Unconventional Gas Resources

Rising to the challenge

Formed in 2007 by the founders of MGV Energy, Unconventional Gas Resources (UGR) is a Canadian based company with an appetite for unconventional gas in North America. With offices in Alberta and Texas, company leaders Mike Gatens and George Voneiff have been interested in this niche for years.

Although unconventional gas has a historically unpopular reputation in the field—ignored and even avoided for decades—it has now become one of North America’s major source of natural gas. UGR is a company that recognises the value in their line of work. The team looks for gas in rocks that have typically been considered caprock, as opposed to reservoir rock, and discovers ways to release the gas within each rock, whether it’s the shale, coal or deep tight sand.

The reality is that in any given area, free-flowing conventional gas represents a very small fraction of the natural gas resources present. There is significantly more unconventional gas, but it is characteristically difficult to extract.

In the mid-1980s, unconventional gas production became more accepted in the North American mining community when the United States government offered incentives to encourage the development of energy alternatives. This incentive advanced the technical understanding of the resources themselves and of ways to develop them. Indirectly, Canada benefited from the boost, learning new ways to exploit her own unconventional resources. Among those researchers were Gatens and Voneiff.


For those unfamiliar, unconventional gas comes from four major sources.

Coal bed methane (CBM) is the natural gas within the structure of coal. CBM is created during coalification, the natural process that converts organic matter into coal over time. A seal created by overlying rock and/or water within the fractures of the coal seam keeps the methane ‘adsorbed’ or attached to the coal. Special production techniques to remove this gas from its coal seam reservoir include lowering reservoir pressures rather than keeping them high.

Tight gas is gas found in low-permeability sandstone, siltstone and carbonate reseravoirs. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are techniques used to develop such resources. Tight gas resources are most similar to conventional gas resources in reservoir lithology and gas storage mechanism.

Shale gas is held in organic-rich, finely-grained rocks, such as shale, mudstone or laminated siltstones. The natural gas molecules are held in the reservoir rock by the process of adsorption onto the organic matter. This is also a highly-challenging, low-permeability resource. Large volumes of gas molecules are trapped in shale, which represent one of the most common rock types in any sedimentary sequence. The natural gas can be derived from either thermal or biogenic processes.

Gas hydrates are ice-like substances composed of water and natural gas that form when gases (mainly biogenic methane produced by microbial breakdown of organic matter) combine with water at low temperature and high pressure. Gas hydrates are found in areas of permafrost and on the ocean floor.

Well-positioned for success

Unconventional gas is risky business. But UGR is up for the challenge. The well-financed company’s strategy to locate prospective resources, thus far, has been to pursue joint ventures, farmouts, land sales and acquisitions, and then apply their experience to make the most from it. UGR is not unfamiliar with failure, but successes are worth the effort.

After being in the business for years, Gatens and Voneiff have learned a few things. He and his team look for the right characteristics of a reservoir and apply the right technologies. It’s not an easy process, but the strategy has been successful for companies such as EnCana—one of Canada’s biggest natural gas producers. Advanced technology is critical in this field, and collaboration with labs, universities and service companies has been necessary.

As unconventional gas becomes more accepted as years go on, UGR is well-positioned as a leader in the field, with decades of experience and skills that keep the company ahead of the pack.