Gas drilling projects relaunched in Europe
In addition to diversifying energy supplies, saving energy or promoting renewable energies, some countries have chosen to develop existing gas drilling sites or exploit unused reserves, as the European Union prepares to put a end to its dependence on Russian gas.
While the European Commission has presented three main ways of reducing Russia’s energy dependence — energy saving, renewable energies and the diversification of energy supplies — many countries have opted for other methods, in particular revival of fossil fuel projects.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently warned EU member states not to backtrack on their long-term commitment to reducing fossil fuel use, as a handful nations have now turned to coal after Russia decided to limit its gas supplies.
Other countries have chosen to accelerate or expand gas drilling projects, and some have reversed their previous decisions not to drill.
We can cite the example of the joint drilling operation in the North Sea led by the Netherlands and Germany. The project has been planned for some time now, but the government of the German state of Lower Saxony had decided not to grant a permit for it. A Dutch ministry recently announced that Lower Saxony “has now made a different decision because of the war in Ukraine”and drilling is expected to begin in 2024.
Blocked reserves? Change the law!
The trend towards the development of gas drilling activities is also confirmed in Italy. The country produces about 3.3 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and the government estimates that there are reserves of 70 to 90 billion cubic meters underground in Italy. However, the reserves are currently blocked by law, so the gas cannot be extracted.
In February, faced with the energy crisis and rising energy bills, the government of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi began to think about doubling extractions.
The war in Ukraine precipitated the debate on the country’s energy strategy in order to exploit its resources. After Gazprom cut supplies from Italy, Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani opened up to a reassessment of drilling activities, saying it was a “ mistake of going from 20% domestic gas in 2000 to 3-4% in 2020”.
Romania is the largest oil producer among EU member states and it also has offshore gas reserves. Until April, these reserves were blocked. The ruling coalition in the country, however, agreed to change the offshore law and finally allowed investors to exploit these reserves.
Norway is the EU’s second largest gas supplier. After the invasion of Ukraine, the country promised to help the bloc reduce its dependence on Russian gas. To replace Russian gas, the Norwegian government has authorized an increase in production, which has drawn strong reactions from the left-wing opposition, who have warned of the danger of seeing investments blocked in projects related to fossil fuels.
Small countries, big dreams
Gas drilling projects are not only the business of large countries traditionally active in this field, it is also a solution for small countries. Slovakia, for example, is one of the European countries that consumes the most gas, with 5 billion cubic meters per year. A few years ago, a gas deposit was discovered, which could cover around 10% of national consumption, according to estimates.
In the past, the drilling of this deposit has met with strong opposition from environmentalists, who considered such projects to be harmful and unnecessary. Now the war has changed the game, and these plans are back on the table. Investors say drilling could start in two years if all goes as planned. Government officials have not ruled out the project.
Currently, Albania does not consume, produce or import gas. It does, however, hold reserves and the government is pushing for gasification, both in terms of production and use for energy purposes, with several extraction projects set to start as well as floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. ) off the south coast.
Gas drilling is not unanimous
Despite these initiatives, not all countries have chosen to exploit their gas reserves. Bulgaria has shale reserves estimated at around 480 billion cubic meters, but current legislation in the country prevents their exploitation and the government does not plan to change thestatus quo.
France also has a significant potential for offshore and onshore reserves, but as in Bulgaria or Italy, the law prohibits the granting of new drilling permits. With the notable exception of MP David Habib, who is advocating for the reopening of gas fields in Alsace, there is no indication of a change of mind on the part of the government at the moment.