Will Europe Embrace Fracking?

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"The EIA in April estimated Europe's recoverable resource at 624 Tcf."

Time, Eben Harell

In February, Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government halted all exploration pending a report into the environmental effects of fracking. It may seem strange that the French would say non to fracking, while simultaneously continuing as the world's greatest proponent of nuclear power. Yet other parts of Europe—keen to wean itself off Russian gas, and facing dwindling off shore supplies in the North Sea—may be more willing to embrace "unconventional gas."

A report by the US Energy Information Administration in April estimated the technically recoverable resource in Europe at 624 trillion cubic feet—much higher than previous estimates. The Kings College European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (Eucers) released a study, which found, "Europe's unconventional gas resources might be able to cover European gas demand for at least another 60 years."

Poland has been one of the first to embrace fracking. Chevron plans to drill its first well in Poland later this year, while Exxon-Mobil has completed drilling its sixth shale gas well in north-west Germany. Austria's OMV is testing geological formations near Vienna and Shell is looking into shale gas in Sweden.

But even the Eucers report warns that environment concerns must be addressed as population density tends to be much higher in Europe than the U.S., heightening concerns over the contamination of populated areas. In addition, the EU lacks an experienced drilling work force and equipment, meaning the economics of shale gas in the EU is still highly uncertain.

As a a recent piece in the Economist wryly put it, however, even if shale gas does not live up to expectations in Europe, the continent is already benefiting from it: As America imports less gas than expected, that helps bolster supplies, reduce prices for Europeans, and reduce the continent's dependence on Russian gas.

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