The Global State of Fracking: Who’s Playing Catch Up With The U.S.?

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America has made some significant strides recently to try and lower its dependence on foreign oil. In the past five years, advances in commercial-level hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking” – have enabled the energy-dependent nation to explore large reserves of economically recoverable natural gas.

Source: ZE
Source: ZE

Despite the obvious gains made by the U.S. thanks to shale gas, it’s not without its controversy. A chorus of local, national, and international concerns about the practice has emerged and slowed the recovery of shale gas reserves.

However, the economic benefit to the U.S. hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the world, particularly in those nations feeling the global energy pinch right now. A quick Google news search throws up a quagmire of murky news stories. At the time of writing, the most common words that featured in top 30 or so headings of the 132,000 results listed included ‘protests,’ ‘assessments needed,’ and ‘pollution’. One of the most compelling arguments of late has been in Germany, where anti-fracking campaigners have argued that by blasting apart their soil Germany would be putting ground water at risk, which could lead to the befouling of its national beverage – beer.

Taking a look at Poland, it has been considered a potential hotbed for shale gas extraction (although the original EIA estimate, from Notable Changes in Shale Gas Estimates from the 2011 Report, of 187 Trillon cubic feet (Tcf) has been slashed in the past two years by 90% by the Polish government itself). Many in the central European nation have high hopes that shale gas deposits could replace imports from Russia. To date the government has issued more 100 shale gas exploration licenses, with a total of 46 test wells already drilled.

On June 21, news emerged that Wisent Oil and Gas, partly owned by Poland’s Petrolinvest and the U.S. Hallwood Resources, had found its initial shale oil and gas operations in Poland promising. This appears to have been a complete turnaround on the previous month, when it was reported that two other North American companies, Talisman Energy of Canada and U.S. oil company Maraton, had decided to pull the plug on the shale gas sector after Maraton announced it had several “unsuccessful attempts to find commercial levels of hydrocarbons” (BBC News). The latest discovery by Wisent Oil and Gas will no doubt have an impact.

Elsewhere in Europe there has been a lot of activity. Some countries have lifted their moratoriums, including Britain and Romania. Even the Dutch – arguably Europe’s green energy purists – are reevaluating its own moratorium, which will be decided following the results of an independent study due to be released this summer.

Globally, the full extent of recoverable shale gas is yet to be realized due to the political, environmental and commercial costs of recovering the gas.

Topping the EIA list of estimates for recoverable shale gas is China. Standing at an impressive 1,275 Tcf of recoverable shale gas, it’s widely believed the China could rival the U.S. in terms of extraction over the next 20 years. In South America, Argentina has come out on top for fracking. The EIA estimates the country has a massive 802 Tcf of recoverable gas, the fourth highest in the world (Table 5). Of all the continents, knowledge of the spread of shale gas basins is probably hardest to find in Africa. South Africa is the most significant contender to have emerged with estimates of 485 Tcf, making it the fifth largest region with potential shale-gas resources in the world.

To read more about the state of play across the world right now and which countries are leading up the charge in terms of recoverable shale gas resources, read our in-depth article: The State Of Fracking Globally: Who’s Playing Catch-Up On the U.S.” from our popular DataWatch e-magazine.

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