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Rising gas use may spark new industry in Switzerland

Switzerland could soon become a producer of natural gas, if domestic consumption continues to grow. Gas usage reached record levels in 1999, leading to speculation that it may soon be viable for Switzerland to begin exploiting its untapped reserves.

This content was published on February 1, 2000 - 14:52

Switzerland could soon become a producer of natural gas, if domestic consumption continues to grow. Gas usage reached record levels in 1999, leading to speculation that it may soon be viable for Switzerland to begin exploiting its untapped reserves.

Historically, it has not made economic sense for Switzerland to produce its own natural gas. But that may be about to change, following an increase in the number of households being fitted with gas heating.

The Swiss Gas Industry Association said gas consumption rose by 3.5 per cent last year to around three billion cubic metres.

Patrick Lahusen, vice-chairman of Seag, a major gas exploratory company, says the figures suggest gas production may have a future in Switzerland after all.

"Switzerland is our home market," he said, "and we're happy that the market is growing. Prices are high for the moment and this gives us an impetus. For the moment the market looks good."

However, Lahusen added that exploration and drilling projects take three to five years to complete, and prices in cannot be predicted so far in advance.

Natural gas currently provides 11 per cent of Switzerland's energy needs and all of it is imported. Germany is the main supplier, accounting for 57 per cent of imports.

Switzerland's reserves are situated in a belt between the Jura mountains and the Alps and stretching from Lake Constance to Geneva.

Lahusen said the main problem is getting the gas out of the extremely dense, or low-porous rock. Until the development of new technology, it wasn't economically viable to try to exploit these reserves. But that has now changed.

Seag is planning a drilling project this summer at Weiach in Canton Zurich using a technique which replaces heavy mud drilling by air.

"If the market continues the way it is," says Lahusen, "it might be commercial. We think a volume of about 400-500 million cubic metres per well is economically viable. From what we've seen there's a good possibility that we'll find a couple of billion cubic metres of gas."

By Paul Sufrin

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