Inspired by gas shale successes in the United States, researchers hope to revitalize exploration in Europe.
A public-private effort launched officially earlier this year crosses political and scientific borders to accomplish this, according to AAPG member Brian Horsfield with GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam (GFZ), the national laboratory for geosciences in Germany.
Horsfield and GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences colleague Hans-Martin Schultz coordinate the international, interdisciplinary project from GFZ.
The project is conducted by a task force of experts drawn from geological surveys, consultants, research institutions and universities.
The goal is to build a European black shale database and use it to find and produce gas for regional and local needs.
An important facet of the project is that it integrates proven U.S. gas shales – for example, the Barnett Shale – for calibrating key variables, Horsfield said.
Most new findings will remain proprietary for at least the project’s first three-year phase, which allows project sponsors to act on their 160,000-euro per-year investment, he said.
Sponsors to date include Marathon, StatoilHydro, ExxonMobil, Gaz de France Suez, Vermillion and GFZ.
The GASH program, as it is called, “is applied but not ivory tower stuff,” Horsfield said. “We are talking about basin modeling, organic matter, petrophysics and rock physics, plus the database – in other words, with deliverables for direct application.”
The potential payoff could mean exploiting an estimated 510 Tcf shale gas resources in Western Europe alone, he said.
GASH researchers say that many parts of Europe, dead as far as conventional fossil fuel is concerned, contain prime targets for shale gas exploration. And Horsfield adds, Europe has a more complex and compartmentalized setting of geological units than North America.
The need for evaluation is demonstrated by recent happenings in the European shale gas scene. For instance, in October 2007 Lane Energy Poland was granted licenses in Poland to explore shale gas from Silurian black shales; in Sweden, Shell reportedly has interest in the Skåne region.
The GASH team is mainly European, but with the right mixture of American-based experience and know-how, he said.
Working with Horsfield and the GFZ team are the Institut Français du Pétrole (France) and TNO (Netherlands). Universities include Newcastle (UK), Aachen, FU Berlin, Clausthal, Leipzig (all Germany), VU Amsterdam (Netherlands) and MU Leoben (Austria).
National and state geological surveys play a key central role not only in regional analysis and application, but also in basic research: GEUS (Denmark), BGR (Germany), BGS (England) are at the heart of the project, he said.
“Our team has 30 man-years experience within the industry (with Arco, Conoco, Saga, Hydro, BP, Preussag) and 50 man-years working with industry in joint research programs and projects,” Horsfield said. “GFZ currently has 13 companies supporting its research, and cumulatively we’ve worked with twice that number.
“Research is performed with sample material and seismics from our industrial and academic partners,” he continued. Labs selected for this work are the Alum Shale, Posidonia Shale and Carboniferous Shales of Europe.
Others may be added.
Additionally, the Barnett and Marcellus are included “because known gas shales from the United States are needed to supplement the potential gas shales of Europe, thereby providing a link to producibility,” Horsfield said.
Much of the information going into the black shale database exists in rudimentary form: “We have well logs and data on fluids and gases, which we will compile,” he said.
Most of the information was collected in efforts to find suitable sites for projects like nuclear waste containment.
“We need seismic,” he said, noting that an October workshop was planned to address that need, review research progress and further discuss the database.
Researchers are “looking at a processing technique to directly detect gas-saturated shales from measured seismic profiles,” he said.
If Europe’s gas shale potential is so great, some may wonder, “Why don’t we have 50 sponsors?” Horsfield said.
When energy prices plunged in 2008, the number of expected sponsors for the project shrank from 10 or 12 to seven, he said – but Horsfield remains enthusiastic, saying interest in the work has taken off exponentially.
“We’re not keeping all the results under wraps,” he said. “Some information has to be used to promote the project.”
And as the effort progresses, Horsfield predicted it “will attract sponsors automatically.”