What is “unconventional oil and natural gas production”?

The Energy Information Administration uses this term for oil and natural gas that is produced by means other than those used for “conventional” production. A conventional oil or gas well is one drilled into a geologic formation in which the reservoir and fluid characteristics permit the oil and natural gas to readily flow to the wellbore. The EIA notes that what has qualified as “unconventional” at any particular time is complex and will depend upon resource characteristics, the available exploration and production technologies, the current economic environment, and the scale, frequency, and duration of production from the resource. See: http://www.eia.gov/tools/glossary/index.cfm?id=C#conv_oil_nat_gas_prod. The most well-known types of geologic formations that may require additional technology to stimulate flow of the oil or gas to the wellbore include tight formations, such as tight sands, coal beds, and shale formations. The U.S. Geological Survey has descriptions and information on different types of “unconventional oil and gas” sources on the homepage for its Energy Resources Program: http://energy.usgs.gov/ (under the ‘Oil & Gas’ tab).

How will the Roundtable use the term “unconventional”?

The term “unconventional” in the context of the Roundtable refers to the range of hydrocarbon resources that may include shale gas and shale oil, oil shale, tight gas and tight oil, oil sands, coalbed methane, and methane hydrate. Because development of shale gas and shale oil resources is currently receiving most national and international attention, it is anticipated that the initial activities of the Roundtable may focus on topics related to those specific resources on- and offshore. Further, “unconventional hydrocarbon development” will be used broadly to address the full spectrum of resource exploration, production, refinement, transportation, and use. This range incorporates: (1) production at the wellhead and related “upstream” issues over the life cycle of a well or field, including issues such as materials (water, sand, energy) needed to develop the resource and effects on natural, human, and constructed environments; and (2) “midstream” and “downstream” issues, such as transportation, refining, distribution, and use of the hydrocarbons.