A quick round-up on shale gas, in the UK and a couple of bigger-picture developments.
Firstly, while UK shale is looking as prospective as ever - indeed, another new discovery has been announced - activity levels are hardly frenetic. In particular, Cuadrilla has voluntarily suspended drilling in Lancashire in the wake of (a) accepting it caused two tiny tremors, and (b) having achieved what it really wanted to, namely boosting its own value by announcing what it has found already. Their interests are clear: they'll be selling out as soon as a decent price is on the table from one of the majors with the capacity to conduct proper production operations.
Yes, Cuadrilla is purely an exploration company - a very small one. And it shows: read this account of their inept handling of the locals in Sussex, where they'd like to drill in another exploration-licence area. (They have even contrived to screw up a big presentation to the rather favourably-inclined Energy Institute.) Good drillers they may be, but the PR side of things is completely beyond them and they are being left to twist in the wind by the rest of the industry.
Why ? Firstly, because right now there is absolutely no shortage of gas available, and prices are set to fall as recession kicks in. Secondly, and rather cynically, every boot applied to Cuadrilla's shins reduces the cost of buying them out in due course. There's no hurry for the majors: that gas has been under the ground for a while and it's quite safe where it is.
So - barring war in the Gulf, don't expect anything more than sporadic activity on the home front.
Elsewhere, though, there are some interesting straws in the wind. In France, there is a moratorium on shale gas exploration, but Total (effectively the French national oil company) is not impressed. They will eventually get to work on the politicians in France; and meanwhile are piling $2.3 billion into US shale, to gain both technology and experience.
Perhaps even more interesting is the evolution of Gazprom's position. For the past couple of years and with obvious motivation they have been vocal opponents of shale (always amusing to hear of their 'environmental concerns'); but to avid Kremlin-watchers a Board meeting at the end of November marked a subtle shift, following which they ran ran a section on their website (since taken down) hosting a range of perfectly balanced views on shale from various commentators.
Did anyone really expect Total or Gazprom to get left behind on a gas industry development as important as this ? All the big players will be there when the time - and the money - is right.