are good reasons why these companies are continuing the effort. The two deposits are potentially huge – with Timahdit believed to hold some 15 billion barrels and Tarfaya almost 22 billion barrels.

GSGI has also come along at a good time for the Moroccan government.

You see, they’re showing some impatience in moving forward with all of this. That has led to movement with unusual partners.

In late May, Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra signed a memorandum of understanding with the Estonian state-owned company Eesti Energia (also called Enefit) to exploit Morocco’s own shale oil potential. Enefit was, at one time, the world’s largest producer of oil shale from several deposits in Estonia. It also has developed a technology to produce electricity from oil shale.

Yet Enefit is not large enough to make the difference Morocco needs.

So ONHYM has come to the U.S. in search of assistance and a better fit in joint venture partners. The DOS is now hard at work facilitating that attempt, meaning it should hold significant promise for both Moroccan and U.S. companies.

I have agreed to provide help to ONHYM as they design their plan and regulations. That means when developments really start moving, I’ll be in the perfect position to fill you in.



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  1. G Haber
    December 13th, 2010 at 13:47 | #1

    If shale is the way to go, which aspect should one invest
    the gas companies that own the rights ? , The companies that do the horizontal drilling/fracking? , the “pipe ” companies ? other

  2. Yvon Charlebois
    December 13th, 2010 at 13:54 | #2

    Along the St-Laurent Sea-way, in Quebec, is another huge potential…However, petty politcs are in play, and may sabottage any early marketable product.

  3. jerry leibell
    December 13th, 2010 at 13:59 | #3

    Lately with states delaying work on shale gas due to the contamination caused by fracturing what do you see as the solution to this resistance in moving forward with shale gas extraction?

  4. Bob Betzelberger
    December 13th, 2010 at 16:07 | #4

    With Kent Moors PHD. on the inside of many of these world wide consultations are we at risk of being considered insider traders because of information he shares with us?

  5. Linwood Smith
    December 13th, 2010 at 16:41 | #5

    When will you be making your first rec?

  6. John MacLean
    December 13th, 2010 at 18:09 | #6

    Please advise on investments.

  7. Tom Crouch
    December 13th, 2010 at 19:04 | #7

    I, too, have wondered about the insider trading question. It would be good to have some degree of comfort about this from Dt. Moors and his securities legal advisor.

  8. December 14th, 2010 at 16:14 | #8

    I really appreciate your professionalism and experience, and the fact that you can write intelligently about your material–it is a refreshing change. When you make statements like “…being in the perfect position to fill you in.”, do you run the risk of making us all party to insider trading?

  9. December 15th, 2010 at 13:51 | #9

    Looks good!

  10. Monty McDonald
    February 1st, 2011 at 13:15 | #10

    You talk about a company with 2000miles of pipeline in Eastern US raking in the dough storing the gas in the line. I calculate a average 30 inch line would hold 52MM ft3 of gas inventory at standard conditions valued at 4.45$/M SCF would come to $230,000 value. If average Pressure of the pipelines is 500PSI this would increase to $7,660,000 (assuming ideal gas law). If this company charges 10% storage fee (high??) on the gas it would earn revenue of $760,000 on storage. But isn’t this storage included in overall distribution fee to get gas to market which Energy Info Administration says is about 50% of the value of the gas. So if the gas isn’t moving the company isn’t making much dough!

  11. Cheri Dias
    March 4th, 2011 at 07:14 | #11

    G Haber :
    If shale is the way to go, which aspect should one invest
    the gas companies that own the rights ? , The companies that do the horizontal drilling/fracking? , the “pipe ” companies ? other

  12. Chris Hughes
    March 24th, 2011 at 03:07 | #12

    i find your information very refreshing snd informative.
    do you have any insights on the Drilling program of
    british Gas
    STAT OIL Norway
    Off Mtwara, off-shore drilling

  13. Scott Lindsay
    March 26th, 2011 at 14:38 | #13

    Shale gas and oil have the potential of solving the energy shortages in the future, but unless we can find ways to frack the shale formations with fluids that are safe to the environment, the contamination of water and the use of large amounts of water will or could put a country in dire straits and end up costing more in the long run. I as a country would move cautiously in the direction of energy gain verses water loss.

  14. Ron
    March 28th, 2011 at 12:00 | #14

    the enviromental problem is addressed by a company called ‘gasfrac enegery resources’, they frac with a derivative product of oil and use it just like water, thus, no water contamination, lowers cost by elimating water retention areas and filtration and also the process extracts more oil. It’s called ‘petro-fracing’ instead of ‘hydro-fracing.

  15. TC Connolly
    May 5th, 2011 at 12:34 | #15

    Another company in the clean up area, might be worth looking at is Heckmann Corp. HEK

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