Tag Archives: Shale

Tunisia and an Undefined Shale Future

As the rush to exploit shale reserves continues across the globe, Tunisia’s potential has come into the spotlight due to a number of conflicting reports from interested foreign firms and the country’s new government.

Facing expected increases in local demand and a weakened post-Arab Spring economy, which contracted 1.8 percent last year, a Tunisian shale boom would be a helpful step forward in terms of energy security and growth. While modest in comparison to larger shale markets, most notably the United States and China and to a lesser degree, Poland, Tunisia’s shale estimates suggest enough potential to change the energy landscape of this country of 10.5 million. According to a U.S. Energy Intelligence Agency report, as of 2009, Tunisia offered approximately 18 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas.

However, despite clearly stated interest on the part of several foreign firms and a lack of viable hydrocarbon alternatives, Tunisia’s current transitional government has avoided a clear embrace of the often-controversial extraction process.

A Growing Caution

As countries across the globe rush to replicate the progress seen in the United States over the last decade, many have rushed to partner with foreign partners with more direct experience with the costly and very technical shale extraction process, known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. The extraction, according to the UPI, “involves drilling into the rocks horizontally and then cracking them with a high-pressure missile of water mixed with sand and chemicals, to unlock the gas from the impermeable shale rock.”

The complexities of this process and the environmental risks involved have made introducing shale projects difficult into new markets increasingly difficult. Bolstered by reporting and advocacy groups in the United States, opposition has grown due to concern about possible harmful waste, water supplies and the potential impact irresponsible development could have on the local environment and aquifers.  This has resulted in partial or outright bans on shale efforts across Europe and delays in government approval in several more countries.

Early reports suggest that these concerns may have had a hand in the delay or outright denial of licensing rights for shale projects in Tunisia. In late September, Tunisia’s Industry Ministry were pushed to respond to reports that they were preparing to grant an unconventional license to Shell in the Kairouan region of the country. Denying the completed agreement, the Ministry announced that while they had received a related application, they had responded with an appeal for an environmental and water impact analysis, according to an Al Bawaba report.

The water usage issue related to “fracking”, which can require millions of gallons for each well, is especially important for the arid North African region. The Ministry release did allow that government was considering shale options, stating, “Tunisia is mulling over producing shale gas to meet its growing domestic demand and the expected drop in traditional oil stock”.

However, just a few days later, the African Manager website reported that a source close to the case stated that shale efforts would likely be abandoned completely by the current government thanks to concerns about the potential environmental impact. While unconfirmed outside of that source, the report does reflect the lack of a clear narrative about the country’s current position on introducing shale efforts.

Ready and Waiting

However the country decides, they will have a number of potential partners to held lay a shale foundation. Earlier this year, Shell announced plans to pursue unconventional efforts in both Tunisia and neighboring Algeria, which has been much more assertive in their support for shale development. So far, Algiers has signed production agreements with Italy’s Eni and Shell, among others. Going so far as to introduce new hydrocarbon legislation to entice foreign investment in unconventional energy projects, Algeria has set a course for energy diversification, addressing a steady increase in domestic demand and allowing an increase in export revenue.

For Tunisia, the addition of shale to the country’s energy options would address more modest goals of just easing dependence on costly refined oil imports and the burden of steadily declining local oil reserves.

In addition to Shell, Winstar Resources have also expressed a strong interest in pursing what they feel is Tunisia’s vas energy potential. Despite reports of a possible sale of their Tunisian interests earlier this year, the Canadian company included a positive outlook of their access to the country’s shale potential in their August, second quarter corporate report. Earlier this year, representatives from Italy’s Eni suggested they might extend their shale reach beyond Algeria and were “thinking of entering the Tunisian shale gas market,” according to a Dow Jones report.

In late September, the country’s shale reserves also took center stage at the second annual Tunisia Oil and Gas Summit, where the keynote session explored Tunisia’s unconventional, including input from a number of foreign E&P firms and sponsor Halliburton. The US company has been at the forefront of shale excavation technology for decades.

It should be noted that even if the country’s transitional government side against introducing shale to the Tunisian landscape, presidential and parliamentary elections have now been scheduled for June of next year. With new leadership in sight, any opposition could face a limited lifespan. For their part, Shell has not included any information about unconventional projects in their online literature related to Tunisia, but did recently announce a $150 million oil exploration deal in the country.

Image: Agency Tunis African Press

Originally Posted: Newsbase’s AfrOil Monitor

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Shale, Energy and North Africa’s Future

As countries across North Africa work towards rebuilding both customer confidence and hydrocarbon operations following the political and financial instability of 2011, some are looking past traditional options to test the limits of the region’s shale potential.

First initiated in Tunisia in the Spring of 2010, North Africa’s shale efforts have slowly spread across the region, adopted by both established oil and gas producers and those who see little potential for traditional measures. The push towards exploring the area’s deep-set shale reserves came as the success of such efforts in the United States and studies showing widespread potential across the globe began to spur investor excitement. As time allowed closer inspection of the geological variances of the Maghreb states and their true shale potential, a clearer picture of what shale deposits could mean for the region has emerged.

These efforts come just as similar efforts in more mature shale markets are running into often debilitating challenges. Building on environmental worries related to the practice of fracking, public and political movements have successfully stalled efforts in the United Kingdom, France and parts of Germany as the uncertainty about the effects of the practice have added to concerns about project costs. This environment led European Union Energy Chief Gunther Ottenger to suggest the possibility of a community–wide regulatory system on shale efforts, inviting a pledge to veto any such legislation from Poland’s government, who has led the way towards introducing shale projects to the European marketplace. Meanwhile, in the birthplace of the fracking process, US President Barack Obama accompanied his support for further shale projects with an appeal for energy companies to disclose the ingredients of fracturing fluids, which have been protected information until now. However, these worries and protest movements have done little to damper enthusiasm among North African actors, as they continue to move shale projects forward.

Building on the region’s first shale effort in March 2010, Tunisia are continuing to work with early partners France’s Perenco and Canada’s Cygam in their exploration efforts, though last year’s political transition slowed the effort’s momentum. While both firms have worked to assure their Tunisian partners of their intent to stay put, lingering questions of instability, including the recent kidnapping of a mayor near the vital Ghadames Basin do little to help calm project partners.

Hailed as the country with the most shale potential thanks to the accessibility and quantity of reserves in the Ghadames Basin it shares with Tunisia and the Illizi Basin, Algeria has moved to attract foreign partners for shale efforts. According to Reuters, estimates suggest up to 1,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, trapped in shale rock about 1000 meters beneath the ground.  Facing a steady decline in the production levels of more mature oil and gas options, Algeria’s actions suggest a long-term approach to energy alternatives that included a heavy dependence on non-traditional resources such as shale.

Algeria and their state-backed firm Sonatrach have worked to secure working partnerships to help move their shale efforts forward, beginning with the signing of a MOU with Italy’s Eni last year. The Spanish giant has also looked to expand their resource base after Libya’s production all but halted amid political violence last year. Eni’s MOU with Sonatrach is meant to both lend the company’s shale extraction expertise to Algeria and help the company ensure a more dependable natural gas source for export-heavy Italy. After investing billions in hopes of solidifying Libya as a consistent source of oil and gas for the domestically barren Italy, the country lost nearly a third of their energy imports as political protests turned into violent conflict earlier this year. While Eni stands as Algeria’s largest shale partner, Sonatrach have announced that they will continue seeking shale partnerships with other international firms.

Even in Morocco, where domestic energy resources have remained elusive to the leadership of King Mohammad VI, one company has bet that the company’s true potential lies far deeper. Following four years of testing and coming in the latter half of a 3 year Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Morocco, London-based San Leon announced this month that they were ready to begin production at a site in the southern part of the country. Hoping to replicate their efforts in Poland, San Leon entered the northwest African nation five years ago to begin initial testing in the Tarfaya Oil Shale Field Pilot Project. San Leon recently announced that they had achieved “connectivity” between two wells in their Tarfaya oil shale project, suggesting progress in the country, though the Irish firm’s pace has worried some as their share price shrunk 59 percent over the last year. Despite overlapping basins deemed positive, Libya is the only country in the region to receive little attention by shale actors, as alternative efforts have been overshadowed by the substantial promise of traditional energy projects.

The Obstacles that Remain

For all the interest in the region’s predicted shale potential, a number of obstacles towards profitable operations remain, which have undoubtedly increased with the political instability of the last year. In addition to countries now faced with re-building confidence among foreign investors following the ousting of long-standing governments in 2011, many face significant funding deficits needed to support the high infrastructure costs associated with shale efforts. Largely lacking the access to the equipment, technology and personnel needed to reach and exploit shale projects, North African states will need the support of international partners to move these projects forward. In addition to signing cooperation agreements with firms from across Europe, some states are looking to the US State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative for guidance and aid, though political divisions and uncertainty about regional stability have kept that support

Image: Arabian Oil and Gas

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Fracking Europe – Spanish Edition

Joining similar efforts to the south, Spain’s Basque Country region have announced an investment partnership with European and U.S. companies to help explore the area’s shale potential over the coming year.

Following the positive results of fourteen test wells drilled in the region, the Basque president announced a plan to initiate a series of exploratory wells in the region meant to help the region access an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of free and absorbed gas; enough to supply the country with reserves for five years or the Basque region for 60 years. Funded by an initial $100 million investment, the project will be split between three significant actors, including Basque Energy with 42.8 percent, Texas’ Heyco with 21.8 percent and Cambria Europe with the remaining 35.4 percent.

Planned for 2012, the two appraisal wells will reach upwards of 15,000 ft into the dense Cretaceous Valmaseda formation, which presents a favorable consistency of shale and dense sand for the necessary hydraulic fracturing process.

Touted as a tool for greater energy independence and sustainability both locally and nationally, the Basque shale project is the second of its kind in Spain, joining California’s BNK who launched their respective effort in the Castille and Leon region earlier this year. BNK took on 234,000 acres in the central region, with the agreement that they will conduct a geological analysis during the first year and drill two wells in year two, three and four, with three wells promised for year five. The acquisition builds on earlier investments in the region including 61,470 acres in the Northern Spanish region of Cantabria.

Although shale projects and the necessary hydraulic fracturing have elicited government and public protests as the practice spreads across Europe, these worries have not manifested themselves in any significant way in Spain. Facing a precarious economic landscape and heavy dependence on foreign energy resources, novel and unconventional approaches to energy generation have been welcome in the Southern European country, especially as alternative resources have suffered as a result of cuts in research spending and subsidies.

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