SHALE GAS: Energy independence goes through hydraulic fracturing

The US is the most developed country in terms of technology as well as from the point of view of the extracted shale gas, involving areas of interest of hundreds and thousands of square kilometres. As far as Europe is concerned, according to recent estimates, the shale gas resources might cover the gas demand for the next 60 years, and their exploitation could lead to the significant cuts of imported gas from Russia.

According to a study published last year by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an US institution specialized in energy statistics, the shale gas output represented 23 percent of the US onshore production in 2010.

Shale gas has increased the US certified gas reserves (by 11 percent at the end of 2009), and has also stopped the decline of the domestic output of natural gas, which began in 2010, turning around the tendency.

In 2010 the output of unconventional gas – shale gas, tight gas and coalbed methane – had made up about half of the US gas output. More than that, due to the shale gas, the US annual gas output had overcome Russia’s. EIA forecast for the American market shows shale gas will represent 45 percent of the country’s gas output in 2035. Recoverable shale gas reserves allegedly have enough potential to meet the US gas demand for the next 100 years. According to recent estimates shale gas reserves in Europe could meet the demand for the next 60 years, which might lead to a significant decrease of dependence to Russian gas imports. The ARI/EIA study for Europe reveals the countries with most significant resources: Poland (5.3 Tmc), France (5.1 Tmc), Norway (2.35 Tmc), Ukraine (1.10 Tmc), Sweden (1.16 Tmc), Denmark (0.65 Tmc), the UK (0.57 Tmc), The Netherlands (0.48 Tmc), Turkey (.042 Tmc), Germany (0.23 Tmc), Lithuania (0.11 Tmc). Although the report does not reveal the level for Romania, it mentions that, together with Hungary and Bulgaria, these countries have a recoverable resource of 0.54 Tmc.

Decelerated process in Poland

In Poland, the country that made headway in exploration, the French company for oil and natural gas Total had given up its license and has abandoned its plans to search for shale gas as it didn’t find reserves important enough to justify commercial exploitation. Total has had an exploring license in Poland, for the Chelm perimeter (north-east of the country). Three years ago Poland launched an ambitious plan envisaging the development of shale gas industry, hoping to exploit, at industrial scale, shale gas in 2014 in order to reduce its dependence on Russian gas.

In March 2012 the government has cut its estimation on shale gas by 90 percent. New data, the lack of legal framework to rule on the new industry and the discouraging first drilling tests have convinced important companies such as Marathon Oil, Talisman Energy and ExxonMobil to withdraw. Poland’s resources are concentrated in three basins: Baltic (north), Lublin (south) and Podlasie (east), however the activities related to concession and prospecting are concentrated in the first two. According to the US Energy Department report, Poland has the most important shale gas reserves, estimated to some 22.45 Tmc, of which 5.3 Tmc can be exploited immediately.

The British government is forcing exploitation

In the UK, energy companies would be allowed to exploit shale gas by hydraulic fracturing without the need for the landowners’ agreement, according to a draft law in the government’s focus.

The draft is to be put on public debate in the coming months and could be, probably, the most controversial part of Prime-Minister Davis Cameron’s plan to stimulate hydraulic fracturing, according to the British media.

The UK has resumed shale gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing by the end of 2012, after being put on hold in 2011 due to two earthquakes near Blackpool, where such activities were taking place.

According to Cuadrilla company estimates, potential resources of gas in Blackpool area peak to 200,000 billion cubic meters – that could cover UK’s gas demand for more than 50 years.

A more conservative estimation coming from the British Institute for Geology is placing the reserves to some 4,700 billion cubic metres. One of the biggest companies carrying explorations for shale gas has announced it has discovered a formation with huge potential in the north-west of the country. Under a strip of land in north-western Britain could lie one of the most important shale gas reserves in the country, says IGas, one of the biggest British explorers of resources. Following its operations in the licensed area, the company estimated the shale gas resources to 15 - 172 Tmc. Although the confirmed reserves point to 15 Tmc, the quantity is enough to meet Britain’s current gas demand for five years. Britain’s annual gas demand is of 3 Tmc.

Chevron starts works at Pungeşti

Chevron Romania Exploration and Production has started at the beginning of May the drilling procedures for exploring for shale gas (made by Dafora Mediaş) in Pungeşti, Vaslui County, five months after starting the building of a platform on which the well was to be placed. Works have started effectively on December 2, 2013, one month and a half later than scheduled due to the local protests.

Chevron’s intention to exploit shale gas reserves in the area has triggered street clashes, as the villagers were afraid their land and the groundwater could be affected. Nevertheless, company representatives claim drilling is to be carried out in environmentally safe conditions, underground water included. “Our priority is that the drilling activities are carried out in a safe and responsible way to the environment, in accordance with the environment agreements on which basis we are operating. Chevron equipments are designed to protect underground water during the wells’ lifetime, having a robust design and being continuously tested for checks of integrity. Chevron drilling wells have multiple layers of steel and cement that create a barrier to protect underground waters, by keeping the fluids and the hydrocarbons inside the borehole,” Chevron representatives say.

First in the European standings

European Union has enough shale gas reserves to become independent from Russian gas supplies for 28 years, on the condition that member states are ready to exploit them, reads an analysis drawn by an international agency. According to the quoted analysis, which uses data supplied by the US Energy Information Agency for ten European countries, Sweden tops the standing among EU countries with shale gas reserves that could meet domestic demand for 250 years, followed by Poland, Bulgaria, France and Spain. However, several European states, such as France and Bulgaria, have banned shale gas exploitation, while others, such as the Netherlands and Germany, have called moratoriums.

The 28 EU countries, depending on Russia for one third of their natural gas demand, are looking for ways to diversify supply sources on the background of Russia’s threats to cut gas deliveries to Ukraine. As the EU states are analyzing the technologies’ consequences on the environment, the US have used hydraulic fracturing on large scale to become the world’s biggest natural gas producer.

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