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    Geologists Seek Belgian Shale Gas… Without Drilling

Summary

KU Leuven and RWTH Aachen University have started a joint research project to discover the exact composition of the beds and the results fracking can have on them.

by: Koen Mortelmans

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Natural Gas News, News By Country, , Belgium, Shale Gas , Featured Articles

Geologists Seek Belgian Shale Gas… Without Drilling

The Belgian Geological Administration, the KU Leuven and RWTH Aachen University have started a joint research project about the characteristics of potential shale gas containing beds in the Belgian subsoil, without any time, political or economical pressure. All three the institutions are associated members of the European research syndicate Eera that is advising the European Commission. One of their First activities was the organisation of a symposium, in October, in Namur.

Namur was a symbolic choice. The capital of the Walloon region gave its name to a geological period, the Namurian (326-317 mln years ago). The Namurian ­–just as the younger coal layers in the Westfalian– is part of the Carbon. In North-West-Europe it is considered as a target for shale gas exploration. In Wallonia the Namurian bed outcrops at several locations. In the Campine, in the Flemish region, it is only present at large depths. 

"We don't intend to do new drillings," says Michiel Dusar, head of the Belgian Geological Administration. "We dispose over a lithoteque, containing samples of earlier drillings, going back as far as the time of André Dumont senior (1809-1857), the father of the also named pioneer of deep coal exploration and exploitation in the north-east of Belgium. At the time these samples  were collected specially the coal was analysed. The shale gas layer samples remained untouched.

The researchers are planning to take samples in Walloon stone quarries where the Namurian outcrops. "A drilling results in only local samples with a 10 cm-diameter. In the quarries much more variation is possible." Dusar also underlines that the Namurian is a non-continuous layer with many interruptions, from Ireland to the east of Germany. "Where it outcrops or isn't very deep, the gas escaped very long ago. The aim of our research is not to find out whether there is gas, but to discover the exact composition of the beds and the results fracking can have on them. Namurian is an extremely fine-grained layer. In our research, we'll need to use electron microscopes and X-rays." The geologist estimates that this research will take about four years, roughly the time to write a PhD. dissertation. "We already received a candidate's proposal. We are also open for master dissertations."

Wrong name

Dusar wonders who ever got the idea to use the term 'shale gas.' "It is a stupid name. Shale layers are much older than layers containing recoverable natural gas. They don't contain gas and aren't suitable for fracking. The Namurian however contains strongly silicified layers that are suitable for fracking. In shale layers fracking would extinguish at a short distance, in silicified layers it carries on.

Wines

Outcropping Namurian beds have been exploited for centuries in Wallonia. "Due to their organic origin, they contain ampelite, a rock with much carbon and sulphurous minerals. During the middle ages this was a base material for the economic important alum. Ampelite also is a very suitable soil material for winegrowing. After the shutdown of the Walloon coal mines new vineyards have been started on south ramps of waste hills from the coal mines. Waste material from the mines is comparable to Namurian ampelite.

Dusar is annoyed because the actual shale gas debate seems to ignore the actual state of the geological research.  "Before 300 million years the Namurian, because of the presence of organic material, surely contained natural gas. But we don't know what happened since. In Belgium, no one has found shale gas anywhere yet. Even without exploitation, the gas finally will escape, albeit on a much longer timescale." He makes a comparison with coal gas. "The gas that we now still can exploit for coal layers is about 10% of the volume that originally was present there, according to calculations about the chemical processes that formed the gas."

Koen Mortelmans