While folks back in the U.S. were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, I was making my way back to Frankfurt, Germany from Warsaw, Poland.
My discussions in the Polish capital were with the PGNiG, the national state-run gas company and the government's designated partner in all domestic drilling operations.
Unlike my German conversations, there is considerable optimism these days that the energy picture in Poland is about to change in a major way-thanks to shale gas.
Poland must overcome a serious of challenges, which, of course, were the reasons for our meetings. And despite the upbeat tenor of everybody involved, significant concerns have emerged.
On the positive side, Polish officials have committed to a rapid development of unconventional gas. In addition, no domestic opposition to drilling exists, at least not yet.
Unlike back in Germany, nascent environmental movements have neither the political clout nor the apparent interest in making this an issue.
Polish operations are currently in a very early stage, which may be the reason for the lack of opposition. Only a few test wells have been drilled (less than 15 in all), and none are near residential populations.
For that matter, PGNiG is preparing to start its first horizontal drilling operation. The test wells thus far have all been spud by foreign companies.
However, it is now clear that the "rapid" ramp up foreseen by the authorities in the central government is not working out as anticipated back at the well sites.
For one thing, the initial wells have either come in dry or produced disappointing gas flows. For another, the national gas company is under considerable pressure to produce positive results in what is becoming a very challenging technical environment.
The former result is hardly surprising. There remains insufficient geology and preliminary field prospecting. The locations of shale deposits are well known. The country has no less than five very promising basins. But Mother Nature has an irritating habit of indifferently placing hydrocarbons in those basins.
That requires initial evaluations before the expensive proposition of sinking exploratory wells commences. Thus far, the few wells attempted have been positioned with little more than rudimentary data and guesswork. The poor initial results, therefore, reflect such considerations more than anything else.
There seems little doubt that there are considerable reserves, but finding where they are remains a major undertaking.
Here challenges exist that are not a problem back in the United States.
But solving them could lead to huge breakthroughs for companies in the U.S. and energy investors alike.
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Rising Natural Gas Demand Turns Investors on to Shale Gas
Natural gas will become more important as the world slowly transitions to renewable energy sources, making shale gas reserves a hot topic in the energy industry.
A recent report from Canadian investment bank AltaCorp Capital Inc. said natural gas use could increase nearly 80% over current levels by 2050.
"In the move towards increasing use of renewables, natural gas will play a much bigger role than just 'bridge fuel,' we believe it will become the largest source of energy on the planet," AltaCorp analyst John Mawdsley wrote in the report. "We expect companies levered to natural gas, especially those with long-term unconventional resources, will see significant share price appreciation as natural gas demand increases."
Shale Gas Initiative Brings Morocco to Our Doorstep
Last Friday morning, in my office in Pittsburgh, I met with a delegation from Morocco. The five officials were from Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM), the national agency overseeing oil, gas, and mining. They're here in the United States under the provisions of a Department of State (DOS) initiative on the major new energy source - shale gas.
And they gathered in my conference room in Pittsburgh to discuss how to best manage this significant new source of fuel.
To find out why Morocco needs U.S. help, read on...