In Monday's WSJ, Guy Chazan explains why energy companies are shifting their focus away from the Middle East and toward the West, and how this will have profound implications for the companies, global politics and consumers, here's an excerpt:
"Big Oil is redrawing the energy map. For decades, its main stomping grounds were in the developing world—exotic locales like the Persian Gulf and the desert sands of North Africa, the Niger Delta and the Caspian Sea. But in recent years, that geographical focus has undergone a radical change. Western energy giants are increasingly hunting for supplies in rich, developed countries—a shift that could have profound implications for the industry, global politics and consumers.
Driving the change is the boom in unconventionals—the tough kinds of hydrocarbons like shale gas and oil sands that were once considered too difficult and expensive to extract and are now being exploited on an unprecedented scale from Australia to Canada.
The U.S. is at the forefront of the unconventionals revolution. By 2020, shale sources will make up about a third of total U.S. oil and gas production, according to PFC Energy, a Washington-based consultancy. By that time, the U.S. will be the top global oil and gas producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, PFC predicts.
That could have far-reaching ramifications for the politics of oil, potentially shifting power away from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries toward the Western hemisphere. With more crude being produced in North America, there's less likelihood of Middle Eastern politics causing supply shocks that drive up gasoline prices. Consumers could also benefit from lower electricity prices, as power plants switch from coal to cheap and plentiful natural gas.
And the change is reshaping the oil companies themselves, as they reallocate their vast resources to new areas and new kinds of fuel. Working in the rich world—with its more predictable taxes and investor-friendly policies—removes some of the risks about the big oil companies that worry investors, making them less vulnerable to the resource nationalism of petrostates like Russia and Venezuela."