Looking to expand shale-based oil production outside of its home country of France, where the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing drilling is banned, Total SA (ADR) (NYSE:TOT) (EPA:FP) announced it was purchasing a 40% stake in two U.K. oil exploration areas. Total’s partner IGAS Energy PLC (LON:IGAS) (OTCMKTS:IGESF), which holds 14.5% of the permits to explore in the area, will be the operator of the exploration project.
Total’s fracking business
The $47 million payments for exploration rights to Dart Energy Ltd (ASX:DTE) (OTCMKTS:DEGEF) make Paris-based Total SA (ADR) (NYSE:TOT) (EPA:FP) the largest oil company to enter the U.K. fracking business, according to a report by Bloomberg. Total’s stock price fell by just over 1% on the news, while Dart climbed 18%.
The move by Total SA (ADR) (NYSE:TOT) (EPA:FP), the largest oil producer to date to enter this market, makes clear a decision to more aggressively move into markets outside France. The Total deal is the second largest shale deal in the U.K. by a French company, following a deal by GDF Suez SA (ADR) (OTCMKTS:GDFZY) (EPA:GSZ) in October to buy a stake in 13 licenses In the U.K.s Bowland Basin from Australia-based Dart. In addition to the U.K., Total is involved in several U.S.-based shale projects, as well as projects in Australia, China, Denmark and Poland.
Hydraulic fracturing drilling, or “fracking,” technology is changing the face of modern energy production. The technology works by fracturing rock using a pressurized liquid to access oil and gas in previously difficult to access drilling areas.
Changing shift in energy production
While the technology is controversial – environmentalists blame the technique for tainting well water and even causing a rise in earthquakes – it represents a game-changing shift in energy production. The US, for instance, recently passed Russia as the largest natural gas producer in 2009 because of the rpaid growth of fracking projects. There are one million US jobs tied to fracking and 2.5 million jobs worldwide tied to the practice, according to George King in his 2012 paper on Hydraulic Fracturing, put out by the Society of Petroleum Engineers. The technology has been a boon for local economies as well, prompting certain sovereign governments to provide incentives for exploration. Bloomberg reports that Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged millions of pounds to local government to encourage such investments. The UK government has also pledged tax cuts to spur exploration. In the U.K., the Bowland area is particularly strategic, as the British Geographical Survey says it may hold up to 1,300 trillion cubic fee of natural gas – enough to meet U.K. demand for almost 50 years.