Switzerland is not renowned for the wealth of its natural resources, but a United States oil company has teamed up with a Swiss counterpart to drill for and hopefully exploit natural gas in the north-east of the country.
The consortium between Forest Oil International of Houston, Texas, and Switzerland's SEAG, is confident that the project in the village of Weiach on the German border has a strong commercial future.
Forest Oil has begun an exploratory drilling operation at the site, which is thought to contain natural gas deposits at a depth of 1,300 metres. The result is expected next month and, if successful, the Weiach well could be in production by the end of the year.
"We found traces of gas in a hole drilled by Nagra, the company responsible for nuclear waste," explained SEAG's chairman, Georg Stucky. "They were looking for waste storage sites in Switzerland but didn't find anything suitable in Weiach."
The project is a first in Switzerland because Forest Oil is using a method known as air drilling to bore into the Earth. This is much quieter than the more usual method of motorised drilling and calmed the fears of the local population about noise from the site.
"The site is something special because the drilling rig is 35 metres deep," said Stucky. "It's so far down you can hardly hear a thing on the surface."
If natural gas deposits are found in Weiach, they are not expected to be on the scale of sites in many other countries. But that may not matter too much.
"We are just three kilometres from a pipeline and that's a great advantage," Stucky explained. "The level of production doesn't need to be that big and I think we should get around a million cubic metres per day. That would be a good strike."
by Michael Hollingdale
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