The Paris Oil Shale Basin

Keith Kohl

Written By Keith Kohl

Posted November 23, 2009

Some days, things just don’t go according to plan.

Take this morning. My entire schedule changed within minutes of reaching my desk. All it took was one e-mail from a very confused reader…

Last week, this gentleman was reading about the Bakken oil formation. He soon came across several stories on an emerging European shale play. Believing the two plays to be the same thing, he started to dig around. By the next day, he had become thoroughly mixed-up — yet it wasn’t until this past weekend that he started asking me questions.

Truthfully, I can’t blame him for being confused; it’s quite easy to mix up the two.

You’ll see that the two areas do have some similarities…

The play in question is the Paris Basin oil shale. You’ve probably seen this play come up in the news once or twice. This time they’re looking to develop several shale plays in Europe.

Unfortunately, the Paris Basin may not live up to your expectations.

But before we get into the players, here’s a brief rundown of the Paris Basin.

The Paris Basin Oil Shale

The first exploration well in the Paris Basin was drilled in 1923. Not surprisingly, the well turned out dry.

Thirty years later, a few smaller oil fields were discovered. However, the 1960s proved to be a bust and only about 3% of the wells ended up in commercial production.

It wasn’t until several large fields were discovered by the oil majors in the 1980s that an exploration boom occurred. Utilizing seismic technology, dozens of oil companies started to actively explore the basin. There was even a slight boom in the 1980s.

Most companies experienced little-to-no success. To date, a little more than 800 exploration wells have been drilled in the basin, and approximately 240 million barrels of oil has been recovered.

Not too impressive — by any standard.

However, the advent of horizontal drilling and fracturing has changed the shale game. There’s an estimated 65 billion barrels of oil in the source rock located between the conventional reservoirs of the basin. (Obviously they won’t be able to extract that much.)

We know the problem isn’t whether or not there is oil in the basin… The real difficulty will come from recovering this unconventional crude.

If companies are able to mirror the Bakken’s success, we might have a clue as to what we can expect in France. Within the last few months, Bakken producers have been have tremendous drilling success. Several companies have reported initial production rates between 1,500 and 2,200 barrels of oil per day.

These wells can also come with a hefty price tag. Horizontal wells can cost a few million dollars per well.

Paris Players

So who are the players involved?

The first one that comes to mind is Toreador Resources (NASDAQ: TRGL). The company is developing 649,000 acres in the Paris Basin.

Last week, Toreador announced it started drilling its La Garenne LGA-1D conventional exploration well. Holding a 100% interest in the well, Toreador believes this well is sitting on top of nearly 30 million barrels of oil in place.

Again, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is what is recoverable. Let’s assume that they can pull out 15% (at the most) of the oil. That comes out to about 4.5 million barrels of oil.

As you can see below, shares have performed well, more than doubling since May:

Toreador Resources Chart

Like I said before, this one might be too early to call. Certainly Toreador has had some degree of success. However, it’s nearly impossible to find an oil company that hasn’t exploded since March.

Remember that oil is no longer $30 a barrel. And we’re not going to see prices move from $80/bbl to $100/bbl without some big news on the demand side. Until that demand picks up again, would you really want to take the risk with a speculative oil play in France?

French oil production reached 67,000 barrels per day in the 1980s. That’s less than half of the daily output from the Bakken alone.

At this point, I’d much rather stick with the shale plays directly invested in developing the Bakken. Of course, most of you have already made a small fortune on those plays. For those that haven’t, here’s a good look at one of their secrets.

Until next time,

keith kohl

Keith Kohl

Energy and Capital

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