Shale Gas Activities in Europe

Main world’s shale gas deposits are located outside of the European countries. However European shale gas reserves could play an important role in energy balances of certain countries in case of successful exploration.

According to the data of US Energy Information Administration of USA, the largest shale gas reserves in Europe belong to Poland (4,2 trillion cubic meters), France (3,9 trillion cubic meters), Ukraine (3,6 trillion cubic meters), Romania (1,4 trillion cubic meters), Denmark (0,9 trillion cubic meters), Great Britain and Netherlands (0,7 trillion cubic meters each), as well as Bulgaria and Germany (0,5 trillion cubic meters each). Other countries, which have shale gas extraction perspectives, include Lithuania, Turkey, Spain and Sweden.

Among these countries shale gas extraction projects are most actively being developed in Poland and Great Britain. In France, Netherlands and Bulgaria moratorium on shale gas extraction projects using hydraulic fracturing technology is introduced before comprehensive investigations of possible negative environmental impacts and developing safe extraction techniques. Shale gas extraction has been also banned earlier in Great Britain and Romania, but later the bans were lifted.

In France the decision on shale gas extraction moratorium has been approved by the parliament in June, 2011. Currently, the possibilities of easing the moratorium for more precise evaluation of shale gas extraction potential under existing environmental legislation are being discussed in French parliament.

The reason for suspending of shale gas extraction activities in Netherlands was a court decision made in October, 2011, which declared that Boxtel town council wrongly granted permission to the Cuadrilla company to conduct test drilling for shale gas. After this decision the Minister of Economic Affairs of Netherlands ordered a study to the risks of shale gas development in the country, the results of which are expected to be published in the coming months. Until publication of the final report and governmental decision on the further prospects of shale gas extraction in Netherlands no test drilling for shale gas is occurred and no new licenses are granted to producers according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Netherlands.

In Poland the first license for drilling of shale gas exploration well was granted back in 2007.  According to the data of Ministry of environment, by the middle of the year 2012 111 licenses were granted covering the area of 90 000 square kilometers or 29% of country’s territory. As for the beginning of June, 2013 46 wells for shale gas extraction were drilled: 35 vertical and 11 horizontal or curved. Hydraulic fracturing has been used on 16 wells: 10 vertical and 6 horizontal or curved. 5 wells were drilled from the beginning of 2013. At the same time, in 2012 ExxonMobil announced its plans to leave Polish market due to not sufficient economic attractiveness of its several exploration wells. In May 2013, two more companies, namely Talisman Energy and Marathon Oil, informed about selling of their licenses for shale gas extraction. The main players on shale gas extraction market in Poland remain PGNiG, Orlen Upstream, Conoco Phillips and Chevron Energy Poland. Such companies as San Leon, Wisent Oil and Gas and FX Energy have also announced about their plans to held hydraulic fracturing operations during this summer. According to the data of Ministry of Treasury of Poland, active shale gas extraction could be started in 2015. In June 2013, the final draft of the legislation changes regulating shale gas extraction has been prepared and submitted to the government for approval, which could also influence further industry development in Poland.

Activities on shale gas extraction in Great Britain were suspended starting from May, 2011 to December, 2012 due to suspicion that hydraulic fracturing operations caused seismic activities. On 1 April and 27 May 2011 two earthquakes with magnitudes 2.3 and 1.5 were felt in the Blackpool area. These earthquakes were suspected to be linked to hydraulic fracture treatments at the Preese Hall well operated by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. The hydraulic fracture treatments were carried out during exploration of a shale gas reservoir in the Bowland basin. As a result of the earthquakes, operations were suspended at Preese Hall and Cuadrilla Resources Ltd was requested to undertake a full technical study into the relationship between the earthquakes and their operations. Based on detailed study of the repot provided by the company, its evaluation by independent experts and development of recommendations on strengthening the safety of shale gas extraction operations the decision on continuation of shale gas projects was made in December, 2012. Department of Energy and Climate Change is prepared in principle to consider new applications for consent to such operations. Currently Cuadrilla company is engaged in drilling activities, receiving permits for hydraulic fracturing and environmental impact assessment at several sites.

Hence, coming few years, during which the results of several governmental funded studies and hydraulic fracturing operations in a number of countries will be published, could provide answers on many open questions regarding shale gas extraction perspectives in Europe.