Swedish Uranium Search Leads to Shale Gas Investigations
Aura Energy’s recent announcement that they are about to start drilling at their Motala shale gas project in Sweden, is further evidence of the growing interest in unconventional gas resources.
The announcement is particularly significant when you consider the Australian based AEE is more renowned as a uranium explorer.
The company has two main projects: the Häggån Project located in Sweden’s Alum Shale Province, one of the largest depositories of uranium in the world, and the highly prospective Reguibat Province in Mauritania.
The managing director of Aura Energy, Dr Bob Beeson, a professional geologist with over 35 years of experience in mineral exploration and development, explained the company’s position in Sweden. “Aura’s Motala Project covers approximately 140 square kilometres of the Alum Shale, which is also the host rock to its giant Häggån uranium resource further north in Sweden,” he said.
“At Motala, the shale is much thinner than at Häggån and it is thermally immature. While Aura remains strategically focused on it two key uranium projects, increased interest in Europe in shale gas sources has led Aura to review the project’s potential.”
AEE’s Motala Project is located close to Linkoping, an industrial city in southern Sweden with a population of 144,770.
The Scandinavian country imported 1.2 billion cubic metres of gas in 2009 and Dr Beeson said Linkoping was seen as one possible market for the gas.
“Considering its proximity to possible markets and prospective geology, Aura is undertaking drilling to gain more information on the project’s potential value,” he said.
“The exploration license covers 140 square kilometres with five reconnaissance holes in three separate exploration permits, up to 80m deep. While five holes will test only a very small portion of the area, they will give Aura an idea of the potential in this region.”
Dr Beeson described the shale at Motala as thermally immature with a reported organic carbon content of up to 20%. “The Linköping commune has an extraction permit for shale gas immediately to the east of the Aura permits,” he said.
“In addition, local farmers use the gas as a source of heating and gas is known from several locations within the Aura permits.
“Permitting is straight forward in Sweden. We submitted the applications in June and received the permit within two months.
“Because of existing gas production in the region, rigs are available and we have already started to drill two out of the five holes.”
Dr Beeson said he was very excited about the project’s potential, particularly as the Motala shale may share some similarities with a highly successful play in North America. “Gas flows of up to 50 cubic metres per hour have been reported from drill holes used to extract water, so it is definitely worth investigation,” he said.
“The Alum shale at this location appears to be similar to the Antrim shale in Michigan, USA. The Antrim Shale is 20-40m thick and it is exploited at 80-600m depths.
“During the 1990s, the Antrim became the most actively drilled shale gas play in the US, with thousands of wells drilled. In 2007, the Antrim gas field produced 136 billion cubic feet of gas, making it the 13th-largest source of natural gas in the US.
“Shale now provides 23% of America’s natural gas and unconventional gas production is forecast to increase to 64% of total US gas production in 2020.
“Natural gas releases less pollution than coal, an important factor in today’s attitudes towards climate change, and despite current economic conditions, the long-term need for natural gas should be strong enough to support these anticipated future production levels.
With this kind of potential, it is easy to see why AEE is so keen to take a closer look at Motala. However, Dr Beeson stressed that the project was still in its infancy. “We are currently at a very early stage – we know that there is gas but we are not sure if it is extractable in commercial quantities.”
Despite Shell's apparent lack of success in the alum shale, AEE are determined to push ahead with their plans. “Shell’s drilling is in an area that had less kerogens than us,” Dr Beeson said.
“This means there may be less potential for gas. In addition, Shell drilled very deep holes, compared to our holes which will be relatively shallow.”
As the interest in unconventional gas resources increases, so does the level of discussion in the media about mining the resources and the perceived impact on the environment. This was highlighted in Sweden regarding Shell’s activities.
So how does AEE deal with environmental issues surrounding its shale gas mining project in Sweden, such as concerns surrounding the practice of fracking?
Dr Beeson said there was no fracking required due to the natural porosity. (The porosity may be due to several factors) “We believe that there may be natural porosity - Aura will use natural sandstone layers to extract - natural porous rocks,” he explained.
“Shell is active in an area that was more contentious regarding drilling projects, while
Aura’s project is located in a part of the country where the locals are used to gas. The Linkoping commune has an extraction license and plan to drill further and extract gas.”
He said to date there had been no concerns expressed about the company’s project. “In preparation for drilling, Aura liaises with local landowners and land authorities, and the mining inspectorate has expressed no concerns,” he said. “But it is only at the first stage of testing.”
Dr Beeson also pointed out there was a zero waste materials policy for sites and aquifers are preserved.
“Aura has had a number of years’ experience in successfully dealing in Sweden and undertaking exploration in a number of regions. Our exploration management team and drill team on the ground are all Swedish, so we can communicate well with the local community and authorities.”