ExxonMobil – a long-term view on unconventional gas in Europe
ExxonMobil wont be caught a step behind again in the search for shale and unconventional gas resources in Europe, as it found itself to be in the United States.
In the case of the latter, Exxon attempted to remedy the situation by paying $41 billion for XTO, a leader in using technology to unearth shale and other unconventional gas resources.
ExxonMobil is now one of the leaders in exploring the potential for shale gas and other unconventional production in Europe having acquired significant acreage in Poland and Germany, two of the most promising countries in Europe for unconventional gas, and now has one of the largest positions in the continent.
In an article in the Financial Times, Mike Dolan, Exxon’s executive board member with responsibility for technology, says the crucial factor is the ability to deploy the right techniques and processes.
“If you look at the history of the US, everyone knew the shale gas was there; this was not something that was discovered. But the shale is less porous than concrete, so it’s quite difficult to extract,” he says.
“It’s a technology story in terms of how several of these technologies have come together to enable [shale] to be produced at an economic price.”
The two most important technologies have been horizontal drilling, running wells over long distances through the shale, and techniques for breaking up the rock to allow the gas to flow out, including the “hydro fracking” – essentially pumping in water at high pressure – and Exxon’s proprietary “multi-zone stimulation” technology, which uses explosive charges to a similar effect.
Mr Dolan says the key to understanding Europe’s potential is the geology.
“There are some shales that are amenable to this type of processing, and some that aren’t. When you prop the layers of shale open, something has to hold it open while the gas flows. So you need not only shale, but also perhaps some silica that’s going to hold it open.”
For Europe, that means that while the gas is certainly there, the amount that can be produced is uncertain, dependent on geological factors that can vary widely over short distances.
Mr. Dolan commented that it probably took about 20 years from initial attempts to develop commercially viable shale gas production in the US. He believes that the same may hold true for Europe, but that the process is just at the very beginning.
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