Should Europe be Fracking?

BRUSSELS – The global energy community is abuzz with excitement about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a newish technology that has opened formerly inaccessible reserves of gas trapped in underground shale formations. The boom in this so-called shale-gas production has allowed the United States to become almost self-sufficient in natural gas.

Europe, by contrast, is clearly lagging. Exploration is proceeding only hesitantly and shale-gas production has not even started, prompting many observers to lament that Europe is about to miss the next energy revolution. Should Europeans be worried?

Critics of Europe’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for fracking miss two key points. First, Europe’s geology is different from that of America. There is a huge difference between potential deposits hidden somewhere in large shale formations and recoverable reserves that can actually be produced economically.

In fact, estimates by the International Energy Agency suggest that the most significant recoverable reserves of shale gas are in the US and China, not Europe. Moreover, even these estimates are really not much more than educated guesses, because only in the US have shale formations been subject to intense exploration over a period of decades.