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Report: Europe and U.S. Must Share on Shale

Much like rock 'n' roll, kick starting successful unconventional gas development in Europe will depend on the United States sending best practices and technical know-how across the Atlantic, according to a new report.

"The U.S. government and industry [are] in an excellent position to assist other countries in sorting through the issues and regulations needed to safely and responsibly develop unconventional resources," the Atlantic Council wrote in a report released Tuesday. "Ultimately development will depend upon the political will in each country, which will arise from local, regional and national discussions. Further, countries will also need to develop their own regulations though a dialogue with their citizens and other stakeholders as appropriate for their own situation."

The nonpartisan Atlantic Council promotes dialogue between the U.S. and Europe. The report came about in part through funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to Energy Information Administration data, Norway in 2009 produced the most gas of any country who's territory lies completely within Europe's boundaries. Norway produced 5,104 Bcf, followed by the Netherlands and the United Kingdom with 2,785 Bcf and 2,269 Bcf, respectively.

The 35-page Atlantic Council report is the outcome of recent workshops in Washington, DC, and Brussels, Belgium, that brought together industry, environmental groups and government officials. The participants concluded that Europe could alleviate public concern about shale development by adopting state-level best practices from the U.S, but also noted that U.S. development often outpaced those best practices, forcing regulators and industry to play catch up.

Some of that cooperation is already under way.

The State Department-backed Global Shale Gas Initiative involves sharing the U.S. experience with developing nations, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently evaluated shale gas potential in Europe (see Shale Daily, July 7; April 7).

Even with that help, though, the future of European shale is clouded by uncertainty, the report noted.

Just like U.S. states, where New York and Maryland are proceeding cautiously while Pennsylvania and Ohio are moving ahead full force, European nations each view shale differently. The report noted that France expects only modest benefits from incremental production and recently banned hydraulic fracturing, while Poland and other eastern European countries believe shale could completely change their regional energy supply outlook.

But even by the standards of the still young shale industry, Europe is a baby.

With only 15 shale gas exploration wells planned for the whole year, and only five drilled to date, the report estimated that the continent will need another five to 10 years of active exploration before Europeans can make a realistic assessment of the economically recoverable resources under their feet (see Shale Daily, June 22; Nov. 3, 2010. And making those economic estimates will be challenged by the relatively large infrastructure investments needed to support that development.

Also unclear is how increased gas supplies would impact the European marketplace, especially considering that increased U.S. production is already diverting liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies to Europe and portending future LNG exports. "While this trade augments supplies and has softened the market for gas in Europe, it has not yet eliminated the basing of major gas contracts on oil prices, as it has in the U.S.," the report noted.

But Europe is fortunate to create its standards in the wake of U.S. trial and error, according to the report. In particular, the workshop participants pointed to well integrity standards and hydraulic fracturing regulations as key areas for both American states and European nations to allow development to proceed safely.

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