The Czech Ministry of Environment says two companies seeking new sources of shale gas have filed formal applications for exploratory operations in the country and others are waiting in the wings, local reports indicate.
Ministry officials say the companies are Basgas Energia Czech, a subsidiary of the Australian exploration company Basgas; and Britain's Cuadrilla Resources, the online financial journal CzechPosition.com reported.
Also considering a shale exploration application through existing permits is the domestic Czech company Moravske Naftove doly, the Prague daily Economic News said.
While no systematic accounting of shale gas reserves has been done in the Czech Republic, the companies are eager to find out if it shares characteristics with Poland, which is believed to hold Europe's largest shale gas reserves (up to 175 trillion cubic feet) has become the scene of a energy company feeding frenzy.
While it's not likely the Czech Republic will be found to hold as much shale gas as Poland, investors are nevertheless checking out the lay of the land.
Cuadrilla Resources has filed to explore in a 365-sqaure-mile area of Moravia and company officials told CzechPosition.com they expect to receive a verdict on their application by fall.
Basgas is looking to explore a 37-square-mile area around Beroun in the central Czech Republic and a 300-square-mile region in the northeastern part of the country near Trutnov.
Environmental controversies have been generated in the United States, Britain and elsewhere over hydraulic fracturing methods use to extract shale gas -- something Prague hasn't had to deal with. Opponents say the process, sometimes called fracking, endangers groundwater.
The Czech government has said addressing such environmental concerns will come in time. The research to be carried out under the permits is likely to take at least five years, it said.
In the Czech Republic until now there has been no consideration of extracting natural gas from shale stone and reserves of this type haven't been found (or systematically searched for) or technically and economically evaluated," the Environment Ministry told CzechPosition.com.
If shale gas deposits are found in the Czech Republic, it's unlikely the country will do what France did this year and ban fracking. Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas recently aligned his country's energy policies with those of Poland, calling for more energy security for Europe.
Necas and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk last month in Prague said they want their countries to provide a "counterbalance" to other nations, such as Germany, which has moved to phase out nuclear energy, and France, with its shale gas exploration ban.
Tusk, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said Poland and Czech Republic should form a "common sense front" on energy -- one that contends it's unrealistic for Europe to rely solely on renewables as it struggles to reduce energy dependence on Russia.
"We fully support the Polish EU presidency and its priorities," Necas said. "These are priorities the Czech Republic also shares."