Shale gas drilling
Shale gas is continuing to cause a media stir as Energy Secretary Ed Davy begins his plans to make shale gas a reality in this lifetime. The overall consensus from those who are pro-shale is that this natural gas production method could be a game-changer for the UK, with ‘could’ being the operative word.
It is relatively easy to look at the remarkable effect that shale gas production has had on the US, but a like-for-like comparison of progress between there and Europe cannot be made. Among the differences are the geology, population density and public acceptance. Shale deposits in the US are shallow and the basins are large, which has enabled horizontal drilling and fracturing to be successful. However, European geology is different and a greater population density poses a challenge to installing the many drilling rigs and wells that are required, within close proximity of each other. This would also include the development of new road and pipeline infrastructure.
Public acceptance has proven to be an important factor on the pace of the progress in any given country. In addition to the environmental impact, the social impacts need to be addressed. In the US, local residents own the mineral rights, which they can sell to make a substantial profit. For example, in New York State, some residents were offered $5500 an acre with 20 percent royalties on whatever gas is extracted. Conversely, in many EU countries, the state owns these rights, leaving local residents with minor benefits and possibly wondering “what is in it for me?”
According to Mόnica Christina, Adviser to Shale Gas Europe, the first step is to build public trust through an open and transparent dialogue about the risks and opportunities. Although it is a huge challenge, it is easily outweighed by the potential benefits, which include attracting investment, creating around 35,000 jobs in the UK alone and increasing the countries competitiveness and generating substantial tax revenues. That said, changes cannot be made overnight, but shale gas is positively positioned as a strong contender as a future energy source in the UK.