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Shale Gas the game changer and Reliance  

It should have been a time to reflect, but Mukesh Ambani wanted to paint the future. It was October 2009. Earlier that year, Reliance Industries had commissioned India’s largest oil refinery at Jamnagar and had started pumping natural gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin, but the chairman was looking ahead. He sunk into the sofa in his fourth-floor office at Maker Chambers IV in downtown Mumbai, and drew the contours of the next big thing for Reliance, one that would catapult it to the next level in the energy space.

“It has to be non-conventional and green. It has to be commercial and outside India,” he had told ET then during a 90-minute conversation.

Over the past five months, Reliance has articulated Ambani’s vision through a blitz of buys in shale gas — the newest form of natural gas that is gaining currency. The company has spent $2 billion, in three acquisitions, to buy fields of shale gas in the US. In terms of cost per acre, the last of the three deals was the priciest shale-gas deal struck there.

Shale gas is the future, agrees David Morrison, chairman, Wood Mackenzie, an Edinburgh-based research and consultancy in energy, mines and metals. “It’s a game changer that has caught most markets by surprise,” he said while speaking at the Asian gas summit in the capital in March. “We do our projections for 5-10 years, but the growth of shale gas could throw even the best of projections out of gear.”

The size of global shale-gas reserves is not known. Potentially, every rock formation, above and under the ground, can have shale gas, but only the US has really tapped this resource. China is said to have the second largest deposits of shale, after the US. Geologists have also identified deposits in Poland and Australia. Elsewhere, including India, the work has barely begun. But, says a senior Reliance official: “As a natural resource, it is more democratic and is found in several countries.”

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