By Boguslaw Sonik - 12th October 2012
The technology is available and is being constantly improved but even at its current level it is enough to satisfy strict European requirements and provide for a safe, environmentally friendly and profitable exploitation
Misconceptions label shale gas as dangerous, when it is actually a highly valuable and efficient source of energy that should be exploited, argues Boguslaw Sonik
Finally, as the dust settles after receiving a number of studies from the European commission, reports from European parliament committees and being able to raise popular awareness on the topic, we may have a more level headed discussion on the prospects of shale gas exploitation in Europe.
In reality, extracting shale gas is not that much different from any other form of gas exploitation and the utilised technology is not anything absolutely new, as some of those opposing the idea would like to view it. On the contrary, the technology has been around for roughly 60 years and thanks to its successful development the extraction has become commercially profitable.
Shale gas extraction was able to lower CO2 emissions in the US, although it was not the reason for developing its extraction there. It was, in fact, due to the dynamics of the market and the appearance of cheap shale gas was responsible for a significant drop in the consumption of coal which has been shipped to Europe. The effect was that within the last five years the shale-booming US were able to bring down their CO2 emissions by 450 million tonnes. This type of gas, which has the same qualities as the gas we are using, is becoming the US energy sector’s favourite fuel.
What is nurturing misconceptions about shale gas is clutching it in one hand while holding renewable energy in the other, presenting them together and telling us that we must choose between then. That gives a strong but completely inaccurate picture. It is obvious, and has been stated in documents such as the ‘Energy Roadmap 2050’, that our ultimate aim is reaching a sustainable energy generation from renewable sources and reducing emissions at the same time. What some do not wish to accept, is the fact that if shale gas is temporarily added to European energy mix, it can bring obvious benefits to both the member states and their citizens, facilitating the transition to renewable and a decarbonised energy sector in Europe. Also a recently published study by the commission on the climate impact of shale gas, directly recognises the fact that producing shale gas in Europe can diminish the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere in comparison to importing gas over long distances. Fortunately, risks connected with fluid used in the process of fracturing rock formations can be safely controlled. This fluid is comprised mostly of water and sand, with around two per cent of chemicals added. We have reached a situation of full transparency of operations, the obligation to declare the content and concentration of chemicals in hydraulic fracking fluids and minimising the use of toxic substance is an obvious necessity and has to be fully compliant with the existing EU legislation under the European community of regulation on chemicals. Of course that does not allow for anything less than rigorous monitoring and controlling during extraction and applying best available practices and adhering to strict safety standards. It is not fear that brings safety, but precaution
Regarding the safety of groundwater and water reservoirs, rock formations containing shale gas lie well beneath the level at which water reserves would be at risk. The fracturing fluid is injected through a well bore at the depth between two and three kilometers while groundwater usually does not go deeper than several hundred meters. Considering the multiple safety layers covering the drill, the depth of conducted activity and the fact that geology provides sufficient separation of different layers, such risks are extremely slim. Shale gas exploitation is already present and has had impressive success in the US and has already influenced the world energy market, which can also be felt in Europe. The technology is available and is being constantly improved but even at its current level it is enough to satisfy strict European requirements and provide for a safe, environmentally friendly and profitable exploitation. Let us not forget that Europe is going through a crisis, half of its energy resources are imported and demand is growing. Using our own resources can prove economically and environmentally beneficial, as shale gas can be cheaper, more ecological than coal and much safer than nuclear energy.
Boguslaw Sonik is parliament's rapporteur on environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities report