by Aaron Levitt | March 20, 2014 12:35 pm
The recent crisis in the Ukraine has highlighted a big, glaring fact when it comes to Europe: It needs to diversify its energy stocks from Russia.
While that means importing a hefty dose of U.S.-produced natural gas via new export terminals, it also means allowing energy stocks to tap its own abundant shale resources. Fracking has been a point of a fierce contention on the continent — one that makes our own Keystone XL pipeline battle seem tame.
In short, Europe will need to frack, and frack hard, to meet its growing energy requirements — especially if it’s trying to remove the yoke of Russia-produced natural gas from its energy mix.
However, it appears that right now, only the United Kingdom seems serious about creating a fracking revolution.
Still, that means opportunity across a few energy stocks that are able to get in early and tap the nation’s vast reserves. Two in particular stand out to me.
As is the case in much of Europe, fracking in the U.K. has been met with public outcry and protest. However, with the continent receiving around 40% of all its energy needs via Russian natural gas imported via the Ukraine, the region faces a major energy issue.
But it’s an issue that fracking can solve — and the U.K. is set to become the leader on that front.
First, the nation has “mind-boggling” shale gas reserves. Recent seismic studies by the British Geological Survey peg the large Bowland Basin formation’s total reserves at a massive 1,300 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). That would make the Bowland the largest shale gas basin in the world — bigger than the Bakken, bigger than the Niobrara, and even bigger than the mammoth Marcellus.
In theory, the basin could ensure that the U.K.’s energy needs could be met for roughly 40 years.
Now, only about 200 to 330 Tcf are currently recoverable using today’s technology. But that amount still puts the U.K. into the top nations in terms of shale gas potential.
And that doesn’t even consider the other shale basins — both onshore and off — that the U.K. could possible tap. The Kimmeridge Clay, Weald Basin and Oxford Clay have all been found to hold massive natural gas and oil resource potential. Meanwhile, preliminary data from the BGS suggest that the U.K.’s offshore shale gas reserves could be between five to 10 times as large as its onshore ones. Various energy companies have been tapping the prolific North Sea for conventional oil and natural gas for decades now … with much success.
Amid the massive reserve potential, the U.K.’s government seems to be on board with the idea of fracking.
Prime Minster David Cameron recently declared that the government will be “going all out for shale” and recently unveiled a series of incentives to spur its development. These include allowing local governments the ability to keep 100% of the taxes raised from fracking sites in their counties. Additionally, Cameron’s plan allows for shale gas companies to pay royalties directly to homeowners and landowners. This is similar to how the system is set up here in the U.S. Other politicians in the U.K. have expressed Cameron’s views and have praised the new tax scheme and royalty agreements.
Lastly, public perception about fracking in the U.K. has begun to turn positive, with many citizens seeing the value in tapping the nation’s energy abundance.
When you combine just how much potential the United Kingdom has in terms of resources with its pro-fracking government, the investment practically pays for itself. Think of the U.K. as the U.S. back before the boom in natural gas took off — when firms like Chesapeake (CHK) and Continental Resources (CLR) were small fries.
As such, the bulk of the nation’s shale energy stocks are small and unknown. Ever hear of Dart Energy (DEGEF), IGas Energy (IGESF) or Egdon Resources? Didn’t think so.
But the U.K.’s vast appeal and profit potential hasn’t gone unnoticed from some of the big boys on the block.
Widely held energy stocks like Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Norway’s Statoil (STO) have recently expressed interest in and bid on acreage auctions in the U.K. But two of best opportunities could be France’s Total (TOT) and BG Group (BRGYY).
Partnering with several smaller energy stocks, TOT recently acquired a 40% stake in two exploration licenses in the gas-rich Gainsborough Trough basin. That region could hold up to 48 Tcf worth of natural gas and has been the site of traditional and conventional drilling for years. That could prove to be successful — as we have seen here in the U.S., many of today’s unconventional superstars were conventional producers back in the day. Overall, TOT will begin seismic testing and horizontal drilling in the region later this year.
As for BG Group, the firm’s main utility parent, Centrica, purchased a 25% stake in the Bowland Basin last June. That puts it in the driver’s seat in tapping that formation’s massive potential. Its smaller partners in the field are some of the only E&P firms approved for fracking at this time.
Fracking in the U.K. is about to take off. Both TOT and BRGYY are the currently the two best energy stocks to play the upcoming revolution.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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