European shale gas production could hit 35 billion cubic metres a year by 2020 – but this would require 4000 wells to be drilled a year, according to a new report.

Consultants Douglas Westwood said that Poland and the UK could be the market leaders in the shale boom, accounting for 11 billion cm and 2 billion cm respectively.

The report states that although the US will continue to dominate the sector, with 2010 production totalling 136 billion cm, there will be “rapid development” in Europe, Asia, Australasia and, particularly, China.

“China has a very optimistic and forthright attitude to any kind of economic development and its does not have the same issues from a regulatory viewpoint as Europe does,” said report author Joseph Dutton. “The potential in China is huge.”

He added that the reserves of 35 billion cm in Europe could only be realised if 4,000 wells a year were drilled, “with around 800 drilling rigs operating”. He said the cost of running these wells could be up to $15 million each.

As well as cost concerns, Dutton said the major barrier to shale expansion in Europe was concern over fracking, the method by which the gas is extracted. France has banned it and Germany is wary, but he adds that with the EU presidency currently with Poland – which is believed to have Europe’s largest shale reserves – a pro-fracking agenda was being pushed across member states.

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