Almost nine-tenths of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. is now produced domestically, and shale gas now makes up a healthy 16% of America’s domestic gas production. By 2035 the share will have risen to 47% of growing demand for gas in the U.S. So shale gas is becoming a major contributor to America’s energy security. But what about the EU?
Shale gas is a global phenomenon. A new IEA study concludes that technically recoverable shale gas amounts to 5,760 Trillion cubic feet (Tcf) globally. In two of the 23 countries where its potential is seen as considerable, France has a potential of 180 Tcf and Poland 187 Tcf, with the EU’s total potential amounting to 480 Tcf. Add in Norway with 83 Tcf and Ukraine with 42 Tcf and Europe’s potential from shale gas amounts to 216 times the present German yearly consumption of natural gas.
Technical improvements in recovery mean that the potential for shale gas in Europe is both large and rising. But what is the reality of shale gas in Europe? In France, the Senate passed a bill in mid-2011 forbidding the exploration and extraction of shale gas using hydraulic fracturing, the most widely used technique. Some shale gas supporters in France even interpreted the bill as a victory, as the French Socialists and Greens had called for a complete ban.
The potential of shale gas and Europe’s growing demand for gas as a result of EU climate policy, together with the deployment of ever more intermittent sources of renewable energy, make a pragmatic approach more necessary than ever. The environmental issues arising from the recovery of shale gas must undoubtedly be taken seriously, but at the same time there is no form of energy, not even renewable energy, that can be described as unproblematic.
Politics is the process of weighing pros and cons, and this has to be done in an open and transparent manner that involves the voting public. The benefits for the EU in terms of security of supply also have to be taken into account, not least because of the Arab spring and developments in North Africa, and thus the possibility of another gas crisis. Calls for a complete ban on shale gas extraction are therefore premature and risky, especially when made without consideration of technological progress. Whether or not shale gas will contribute to Europe´s energy security depends on the outcome of an increasingly fraught political process.