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Fracking Abroad
Energy Majors Yearn For Euroshale

Europe can’t frack. At least, it hasn’t been able to up to this point, despite a tenuous energy security position that’s been thrown into the spotlight now that Russian belligerence has sent policymakers scrambling to secure alternate supplies. But if two oil executives are to be believed, the problem is one of intention, not possibility. The FT reports:

Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said that Europe could see a natural gas renaissance similar to the US if governments such as France and Germany allowed fracking to go ahead.

[Eldar Sætre, the chief executive of Norway’s Statoil] told the Financial Times: “I am confident that it is possible to operate fracking operations in Europe in a responsible manner as it is in the US. It is accessible, it is close to the markets, it can be done, it is not rocket science.”

Both Tillerson and Sætre see government recalcitrance as the biggest obstacle to unleashing another shale boom in Europe, pointing to moratoriums as counter-productive. Sætre branded France’s decision to ban fracking as reactionary, saying it was done “before they knew what it was really.” Tillerson pointed to the American experience as a source of “enough data” to demonstrate that fracking can be done safely.

These executives raise an important point: government opposition, whether it comes in the form of outright bans or opaque and byzantine regulation, is a tall hurdle for shale to clear in Europe. But the continent will need more than just amenable policymakers on its side if it wants to follow America’s lead. U.S. shale success has benefited from a long list of favorable conditions, from relatively abundant water to landowners’ mineral rights, from favorable geology to a robust services industry, from deep pools of capital to existing pipeline infrastructure, fracking has grown at a rate here that firms abroad can’t expect to replicate.

Still, even if Europe fails to match the flood of hydrocarbons unlocked by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well-drilling, a trickle will be welcome for a region chafing at its over-reliance on Russian gas. Clearly there are companies willing to take a crack at it—policymakers would do well to let them have a shot.

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  • Andrew Allison

    We really don’t know how much of a challenge the geology of Europe offers frackers — the few who have done exploratory work have given up because of government obstructionism, not geology. Perhaps we should take Mr Tillerson’s word for it that “. . . . It is accessible, it is close to the markets, it can be done, it is not rocket science.”. And perhaps if European consumers knew how much the current energy supplies are costing them, they might revolt against the green meanies.

  • Pete

    I don’t doubt that fracking is possible in Europe but it can never match what the U.S. has done for both political and technical reasons.

  • Blackbeard

    The Greens will never allow fracking in Europe. In fact, now that they have succeeded in banning coal in the U.S. natgas is their next target. Google the Sierra Club’s “beyond coal” campaign is you don’t believe me.

    • CaliforniaStark

      Ironically, up until about 2010, the natural gas industry was funding the Sierra Club’s “beyond coal” campaign. Now Bloomberg, a big natural gas proponent, is funding the “beyond coal” campaign. His funding began in 2011.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Politics aside, I was under the impression that the rock strata in Europe and the UK are not as suited to fracking as those here in the US. Not to say they shouldn’t do it…they really have themselves in a bind now. But if I understand this correctly, anything they manage to get out of the ground by fracking would be more expensive than in the US. Of course, they are already used to self imposed high prices…so, what the hell? Give it a shot.

    • Blackbeard

      In order to take such risks you have to have a reasonable expectation that if you succeed there will be a big payday. In Europe, and increasingly in the US, you would be foolish to have such expectations.

  • Kevin

    The problem perhaps is that it is only the majors who are interested in fracking in Europe, not the mid tier players that will need to pave the way, take risks, develop the expertise, etc. at least if Europe is to replicate the U.S. experience. These sorts of firms don’t really exist in Europe and aren’t interested in relocating there given the climate.

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