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.