Mixed opinions and a lack of equipment and infrastructure could mean an unconventional gas revolution is still some way off in Europe.
However, despite patchy support for the nascent industry, recent support has come from a top level in EU.
In a draft motion for a European Parliament resolution, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) said the EU’s energy and climate change policy “needed to recognise and tackle the potential investment barriers to shale gas development in the EU”.
It said unconventional gas resources could provide the union with security of supply, reduce bills and be a “bridge fuel” in reducing carbon emissions.
It also encouraged member states to assess their respective shale gas resources and called on the European Commission to play a role in collating that information across the EU.
But, referring to the impact shale gas has had in the US, including the effect on LNG markets, it cautioned that Europe would need to develop a supply chain, enough equipment – particularly rigs – skills and infrastructure.
It also said current regulatory frameworks for “early exploration” were adequate, but stressed the need for public engagement.
“In the EU, it will take time for the necessary service sector to build up adequate capacity and for companies to acquire the necessary equipment and experience to support a high level of shale gas production, which is also likely to contribute to higher costs in the short term,” it said, encouraging US – EU co-operation.
Graham Dean, chairman of the Unconventional Gas Group and a director at Banchory-based Reach CSG, agreed.
He said estimates show the UK to have similar shale resource as Pennsylvania in the US, which was now producing 25billion cu m (882billion cu ft) a year – the UK North Sea produced 39.7billion cubic metres (1.3trillion cu ft) of gas in 2011.
But to get to that level of production could take about 10 years, due to limitations in the supply chain, regulatory issues, and ability to get gas into the grid, he said.
This is even before exploration and appraisal work is carried out – a process hindered by a lack of suitable land rigs in the country.
However, as it develops, the industry could create 8-16,000 long-term jobs in coal bed methane and 50-60,000 in shale, he said
“It has the potential to eventually take over the North Sea, but it is going to take a bit of time,” he added.
Peter Redman, chairman of the UK Onshore Operators Group, said: “One of the main concerns we have is that the rig availability in the UK at the moment onshore are mostly pretty old – in excess of 40 years. More modern rigs are needed for unconventional operations, for long horizontal sections.”
There is also still a current suspension on fracturing in the UK, following minor earthquakes near Blackpool.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is understood to be close to reporting on revoking a moratorium following the earthquakes and an investigation by the Environment Agency (EA).
The EA recently said “overall” it felt a strategic environmental assessment by DECC ahead of the 14th onshore licensing round was “sound”, but it said further consideration should be given to issues around groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing, showing how much shale is influencing overall onshore drilling policy and how experiences in the US are trickling to the UK.
Across Europe, drilling for shale is currently a mixed picture. Poland has been seen as an early leader, keen to reduce its reliance on gas imports, with US giant Chevron the biggest entrant in the market.
However, Chevron’s experience elsewhere has not matched the welcome in Poland.
Bulgaria, where it had been granted exploration licences, banned all fracking – a method used to access shale – in January. Chevron last month moved to reassure Romanians of its plans there following concerns.
France banned fracking last July, while Britain suspended the practice near Blackpool after minor tremors last spring.
According to the International Energy Agency, Europe currently imports about 60% of its gas, a number due to increase to 83% by 2030 due to increasing demand and declining production from existing fields.
Even less is known about shale oil. The EU’s motion said most of Europe’s shale oil reserves were concentrated in Estonia but that other sources of shale oil had not been explored as yet.