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European countries seeking to ease their dependence on Russian natural gas may discover that their salvation lies deep beneath their native soil.
As Congress prepares to take up legislation in response to Russian intervention in Ukraine, a group representing American companies that rely on inexpensive gas is advocating an alternative approach.
Instead of exporting natural gas, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America says the U.S. should export the hydraulic fracturing expertise that will let Ukraine — and other European countries — develop their own gas reserves.
“Utilizing hydraulic fracturing technology spurs economic growth and jobs from within Ukraine,” the industry group said last week in a letter to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.
The idea of developing Europe’s untapped potential enjoys some enthusiastic support from the oil and gas industry. Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron signed deals with Ukraine last year to develop oil and gas reserves.
“There’s a lot of places in Europe which can do this, and indeed, should do this,” former BP Chief Executive John Brown told the Council on Foreign Relations last week. “It will take time, but there’s plenty of potential, and there’s plenty of need for that potential.”
Some European Union members have embraced hydraulic fracturing while other countries shun it. Poland encourages development of its 148 trillion cubic feet of shale gas while France, with 137 trillion cubic feet of gas, outlawed hydraulic fracturing and Bulgaria has a moratorium keeping its 17 trillion known reserves off limits to the practice.
“Shale gas is raising hopes in some parts of Europe, but is also a source of public concern,” European Commission Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said in January, when the commission laid down recommendations for environmental regulations for hydraulic fracturing. The commission acknowledged that development of shale gas would be a way to reduce — but would not eliminate — dependence on imports.
Europe imported almost 6 trillion cubic feet of gas from Russia last year, nearly half of it by pipeline through Ukraine, the International Energy Agency estimates.
Ukraine has 128 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration. Shale formations in Romania, Poland and France hold more than 70 percent of the rest of Europe’s 470 trillion cubic feet of known tight reserves.