The Sichuan Basin, China, is commonly considered to contain the world’s most abundant shale gas resources. Although its Paleozoic marine shales share many basic characteristics with successful United States gas shales, numerous geologic uncertainties exist, and Sichuan Basin shale gas production is nascent. Gas retention was likely compromised by the age of the shale reservoirs, multiple uplifts and orogenies, and migration pathways along unconformities. High thermal maturities raise questions about gas storage potential in lower Paleozoic shales. Given these uncertainties, a new look at Sichuan Basin shale gas resources is advantageous. As part of a systematic effort to quantitatively assess continuous oil and gas resources in priority basins worldwide, the US Geological Survey (USGS) completed an assessment of Paleozoic shale gas in the Sichuan Basin in 2015. Three organic-rich marine Paleozoic shale intervals meet the USGS geologic criteria for quantitative assessment of shale gas resources: the lower Cambrian Qiongzhusi Formation, the uppermost Ordovician Wufeng through lowermost Silurian Longmaxi Formations (currently producing shale gas), and the upper Permian Longtan and Dalong Formations. This study defined geologically based assessment units and calculated probabilistic distributions of technically recoverable shale gas resources using the USGS well productivity–based method. For six assessment units evaluated in 2015, the USGS estimated a mean value of 23.9 tcf (677 billion cubic meters) of undiscovered, technically recoverable shale gas. This result is considerably lower than volumes calculated in previous shale gas assessments of the Sichuan Basin, highlighting a need for caution in this geologically challenging setting.

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