The shale gas boom could be “halted in its tracks” unless the energy industry wins public trust on the environmental and social issues surrounding it, the International Energy Agency warned today.
Speaking in London today, IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said: “The technology and the know-how already exist for unconventional gas to be produced in an environmentally acceptable way.
“But if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks. The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance; governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place.”
The IEA today issued what it dubbed the ‘Golden Rules’ to bring about a ‘golden age’ for unconventional gas. These are: full transparency; measuring and monitoring of environmental impacts and engagement with local communities; careful choice of drilling sites and measures to prevent any leaks from wells into nearby aquifers; rigorous assessment and monitoring of water requirements and of waste water; measures to target zero venting and minimal flaring of gas; and improved project planning and regulatory control.
IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said: “If this new industry is to prosper, it needs to earn and maintain its social license to operate. This comes with a financial cost, but in our estimation the additional costs are likely to be limited.”
He said applying the ‘golden rules’ could increase the cost of a typical shale gas well by around 7 per cent, but, for a larger development project with multiple wells, investment in measures to reduce environmental impacts may in many cases be offset by lower operating costs.
Shale gas has transformed the energy industry in the US and many countries around the world are keen to jump on the bandwagon. In Europe, Poland is the biggest pro-shale nation – unsurprising given the country holds the largest European reserves.
However, concern over ‘fracking’, the process by which the gas is extracted, have resulted in bans on exploration in several countries, including France, Germany and Bulgaria.