EU reports should 'green-light' shale revolution

A clutch of new reports should finally green-light Europe’s own shale gas revolution - that is, if the EU can refrain from shooting itself in the foot

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Will Europe be left behind in the energy revolution?
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Peter C. Glover
On 24 September 2012 12:37

According to the Energy Information Administration, shale gas could increase the world’s technically recoverable gas resources by a full 40 percent – and that’s a conservative estimate.  If the obvious economic benefits elsewhere don’t thaw the European anti-shale freeze-out, then perhaps a clutch of the EU’s own new reports will.

UK shale advocate, Nick Grealy, takes up the case of how the latest EU reports ought to re-direct shale gas policy.  The three EU reports, published on September 7th, are, says Grealy, “extremely significant”.

He notes how the three reports – covering impact on the energy markets, climate and on local environments – while highlighting the risks (to groundwater etc.) come to the “broad conclusion they can be mitigated” and contain “no smoking guns”. 

Fascinatingly, the reports actually point out that domestic shale gas production would generate fewer emissions than those currently generated through importing Russian and Algerian gas.

The EU reports reveal that the continent’s shale gas resources stand at around 80 percent of those in the U.S. As Grealy points out, that’s “40 years total Western European gas use”. He goes on to highlight other key factors in the EU reports:

- Shale gas development has the potential to see natural gas claim 30 percent of the world’s total primary energy supply by 2525. That is likely to rise to 35 percent by 2040, eclipsing oil as the world’s foremost source of energy.

- Analysts suggest that domestic shale gas production will largely be used within the region it is produced, with no single region producing sufficient to allow it to shift from becoming a net importer to a net exporter.

- Shale gas production has the significant potential of cutting natural gas prices

- Shale gas could induce a significant growth of gas in transportation.

Grealy rightly observes that, above all, these EU reports should help to change “a common public perception” that “we need to take a break and study shale gas development before we can make any decision”.

More than that, if Europe doesn’t green-light its own shale gas revolution and soon, it will find itself well behind the global shale gas development curve – and missing out on an early boost for many of the EU’s ailing economies.

Interestingly, the three EU reports mirror the inherent bias in the European debate on shale gas and fracking: one on key energy and economic impacts, two on environmental impacts.

Yet, in an irony of ironies, the switch from coal to shale gas this year saw the United States out-perform the EU and its regulatory regime in achieving significant carbon emission cuts.

In August, U.S. emissions were reported to have hit a 20-year low with a report at Investors.com attributing the dramatic drop “to a supposedly environmentally unfriendly technique that has created an abundance of cheap natural gas” and acknowledging that “the free market, it seems, does a better job than the Environmental Protection Agency.”

And plainly a better one than EU regulations, I might add.

Peter C Glover is the International Associate Editor, Energy Tribune and a writer & author on international affairs. For more: www.petercglover.com

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