An Early Look at Things to Come

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An Early Look at Things to Come

I made it back late Saturday night from my meetings in Germany.

While I was there, the German Central Bank (the Bundesbank) was unable to sell its full complement of bonds... for the first time ever.

That resulted in an immediate market dive in both Europe and the United States. Thus far, investors have regarded Germany as a "safe haven" and the Continent's strength amidst an ongoing debt crisis.

Now fears have emerged that even the strongest of the European economies has begun to feel the pressure.

This sets the stage for a shaky upcoming week of discussions about Spanish and Italian bailouts, the future of the euro, and the eroding power structure in Brussels.

The impact of the credit situation also took center stage during my meetings in Frankfurt.
The topic of my meetings centered on how to fund an expanding number of energy projects in Poland.

Not just any projects, remember, but the exploitation of major unconventional shale gas basins that could literally change the energy face of Europe.

Unconventional gas includes gas from shale deposits, coal bed methane, and tight gas (fuel reservoirs locked in impermeable, hard rock).

As I've said before, access to shale deposits has transformed the North American energy picture in less than five years. Now, Poland has committed to the rapid development of its own shale formations.

In fact, in September, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk interrupted one of my presentations to a government commission meeting in Krakow to make this policy announcement! Still, it is one thing to announce an intention and another to see it through.

The Challenge: Making It Happen

In this case, fields need to be identified and geological exploration must take place.

These stages are followed by seismic readings, test holes being spud, data collection and interpretation, pad construction, and well completion. And all this needs to happen before the gas even begins to flow.

At that point, an entire network of compressor stations, processing facilities, and pipelines need to be available for companies to bring the gas to market.

This will likely be the most expensive single infrastructure project ever attempted in Poland. Some of the technology and know-how is already there domestically. But most needs to be financed and imported.

Now some of the work is underway. A few international majors, such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX), along with a range of middle- and smaller-sized U.S., U.K., Polish, and other European companies, are already taking stakes in what should be a high-risk and high-return undertaking.

But while the prospects look promising, this optimism is based on fewer than 10 test wells and very spotty geological data. Most of the heavy lifting will have to be done from the beginning. That means billions upon billions of euros (and dollars, and zlotys, and pound sterling) are required in investment.

And that's where my meetings this past week in Frankfurt come into the picture.



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