The question for the oil-rich Middle East nations is to what extent its wealth, global importance and industry is affected by the discovery of new sources of gas in the United States, China and Europe.
Eastern Europe looks set to become the next hotbed of shale gas exploration as oil and gas majors, such as Chevron, hunt opportunities in countries that want to establish their energy independence from Russia.
The US energy information administration estimates the combined gas reserves in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary could equal more than 535-billion cubic metres of gas.
While in Poland, the country’s deputy minister of the environment and chief geologist, Piotr Wozniak, said last month shale gas was successfully being extracted at a well near Lebork in northern Poland.
France could also prove to become a significant player – it potentially has the largest reserves in Europe – although for now the president François Hollande has banned all development of shale gas.
If all these countries become more self-reliant – if not self-sufficient – in energy it will be a major shock to global geo-politics. The International Energy Agency already predicts the US will overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest global oil producer by 2020 and could be amost self-sufficient in energy by 2035.
But there are sceptical voices.
BG Group, a British oil and gas company, said recently it could be more than a decade before there is widespread extraction of shale gas outside the US.
While a report by the consultants Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu this year called for a reality check.
“Shale gas is set to remain a largely regional resource over the next one to three years with an uncertain global impact due to the increased technical challenges and higher development costs of the resource,” it said.
A report by the Kuwait-based Asiya Investments this summer also says the impact of shale gas on Arabian Gulf countries will not be significant for at least 20 years, due to the high cost of extracting the natural resource and increasing consumption of gas from Asian countries.
“There is much hype about shale oil and gas these days, and much of it is true, especially in the US,” says Asiya Investments’ economist, Dana Al Fakir.
“But on the global scene we see no major changes in the dynamics of Gulf oil in the next two decades”.
Asian economies’ hunger for fossil fuels is expected to continue to grow and the Gulf countries are successfully shifting their attention to cater to that demand.
Some Gulf countries even want to find and exploit shale gas reserves of their own.
Breitling Energy, a Texas-based onshore exploration company has exploration licences in the Middle East, an area with huge potential because of the existing oil industry infrastructure and knowledge.
Chris Faulkner, the chief executive of Breitling, says there are big challenges to drilling in these areas – especially given the shortage of water, for fracking, in the region.
“I think there is a couple of hundred trillion cubic feet of natural gas in shale trapped deep beneath the area around Dubai and offshore and onshore around Abu Dhabi,” he says.
“The reality is at what pace can we get to them and what are going to be the challenges to overcome.”
He adds it could take 10 years to get from discovery of substantial reserves to commercial production.