Sunday, 3 April 2011

The shale gas revolution and Europe

In Europe, particularly, the shale gas revolution that has been happening in the US during the last few years still seems to be a relatively unknown phenomenon. This article in the Wall Street Journal, written by Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, therefore should be compulsory reading for European decision makers:

In the early 1980s, George P. Mitchell, a Houston-based independent energy producer, could see that his company was going to run out of natural gas. Almost three decades later, the results of his effort to do something about the problem are transforming America's energy prospects and the calculations of analysts around the world.
Back in those years, Mr. Mitchell's company was contracted to deliver a substantial amount of natural gas from Texas to feed a pipeline serving Chicago. But the reserves on which he depended were running down, and it was not at all clear where he could find more gas to replace the depleting supply. Mr. Mitchell had a strong hunch, however, piqued by a geology report that he had read recently.

Perhaps the natural gas that was locked into shale—a dense sedimentary rock—could be freed and made to flow. He was prepared to back up his hunch with investment. The laboratory for his experiment was a sprawling geologic formation called the Barnett Shale around Dallas and Fort Worth. Almost everyone with whom he worked was skeptical, including his own geologists and engineers. "You're wasting your money," they told him over the years. But Mr. Mitchell kept at it.
The payoff came a decade and a half later, at the end of the 1990s. Using a specialized version of a technique called hydraulic fracturing (now widely known as "fracking" or "fracing"), his team found an economical way to create or expand fractures in the rock and to get the trapped gas to flow.
Today, in an age that craves innovation in energy, George Mitchell's breakthrough in the Barnett Shale has opened the door to a potentially profound change in the global energy equation.
As late as 2000, shale gas was just 1% of American natural-gas supplies. Today, it is about 25% and could rise to 50% within two decades. Estimates of the entire natural-gas resource base, taking shale gas into account, are now as high as 2,500 trillion cubic feet, with a further 500 trillion cubic feet in Canada. That amounts to a more than 100-year supply of natural gas, which is used for everything from home heating and cooking to electric generation, industrial processes and petrochemical feedstocks.

The effects of the "shale gale" are also being felt in the rest of the world, changing the economics of the liquefied-natural-gas business. Its impact on international energy relations could be significant. Some proponents believe that the U.S., once thought to be short of natural gas, could even become a natural-gas exporter.
It was not until the fall of 2009, however, that leaders in the nation's capital woke up to the fact that something was changing in the U.S. energy mix. It's now well-recognized. In his energy speech on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said, "Recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves—perhaps a century's worth—in the shale under our feet. The potential here is enormous."
Outside the U.S., potential reserves of shale gas have been identified in countries from Mexico and Argentina to Algeria. Chinese interest is rising swiftly, both for shale gas and for another form of unconventional natural gas, coal-bed methane. It is now thought that Europe's unconventional-gas potential may be as great as North America's.

In his article Yergin also discusses the possible environmental questions related to shale gas extraction, without loosing sight of the larger picture:

But we should not lose sight of the larger picture: the potential for a century's worth of inexpensive, environmentally attractive energy. At a time of increased energy anxiety, the shale gas revolution is both a major innovation and a formidable new addition to our energy supply.

George Mitchell was certainly on to something.

Read the entire article here.


One simple way of finding hout how much - or how little - the European Union has been concentrating its wast resources on the coming shale gas revolution is by searching the EU official website archive using the search phrase "shale gas". The result: of all the tens of thousands of documents only 187 in some way were connected with the word shale - not necessarily shale gas. (Most of the documents, appeared to deal with problems related to the "oldfashioned" shale oil extraction in Estonia.) I doubt whether you can find even one proper, up-to-date EU analysis of how the coming shale gas revolution will change the entire energy map of Europe.

No, the EU bureaucrats have been - and still seem to be - busy promoting the politically correct, unrealistic dream of filling the future energy gap with unprofitable wind and solar energy. To prove this, one only needs to perform two other searches using the search words "wind energy" (3343 documents) and "solar energy (2996 documents).

The EU has also used millions of euros of taxpayers´ money for the production of global warming propaganda, such as the video here below, but there is not the smallest leaflet telling people about the future benefits of shale gas for Europe.

Fortunately, the goverments in some member countries, like in Poland, have a better understanding of the vast possibilities in sight. In the end, maybe it is even a good thing that the bureaucrats in Brussels are not involved. But knowing the damage they can cause - particularly when working in tandem with the greenies - it would be important to work out a strategy to marginalize radical anti-energy environmentalists.

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