(Shouldn’t that be “equally”?) Anyway, that was the resounding message from the IHS E&P Forum, an annual event that precedes the Summer North American Prospect Expo in Houston. Always a well-attended event, the forum this year focused on the theme of “Maximizing North American E&P Opportunities through Innovation.”

And it’s hard to talk about North American E&P opportunities without talking about shales.

While much of the United States is considered mature at best in terms of resources, these new shale plays have everyone excited, not because they’re easy, of course, but because they have such tremendous potential reserves.

They’re certainly the darlings of the investment community. Tim Probert, executive vice president of strategy and corporate development for Halliburton, commented during his talk, “For analysts, ‘Haynesville’ is the first thing they say when they get up and the last thing they say before they go to bed.”

Probert’s talk focused on “Striving to make the unconventional conventional.” In North America, he said, there is an estimated 8,000 Tcf of gas in unconventional reservoirs such as coalbed methane, tight gas, and shales. Of these, shales are predicted to be the most important element. He said that gas shale reserves in North America account for about 50% of the total global gas capacity. In North America, gas shale production will be half of the unconventional capacity by 2015. The Barnett Shale is already producing one-sixth of the continent’s gas.

But since all shales are different, it’s up to the service companies as well as the E&P companies to find the right tools and technology to extract the gas from each region. Issues include the fact that many development models are based on traditional tight sand applications and don’t perform as expected in shales. With the vast amounts of fluids being pumped into these reservoirs for hydraulic fracturing, it’s important to understand the geochemistry of each shale to get long-term gas recovery.

Another issue is the fact that many gas shale plays happen to be in arid or semi-arid regions, and water fracs are a popular method in gas shales.

But new technologies are already playing a significant role. The use of microseismic technology, for instance, allows operators to establish the length, height, and orientation of fractures and can help them adjust their frac programs on the fly as well as helping to plan future wells. Swellable packer technology helps operators do multiple-stage fracs, providing significant savings on completion and re-entry costs.

“Shales have great production potential,” Probert concluded. “And an evolving suite of technology will help us realize that potential and make the unconventional conventional.”