Will America’s shale gas revolution ever spread to Europe? According to Chevron, it already has. The company has been quietly buying up huge swaths of land across eastern Europe, an area it believes could be the next great frontier for shale gas exploration.
It is convinced that the economic arguments for shale will ultimately trump the environmental concerns.
“It’s like Goldilocks,” says Ian MacDonald, vice-president of Chevron Europe, Eurasia and Middle East. “The shale has to be at the right depth, have the right organic content and be in the right geological window. That’s what we believe we’ve identified in eastern Europe.”
The shale boom has transformed the energy landscape of the US. Techniques such as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and horizontal drilling have unlocked huge reserves once thought too difficult and expensive to exploit. Shale now contributes a third of America’s gas supplies, and a glut of the stuff sent US natural gas prices to 10-year lows this year.
Talk to the frackers, and it is only a matter of time before the shale revolution crosses the Atlantic. The size of the prize is huge: according to a study last year by the US Energy Information Administration, Europe has 639tn cu ft of technically recoverable shale gas resources – not far off America’s 862tn cu ft.
Yet there are plenty of sceptics prepared to bet that the shale boom will never cross the pond. Environmental opposition to fracking, which involves injecting huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to blast open the shale rock and release the gas trapped inside, is stronger in Europe than in the US. Fears that it could contaminate groundwater prompted France and Bulgaria to ban the practice. Romania and the Czech Republic could follow suit.