Thursday, June 10, 2010

Europe Has Much To Learn About Shale (Unconventional) Gas

Before anyone gets too excited about the potential for shale gas or what some term "unconventional" gas potential in Europe, it must be recognized that there are political and environmental issues in Europe that are greatly different from those existing in the United States.

However, with the worldwide attention the problems with deepwater oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is receiving, the potential for finding and producing clean-burning natural gas, onshore, is drawing increasingly greater attention. The demand is there. The technology to find and produce this gas exists. It is the other problems which need to be overcome. Many countries in Europe could use an economic boost right now.

Does Europe Have Unconventional Gas?


It provides about half of the U.S. domestic natural gas production. And the U.S. product has already begun to shake up the market for gas in Europe. But the production of unconventional gas, which is usually tightly trapped in rocks and hard to extract, doesn’t seem likely to have a bright immediate future in Europe.

From a geological viewpoint, you could extract unconventional gas in Europe, according to Don Gautier, from the U.S. Geological Service. But that’s not the only thing that matters. Unconventional gas fields, particularly those tapping so-called shale gas, are very large and require the development of hundreds of wells.

Chesapeake Energy drills on the Barnett Shale.

A field in northern Texas called Barnett Shale has about 8,000 wells covering an area roughly comparable to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg combined, Mr. Gautier says. “You can’t look at these wells as one well at a time, you have to look at thousands as a development plan,” says Mr. Gautier.

That is almost impossible for Europe, given high population density, regulatory difficulties of getting permits to drill over large areas that sometimes cross borders, and likely opposition from environmentalists and affected residents.

A new technology of digging horizontal wells — drilling vertically drill and then pushing out parallel to the ground — might offer some leeway.

Of course, all of this begs the main question: How much unconventional gas does Europe have and where are the main concentrations?

The country which promises most is Poland, where the government has granted concessions for research. However, the first exploration well is just being started, and the first estimates of how much gas is really there won’t come for four to five years, with production in 10 to 15 years, according to Ewa Zalewska, director of the department of geology and geological concessions at the Polish environment ministry.

“Shale gas is the gold rush of the 21st century,” she says. However, “it is too early to answer all the questions.”

Update: Perhaps by the time the first gas emerges, Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland’s likely next president, will have figured out that you don’t dig unconventional gas out of the ground like brown coal.


  1. Yes, its far to early to determine what role, if any, shale gas will play in Europe.

    Environmental considerations aside, one can not underestimate the important of the European desire to achieve greater energy security by creating domestic alternatives to Russian sources of energy.

    Even in the United States, shale gas is a 'overnight success' twenty years in the making. Accordingly, its far to early to discuss the Baltic Basin as been the next Marcellus shale, but lets wait and see what happens.


  2. It may have take 20 years to figure out how to economically extract natural gas from organic-rich shales in the United States, but now that the major technical problems are solved, the technique surely can be utilized in Europe (and elsewhere) fairly quickly.

    It only takes a few wells to confirm the viability of a shale in a particular location. Engineering and economic success will break down all the other barriers, assuming this is in a country that allows free enterprise. If beauracrats and environmentalist extremists get involved this gas development could be delayed for years, if not forever.