Learning Lessons In Unlikely Places

Todd Shriber
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There is an interesting item posted in the news section of OilSlick (posted on Wednesday) regarding plans by Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, to expand its shale gas footprint in Poland. The full story, which is brief, can be found (HERE). Obviously, stories of Western oil giants looking to new and unusual places to boost reserves and profits are not new. Write enough of them as I have and after a while, it feels like all that changes is the company and the country.

Still, it is stimulating work, but there is something particularly stimulating about Poland and it is not so much that Chevron (CVX) is looking to expand its footprint there. Nor is it the fact that Exxon Mobil (XOM) and ConocoPhillips (COP), the other two members of the Three Musketeers of the U.S. oil business, are also evaluating projects in the Eastern European country.

What's truly interesting is the lesson the U.S. can take away from this news. You see, Poland has problem very similar to that of the U.S. Like so many other countries in Eastern Europe, Poland is dependent on Russia for the bulk of its natural gas supplies. Think of the U.S. depending on Venezuela for oil imports, which we do as the South American country was the fifth-largest exporter of crude to the U.S. in February. Of course, Venezuela is just one example. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others.

Ruffle Hugo Chavez's feathers enough and he could just decide to ship oil bound for the U.S. somewhere else. Similarly, Russia has been known to halt gas shipments to Eastern European nations to prove a political point. So what is the big difference between the U.S. and Poland? Poland is actually doing something to break its dependence on Russian gas. Poland may have up to 5.2 trillion cubic meters of shale gas, or enough to power the country for 300 years and make it a net exporter of the fuel, Bloomberg News reported. France outlaws fracking? Poland does not care. The country is not in the European Union and apparently sees fracking as a small price to pay for breaking free of Russia's energy shackles.

It is not just Poland that is attempting to do something about the shadow Russia casts over its energy needs. Chevron also has shale gas properties in Bulgaria and Ukraine. Obviously, none of these countries have an economy or an oil addiction like we have here in the U.S., but if they can move toward energy independence, the U.S. should be able to do the same thing.

In what might be considered an odd twist of fate, news of Chevron's foray into Poland came on the same the day the Senate voted down a proposal to expand offshore drilling. It would appear that some lessons still need to be learned the hard way.