EU hesitates over shale gas exploration

By Jade Tinslay 

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As Poland prepares to fully exploit its shale gas reserves, the rest of the EU watches with interest following a spate of controversy in which campaigners across Europe called for a moratorium. The resolute message was that, until further research into the environmental and economic impacts of the technology had been conducted, opposition to fracking plans would be rife.
However, the UK recently saw MPs give the go-ahead for drilling their own shale deposits, with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) preparing to issue more licences around the country. 
The British Geological Survey estimates that onshore shale gas could supply 1.5 years of the UK’s total gas needs, with an economic worth of approximately £28 billion. It has been speculated that offshore resources could be even larger, although more costly to recover.
However, the UK is believed to have significantly fewer shale gas deposits than Poland (although it does have a lesser reliance on gas imports) and, hence, the UK’s shale plans are unlikely to be “game changers.” Interestingly, many other countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands are all suspected to contain commercially viable deposits too. 
Unfortunately for these countries, the relatively new resource is proving much disputed in Europe, with pro-nuclear France banning shale gas production on its territory altogether. 
Accusations against the technology include poisoning water supplies, producing copious volumes of green house gasses, destabilising the landscape, and stealing investment from renewable and nuclear technologies. To me, this definitely does not appear to support the EU’s plans for a more sustainable future. 
However, the industry itself resolutely blames bad practice for any negative repercussions -not the actual process. Despite this, there are still many other complications that the technology could face:
A common issue is thinly spread shale deposits which typically ‘dry out’ quickly and make exploitation far more costly than conventional gas. The geology of shale also fluctuates widely from location to location, spelling additional time and money developing appropriate drilling technology or connections to pipeline infrastructure for the more inaccessible resources. 
Nevertheless, Europe stands to gain much in the long run; namely a lessening dependence on energy superpower Russia for gas imports, a welcome boost to the EU’s energy security and increased feedstock for the chemical industry. Sadly, this does not negate other countries damning suspicions, which remain obstinately sceptical about the future of shale gas in Europe.

Jade Tinslay has been  with ICIS for a week’s work experience. She attends Wallington High School for Girls

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