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Experts: shale industry development potential in Europe highly questionable

13:24 | 04.02.2015 | Analytic


4 February 2015. PenzaNews. Chevron has decided to abandon its efforts to develop shale gas deposits in Poland, according to the announcement made on January 30, 2015. According to the American energy corporation, it would not be able to make sufficient profits by continuing to extract Polish shale gas using hydraulic fracking.

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Earlier, the idea of extracting shale gas in Poland was also abandoned by other large companies, such as ExxonMobil, Total and Marathon Oil. The collapse of the Polish project dealt a new blow to the European shale industry that has yet to gain any stable footing in the Union.

Many analysts state shale industry outside the US faced numerous difficulties after enjoying a notable success in the States. Among the issues that arose in other countries were high drilling costs, short deposit life, and high risks for population and the environment.

According to Mechthild Baron, Research Associate of the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU), attempts to repeat the American shale scenario in the EU stem from the plans to find a source of cheap energy and reduce dependency on carbohydrate imports.

Nevertheless, she stated that fracking can do little to satisfy the European demand.

“Fracking is not necessary from an energy policy point of view and cannot make a significant contribution to the German Energiewende. Fracking on a commercial scale cannot currently be allowed because of serious deficit of knowledge [about its impact on the environment]. Fracking can only be justified on the basis of positive findings from systematically developed pilot projects,” the SRU expert stated, adding that a possible solution for the Europe instead lies in “green” fuels.

Speaking of the future of shale industry, she noted the “revolution” has not yet finished it course but slowed down, and “nobody knows how it will continue.”

At the same time, David Livingston, Energy and Climate Program Associate for Carnegie Endowment, took an entirely different stance in this issue.

According to him, shale industry in the US will inevitably evolve, while at present it is going through a process of consolidation, when smaller and bankrupt oil and gas producers merge with larger corporations.

However, he noted, the European “shale boom” encountered many obstacles on its way, including poor pilot drilling outputs and economic pressure coming from low oil prices that caused the decline of natural gas prices within the EU.

“I don’t think we will see a shale revolution in Europe taking place any time soon. We will see isolated activity on the part of member-states that truly wish to drive shale gas drilling for geopolitical reasons, but we will not see any industry-led economically viable ways of shale exploration and production activity in Europe,” David Livingston said.

Successful shale industry depends on a combination of numerous beneficial factors, noted Howard Rogers, Natural Gas Research Programme Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

In particular, he explained, the industry requires suitable geology, constant financial support for new drillings, high-level professionals, well-developed infrastructure, and tough competition between the development companies on the market.

“You have to have many players who are entrepreneurial, and willing to take risks and try drilling in many different places in order to find the ‘sweet spots’,” the expert explained in an interview to PenzaNews agency.

He added that a beneficial combination of aforementioned geology, economy and industrial factors led to a shale boom in the US, and a large percentage of profits came not only from shale oil and natural gas as a by-product, but also various natural gas liquids that sometimes brought more money on their own compared to regular methane.

According to the analyst, other countries, such as Poland and China, failed to achieve similar success in shale industry because they could not reproduce the conditions available to the United States.

“Apart from in the US, the jury is out on whether the shale gas development will be successful anywhere else in the world at a significant scale. Personally, I have my doubts in Europe,” Howard Rogers noted. He also added that gas producers find working in Europe difficult because of numerous protests and great environment risks.

However, he stressed the European Union is unable to fully abandon natural gas imports from other countries, including Russia.

“Even in the most optimistic scenario in terms of the amounts of LNG available for Europe, there is still a requirement to import at least 100 BCMA of Russian pipeline gas. And, of course, European companies have contracts to buy Russian gas, and by the end of 2020 they will still be required contractually to import 70–90 BCMA of Russian gas. It is impossible for me to envisage a scenario where Europe within the next 20 years manages to find alternative sources of gas and therefore doesn’t need Russian pipeline imports, quite apart from its contractual obligations to take those,” stated the expert of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

In his turn, Eldar Kasaev, economy researcher and oil and gas investment analyst, quoted Nodari Simonia, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who said that producing shale gas is only worth producing in a country that you do not pity.

“The shale boom was a serious concern for the population and the eco-activists, because shale gas extraction causes serious damage to the environment. Above all, it negatively affects the soil and underground waters, since extraction of shale carbohydrates requires injecting enormous volumes of various chemicals. In several cases, shale gas and oil development had a negative impact on health of people and animals in the adjacent territories,” the expert explained.

According to him, shale industry only managed to take hold in the US and has currently entered the state of a “counter-revolution.”

“Other countries, such as China, tried and failed to repeat the American scenario. Notability and scale of the so-called ‘shale revolution’ are greatly exaggerated, since the risks of horizontal drilling and subsequent fracking are too high,” the oil and gas business consultant explained.

A similar notion was supported by Antoine Simon, Natural Gas Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, who expressed his belief that the US shale boom will not develop into a world-wide long-term energy revolution.

“So far, there is no ‘revolution’ in Europe. There are attempts to develop it in other regions in the world, but as far as I know, after several years of attempts China hasn’t managed to do it; in Latin America, they are also trying it, but there are not as many investors as they were hoping for. In the US, at the beginning, we were told that the shale gas revolution would last for almost a hundred years. It appears that now the production is already starting to decline, and many experts of the sector are predicting an entire decline for 2016–2017,” he noted.

The European shale industry is hindered both by the civil opinion and strict environment protection laws, Antoine Simon added.

According to the ecology campaigner, most environment protection claims made by oil and gas development companies are nothing more than attempts to affect public opinion, while in practice they maintain their original strategies, often intrude in nature reserves, and begin drilling without obtaining consent from local population or evaluating potential damaged to the environment.

“Based on what we know, mostly through numerous scientific reports which have been produced over the past 2–3 years, it seems that industry is really facing some technical obstacles that it does not seem to be able to truly solve. At the moment, there are no technologies that can allow fracking to be called safe or safe enough. This is the reason why we do not believe that fracking should be allowed, at the very least until all the impacts are properly analyzed. From what we know, once these impacts are properly analyzed, it should drive all decision-makers to the conclusion that no fracking should be allowed anywhere,” Antoine Simon concluded.

Shale gas is natural gas that is extracted from deeply located gas-bearing sedimentary rocks in small conglomerations, originally hidden in pores, and mostly consists of methane.

Shale gas extraction on a commercial scale became possible in the 21st century with the rise of new high-level expensive technologies, such as horizontal drilling, seismic modeling, as well as hydraulic and waterless fracking.

According to research, among the disadvantages of shale gas are high cost price, impossibility to transport over long distances, short deposit lifetime, low volumes of proven shale gas reserves in overall structure, and severe risks for the environment: in particular, chemicals used during fracking may potentially pollute surface and underground drinking waters.

Currently, fracking is banned on Bulgaria, France, Luxembourg, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as certain regions of Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Shale gas extraction also has been suspended at numerous sites in Canada and Romania after public protests, while Australia imposed limitations on chemicals that are allowed to be used in the industry. Moreover, fracking also has large opposition in the United Kingdom.

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