Europe is Unlikely to Match U.S. Shale Boom Soon
Comment of the Day

March 18 2010

Commentary by David Fuller

Europe is Unlikely to Match U.S. Shale Boom Soon

My thanks to a subscriber for this item from Bloomberg. Here is the opening
March 18 (Bloomberg) -- Pumping natural gas trapped in shale rock has made the U.S. the world's largest producer of the fuel. While geologists say Europe may have similar fields spread from northwest England to Ukraine, drilling them profitably will prove a whole lot harder.

Getting the shale gas out requires drilling hundreds of wells and blasting the rock with water and chemicals, raising environmental objections in densely populated Europe. Those obstacles suggest Russia's OAO Gazprom, supplier of 25 percent of Europe's gas, will have plenty of customers for its fuel pumped through new pipelines across the Baltic and Black Seas.

"There is a great future for Russian gas in Europe," John Barry, a strategic issues manager at Royal Dutch Shell Plc, said in an interview. "There is a lot of unconventional gas in Europe, but it's a very, very early part of the story." Shell has already faced public opposition to plans to explore in Sweden for shale gas.

Across the Atlantic, where BP Plc is drilling fields in Oklahoma and Texas, Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward has described shale gas as a "game changer" that allowed the U.S. to overtake Russia in terms of overall gas production last year and drove prices lower.

"If you go to Dallas, you can see wells around the airport for non-conventional gas," said Jean-Francois Cirelli, vice- chairman of GDF Suez, operator of Europe's largest gas grid. "Would it be possible to have these wells surrounding Orly or Roissy airports in Paris?"

David Fuller's view It is by reading extensively that most of us gain perspective. This includes learning to read between the lines in terms of politics - in this instance keeping Russia sweet and not alarming the more militant environmentalists unnecessarily.

Of course Europe will not match US shale gas production anytime soon. Americans developed the technology and have a 10-year head start. Europe will develop its shale gas at its own pace, dictated by politics, energy costs and needs.

I have already seen enough to be convinced that shale gas is a much bigger energy story than any of the renewables, given current technologies. I believe that it has already tempered enthusiasm for nuclear power, and that this is reflected in the lagging performance of nuclear industry shares.

The world had a huge wakeup call when crude oil spiked over $147 in July 2008. The sensible strategy for governments and companies, in my opinion, is to encourage all forms of energy development, confident that results will show us what works best, in every respect.

For investors, the main potential is likely to derive from the long-term benefits of sustainable and affordable energy, rather than a concentration of assets in shale gas production. Paradoxically, the more successful companies are in developing shale gas, the longer gas prices will remain comparatively low. The shale gas industry will also have its stock market winners, but are they going to outperform everything else? I do not think so. Similarly, those who have been most bullish of China's long-term prospects, including ourselves, have often pointed out the merits of investing in the countries and companies that provide what China needs.

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