Richard Moorman: Notes from the Shale Gas Trenches

Richard Moorman: Notes from the Shale Gas Trenches by Natural Gas Europe, December 31, 2012
The former CEO of Tamboran Resources, Richard Moorman was determined to convince the public in Ireland of the benefits of developing their unconventional gas resources. It was not an easy job, but for months he was on the ground at public forums engaging with locals and answering their questions – a formidable task. At the end of September this year, Mr. Moorman stepped down as CEO, but remains a technical advisor at Tamboran. Of the change he comments, “The company’s going in a bit of a different direction. They’re aggressively pursuing a joint venture party for the Australian assets and so the company is essentially going slower in Ireland. It became impossible to keep the pace there.”

Ahead of the European Unconventional Gas Summit, taking place in Vienna, Austria 29-31 January 2013, Mr. Moorman offered Natural Gas Europe his perspectives on shale gas in Europe. …
Given your experiences in Ireland, how would you assess the overall prospects for the development of unconventional gas in Europe?

The European experience so far has been frustrating. Certainly Cuadrilla in the UK, sitting on what appears to be a very viable asset, had the misfortune of setting off tremors on their first fracture stimulation and subsequently the report has come out that showed that there were steps they could take to prevent that from happening, but that’s in the record. In Poland I think it was overemphasized in the beginning – kind of like a land rush – and everybody got out of perspective on it, forgetting how long it took for things to actually succeed in the United States and that new projects require a lot of effort. Unfortunately, in Poland we’ve seen operators like ExxonMobil drill two wells and then back out. That’s just poor practice. The bottom line is, in the US most of these shale projects took dozens of wells and it’s not realistic to think that someone can solve these problems in a couple of wells.

There are movements, but it looks uncertain whether the EU will enact regulation specifically for shale gas. Do you think such broader regulation could reassure policymakers?

I say yes, but regulation means different things to me than it does to other people. … The kind of regulation I think Europe needs more of with respect to unconventional gas are related to a clear monitoring of what’s going on, a clear presentation of development plans before they are initiated and a clear enforcement procedure for companies that violate their own commitments and the rules that are put out. It really can’t be useful for people to take risks with water or air contamination. There’s no reason that that has to happen – the technology and the processes are there to prevent all of this. So while the situational occurrences are quite rare in the US, even if one were to say it happens in one in a thousand wells, that’s still one in a thousand too many times and can be prevented. In Europe a lot more can be done by the regulatory authorities to really try and understand unconventional gas, to make sure that companies declare what they’re going to do upfront, that they are monitored while they’re doing it – that we don’t have any surprises, and finally so that there’s enforcement, because without that there’s no way that the public can trust that the rules mean anything.

What would you suggest to the industry in Europe to help push things forward?

First of all, I think the industry needs to do a much better job of communicating what it’s actually doing and intends to do rather than relying on government regulators to provide cover. … If we’re working in someone’s community, then it’s our business to make sure that the community knows what we intend to do; the government needs to make sure that we do it, but it’s our responsibility to do that and a lot more.

The other thing is, they could do well to stop blanket opposition to any kind of regulation. It seems like the knee-jerk response for every industry when asked for more regulations to protect the public is to oppose them instead of working with the responsible authorities to make sure they’re better for both sides. So I think the industry could do a lot more to cooperate. [Emphasis added]

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