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Poland gets first horizontal shale gas well

June 22, 2011 at 6:14 AM   |   Comments

LEBIEN, Poland, June 22 (UPI) -- The prospects for shale natural gas production in Poland took a positive step this week when a British firm said it completed the country's first horizontal gas well.

Peter Clutterbuck, chief executive of 3Legs Resources, announced Tuesday the horizontal well at Lebien -- believed to be the first in Poland's Baltic Basin shale gas field -- was drilled and cased at a depth of 13,385 feet in the "organic-rich lower Paleozoic shales."

The effort, Clutterbuck said in a company release, "encountered high gas saturations throughout the horizontal section" and will be followed by a "stimulation program" and further tests in the third quarter.

The development of horizontal drilling has been a key in tapping the potential of "unconventional gas" as a viable power source. Once drilled, the wells need to be "stimulated" to produce gas by fracturing the dense shale deposits, usually accomplished by pumping in a water-sand mixture.

"We are very encouraged by the excellent gas shows encountered while drilling this horizontal well and we look forward to the results of the well stimulation and test program later this year," Clutterbuck said.

3Legs, which is working with U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips to cover the costs of its Baltic Basin exploration program, conducted a $101 million initial public offering this month on London's Alternative Investment Market. Its pitch was its access to 1 million acres of prime shale gas land in northern Poland.

Clutterbuck has said he expects to be able begin pumping such gas within two years.

The fact his company was able to quickly raise that amount of cash in a generally lackluster IPO market indicates investors are excited about the viability of European unconventional gas production.

A report issued in April by the U.S. Energy Information Administration raised the prospect of Europe being able to greatly reduce its dependence on Russia and the Middle East for energy due to its significant shale gas reserves.

The U.S. analysts determined Europe holds 618 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas. Along with Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Britain, Austria and Hungary are also conducting shale gas explorations.

Poland, however, the biggest reserves -- 187 trillion cubic feet ready for immediate extraction. Even if it extracted only 106 trillion cubic feet, Poland would still have more than 200 times its annual natural gas consumption remaining in reserve, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Industry experts, however, have cautioned it will take awhile for the Baltic Basin to be developed and begin contributing to a realignment of Europe's energy picture.

The Austrian bank Erste Group issued an analysis Tuesday stating it will take at least five years before unconventional gas is being produced at the levels it is in the United States, where 3.1 trillion cubic feet were untapped in 2009, the chemical industry news Web site ICIS.com reported.

"We believe that unconventional gas (such as shale gas and tight gas) will be tapped in Europe but cannot currently imagine that it could reach the size of U.S. natural gas production," the analysts said. "There is a general lack of EU-wide policy towards unconventional gas and parties remain skeptical about the potential speed of development."

Environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," used to stimulate the wells are strong in Europe, the bank noted, saying soil and water concerns within densely populated European countries are more prevalent than in the United States.

The British firm Cuadrilla suspended its shale gas operations in England this month when two small earthquakes in Lancashire were linked by the British Geological Survey to fracking activities in the area, the BBC reported.

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