European advocates of shale gas – and they do exist – have been hoping that the Ukraine crisis might galvanise governments into dropping objections to controversial fracking. But despite a growing and belated recognition that Europe must do more to diversify its energy sources, in Bulgaria at least the unpopular shale movement is going backwards.
Last month, US energy giant Chevron quietly closed its Sofia office, three years after it was awarded a licence for shale exploration that was scrapped months later. The company did not publicise its withdrawal and it has gone largely unreported. But the move is indicative both of the political challenges that frackers still face and of Bulgaria’s frustratingly inconsistent treatment of energy investors.
Oil prices have remained stable for years. Jack Farchy, commodities correspondent, suggests to John Authers that this has been due to reduced supply in countries like Libya and Iran, and that prices could easily fall in 2014.
On the geopolitical front, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s relationships with Russia to the east and Europe to the west are currently going through a testy period. Which is putting it mildly. The struggle for Ukraine’s future between Brussels and Moscow is one of the most tense and high-stakes geopolitical stand-offs between the two sides in recent years.
Russian pressure, domestic politics and Yanukovich’s attempts to play east and west against each other – offering to sign with whichever side provides the bigger bailout for his ailing economy – may all have factored in on his government’s stunning decision last week to back out of historic EU integration agreements.
A year after it lifted a moratorium on fracking, South Africa’s government is poised to issue exploration licenses for shale gas. The move is heating up the debate on the impcat of the process.
South Africa is believed to have some of the world’s biggest reserves of shale gas, providing an important potential source of energy for the coal-dependent nation. Unfortunately, they are found in the vast Karoo region – a sparsely-populated semi-desert stretching across the heart of the country, which is staunchly defended by environmentalists.
Chevron, the US oil major, has decided to pull out at the final stage of a tender for shale gas exploration and production rights in Lithuania, in what is a big blow to the country’s efforts to reduce its dependence on energy imports from Russia,
The decision was hardly a surprise. But it may prompt Lithuania to revise new regulations that contributed to Chevron’s decision.
The hunt is on to replicate the US’s shale boom, and Russia is seen as a contender. FT energy editor Guy Chazan visits the Bazhenov shale formation in western Siberia, where Russian and foreign companies are trying to extract its riches.
Poles have long had a soft spot for Canada. For decades one of the country’s most popular books has been a colourful paean to the Canadian bush called “Canada, the Scent of Sap” – a title that sounds more evocative in Polish. Now that affection is spilling over into business.
PKN Orlen, Poland’s leading refiner, said on Monday it planned to spend C$240m ($233m) to buy TriOil Resources of Canada, marking its first significant venture in upstream exploration and production.
For years, US chemical companies have benefitted from the Obama administration’s efforts to make the shale gas boom the saviour of US energy security. With US companies forbidden to export gas, the chemicals industry, for whom natural gas is a major ingredient, has enjoyed artificially low prices.
The administration’s decision to end the ban on exports of US shale gas will let Asian suppliers back into the market for valuable plastics.
Shale gas and oil have more than usual appeal for Lithuania, where the government is eager to reduce its dependence on imports from Russia.
But a combination of environmental protests and government plans to hike royalties to the highest level in the world are creating daunting obstacles to investment. Chevron, the US oil major, could be the first to baulk at the new barriers.
The world’s energy landscape has been split for decades between the haves – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia – and the have nots. Emerging markets had the oil and gas, by and large, and developed nations bought it off them.
So how does the new shale energy landscape shape up? The US may have decreased its reliance on oil from the Middle East thanks to shale but what of the rest of the world? Numbers out this week from the US Energy Information Administration shows that although developed countries may be dreaming of energy self-sufficiency, the reality is quite different.
Poland’s hopes of creating a significant shale gas industry and reducing the country’s dependence on costly Russian imports seem to be receding as companies including ExxonMobil and Marathon from the US and Canada’s Talisman exit due to a combination of poor well results and regulatory uncertainty.
On Friday, foreign and Polish companies searching for unconventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas formally declared that the government’s plans to regulate future hydrocarbons production would deter investment.
Poland’s hopes of weaning itself off Russian natural gas suffered another blow on Wednesday when two foreign energy companies – Canada’s Talisman and Marathon of the US – said they were pulling out of the hunt for shale gas in the country.
Poland is home to potentially some of Europe’s largest shale gas deposits. A huge drive is underway to extract the gas, bringing not just the hope of cheaper energy, but the tantalising prospect of breaking Poland’s energy dependence on Russia. Jan Cienski reports.
There’s a Polish saying about not dividing the skin on a bear – in other words waiting before the animal is caught before planning a warm coat. That’s a saying Poland’s finance ministry might do well to remember as it prepares a new tax regime for the oil and gas industry.
The proposed tax rates have the industry screaming.