EAGC2011: Shale gas development to be slow in coming, speakers warn

European production of unconventional gas, especially shale, may someday contribute a large portion of the region’s overall natural gas supply, but that time is a long way off and will be slow in coming, according to several speakers at this week’s European Autumn Gas Conference in Paris.

Much of the blame for those prospects lies at the feet of how the industry has handled shale gas development in the US, they said.

Linda DuCharme, ExxonMobil Gas & Power Marketing’s director for Europe, Russia, and the Caspian, captured the sentiment best: “The furor [over US shale gas development] has gotten to Europe before the promise [of its technology].”

GTI’s Trevor Smith summarized how opponents of shale gas development in the US managed to capture headlines following industry’s dismissive and secretive reactions to early concerns.

In Europe, he said, industry must work for societal acceptance of unconventional gas. It must “separate fact from fiction to prepare Europe for shale gas. Industry [cannot] dismiss criticism and downplay concerns.”

Early in its US development, “industry did not involve affected communities and stakeholders.” What’s happened in the US, he said, is as “much about the science of human behavior as it is about the science of technology.”

He believes responsible energy development can be done, but industry must reduce its surface footprint by, for example, employing multiple wells from a single well pad.

“Sound regulation builds public confidence,” he added. “We cannot let an information vacuum exist; it will be filled with false information.”

DuCharme said ExxonMobil supports full transparency in shale gas development and has pledged to disclose all ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluids. “Europe’s dependence on imports makes it necessary [for the region to turn to unconventional], but industry must address both public and governmental concerns.”

In discussing his company’s early efforts at assessing the shale gas resource in Europe, Peter Hagen, general manager for gas commercialization for Chevron, said his company also supports “voluntary disclosure of fracking chemicals.”

He also noted that the “launching point [for shale gas development] in Europe will be different from the US” and that such development is hindered by the relative lack of connectivity among Europe’s pipeline system and the multitude of regulatory bodies.

“To be successful in Europe,” he said, “industry must use best practices, adapt to the European business environment, and address all concerns.

“As an industry, it is our obligation to apply the highest possible standards. At Chevron our vision is [that] the economic benefit of shale gas should not come at a cost to people or the environment."

Contact Warren R. True at warrent@ogjonline.com.

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