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Unconventional Gas

Unconventional gas refers to natural gas that requires advanced production methods. Main types include gas within tight pore spaces – shale gas and coal bed methane – and gas that is trapped in ice on the sea floor – gas hydrates.


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What is Unconventional Gas?

Natural gas is a hydrocarbon gas formed over thousands of years from the burying of dead plants and animals. The intense heat and pressure caused by the burying of this material triggers a reaction, which leads to the creation of natural gas, primarily methane1.

Natural gas is referred to as ‘unconventional’ if it relies on special or advanced production techniques to be extracted. This is due to the way the natural gas is deposited1.


Shale Gas

The term ‘shale gas’ refers to natural gas that is trapped underground in shale deposits. Shale is a fine-grained, very porous rock. While shale deposits have lots of empty spaces to store natural gas, these empty spaces are not well connected which makes extracting the trapped natural gas difficult[refrence number =2]

Tight Gas

Similar to shale gas, tight gas is natural gas that is trapped in a rock that does not allow the gas to easily move through it 3

Gas Hydrates

Gas hydrates are gas molecules that are encased in ice. These are naturally occurring structures that can be found in permafrost sediments in the Arctic, or buried in sediment deep under water4.

Coal Bed Methane

When coal forms, various gasses are created, including methane gas. This gas is absorbed into the buried coal, and is referred to as coal bed methane which can only be extracted if the coal is depressurized5.



Because it is more difficult to extract, unconventional natural gas can only be extracted if special technology is developed, and if people are willing to pay enough for gas to justify the extra extraction costs. Typically unconventional resources cost more to extract than conventional methods.

Advances in unconventional production technologies have drastically changed the world’s energy landscape by making previously hard-to-access oil reserves more economically recoverable. These advancements have triggered changes in global oil supply, demand and transport.

The biggest controversy surrounding unconventional natural gas is the way in which it is extracted. New techniques have been developed, notably fracking, however the side effects of these methods are not yet fully understood and, as such, a great deal of controversy exists around their production.

One of the greatest concerns regarding the use of any fossil fuel is the emission of gasses that can contribute to global warming. Burning natural gas for energy emits gasses including nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide.  In addition, methane is a potent greenhouse gas itself.

Dive deeper

Recent blog posts about Unconventional Gas

External resources


International Gas Union


International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers

International Association for Natural Gas (CEDIGAZ)

Natural Gas Supply Association

World LPG Association

International Association of Oil and Gas Producers

Canadian Gas Association

American Gas Association

America’s Natural Gas Alliance

Interstate Natural Gas Association of America

Australian Gas Association

Natural & bio gas Vehicle Association



Gas Infrastructure Europe

The Africa Gas Association

The South African Pipeline Gas Association

Asia Pacific Natural Gas Vehicles Association


Unconventional Natural Gas and Oil Institute (UNGI)

Sustainable Gas Institute

Canadian Energy Research Institute

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies – Natural Gas Programme

Gas Technology Institute

Penn State University – Institute for Natural Gas Research

European Gas Research Group


Journal of Natural Gas Science and Engineering

Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry

Oil and Gas Journal


National Energy Technology Labs, URS & Wilkes University

US Department of Energy

Baker Institute – Geopolitics of Natural Gas
Forbes – On Natural Gas Fracking Proposals
Pen State University – Economic Issues 
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia – Economic Implications of Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale Region
Resources for the Future – The Economics of Shale Gas Development


Union of Concerned Scientists Science for a healthy planet and safer world


David Suzuki Foundation

National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT)


PLATTS McGraw Hill Financial 

Interfax Global Energy


Werner, Vink, Watt, & Jagals


Physicians for Social Responsibility

National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT)

University of Maryland


Worldwatch Institute

Environmental Leader


Aspen Institute – Forum on Global Energy, Economy, and Security


  1. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (2015). Natural gas development. 
  2. Alberta Energy (2015). Shale gas. 
  3. Rigzone (2015). What is tight gas, and how is it produced? 
  4. CGG (2015). Gas hydrates 
  5. Alberta Energy (2015). About coal bed methane.