Shale gas – Energy game changer in Europe

Though strictly speaking not automation I thought this comment from a Frost & Sullivan consultant, Jonathan Robinson, interesting as it highlights the rise in the use of shale gas and its role in prolonging the use of fossil fuels in human development into the future. Here is the Wikipedia entry for Shale Gas, which is not by any means without controversy not least in the  process of extraction.

Extracting shale gas!

In passing there has been some activity on initial exploration on the west coast of Ireland in Clare, Limerick and North Kerry.

“The buzz in the European gas sector was given a further boost with the announcement by Cuadrilla Resources that preliminary drilling results close to Blackpool, Lancashire (GB), indicate approximately 200 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of shale gas reserves. Analysts expected shale gas would be found – Blackpool sits on one of three major shale gas basins in Europe, known as the Carboniferous marine basin, which stretches across England, the Netherlands, North West Germany and South West Poland. But the size of the find was more than expected. Based on a reasonable assumption that 20% of the gas is recoverable, this means that Britain has gained 40TCF of gas reserves. This comes just six months after the EIA estimated that the Britain had 20TCF of technical recoverable shale gas reserves in the entire country (the 40TCF comes from just one basin).

To add further context, Britain’s gas reserves have been declining for some years now and the country is becoming increasing dependent on imports. The remaining reserves in the North Sea are estimated at 9TCF, which would meet their gas consumption for three years. This find means that British reserves have technically now increased by 400%.

These numbers could be revised further – it is likely that other players in the UK will now accelerate drilling programs. Technological advancements could mean that more of the 200TCF found could be recovered – a 40% extraction rate would double recoverable reserves to 80TCF.

This discovery is also likely to provide a boost to exploration in Europe. France has banned hydraulic fracking, the process used to extract shale gas, but Eastern European countries have had no such qualms. Poland is thought to sit on reserves that could make it a major gas player.

The size of this find should not actually be surprising. The truth is that no organisation in Europe can forecast reserves with a reasonable degree of certainty because adequate geological analysis has not been carried out and this takes time; the industry is much less developed than in the US. But if results like Cuadrilla’s keep coming in, shale gas could well prove to be the energy game-changer in Europe that it has been in the US – and this would have far reaching implications beyond just the energy sector.”

The Ireland state owned Bórd Gais (Gas Board – BGE) talks about unconventional gas resources. New production techniques mean that “unconventional” gas can now be produced from shale, coal-bed methane and other “tight” formations. There are no reliable industry estimates of how much unconventional gas there may be worldwide. It is certainly many times more than the reserves of conventional gas. One academic study suggests that reserves exceed 900 tcm – four or five times the conventional reserves . The US in particular has abundant reserves of unconventional Shale Gas resources. New production techniques using seismic technology and efficient directional drilling has allowed the US to record the world’s largest increase in production for the third consecutive year, surpassing Russia as the world’s largest producer.

This worldwide relative surplus of gas supplies greatly increases supply availability to Europe and Asia as it frees LNG cargoes for these markets. It should also keep downward pressure on wholesale gas prices. However, Europe and Asia still have a significant amount of pipeline /LNG volume linked to oil related prices but these contracts are already coming under pressure with some renegotiations taking place to more align the contracts to spot gas markets.

Proven world gas reserves in place at the end of 2009 were 187,490 bcm, a 1.3% increase of the 2008 levels and enough to last for 63 years at current levels of production.

The implications for energy policy are profound. With policymakers seeking to make energy supplies secure, affordable and clean, a new abundance of gas would provide the answer to all three problems at once, however, shale gas is still at the exploration stage and significant shale gas production would take time to be bring on stream. There is also the question of how readily people in densely-populated Europe would accept such projects.” (BGÉ – Report 2010)

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