By Jeremy Bowden

By Jeremy Bowden

It is early days for the shale gas industry, a stage when development tends to incur major environmental and social disruption. But that has not been the case with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas recovery, despite the associated technology remaining in its infancy. As the sector matures and innovation accelerates there is enormous potential for even cleaner and cheaper development.

The fracking industry has brought an ample supply of clean fuel, low energy prices, energy security, jobs, improved trade balances and industrial growth to the United States, without loss of life or major incident, and yet it faces extraordinary scrutiny from environmentalists and vested interests – especially in Europe, where apart from a few glimpses in Poland, the shale gas remains in the ground.

If Europe is to see similar benefits to North America, such objections need to be dealt with carefully and thoroughly, to protect the environment and starve opponents of ammunition. The environmental argument for more gas – highlighted by current falling coal use in the US and rising use in Europe – must be won, and the great story of what shale gas can bring to Europe must be shouted from the rooftops.

Europe’s stagnating and resource-poor economy needs the benefits shale gas development can provide even more than the United States, but only the highest operational standards can be acceptable in such a heavily populated and sensitive region, which will stretch the innovative capabilities of companies focused on the sector.

Those companies are ready and confident they can meet the challenges, minimising environmental risks and impact and avoiding any incident that could lead to populist political rejection. Far more than even driving a car, the risks are trivial compared to the benefits, but this must be ensured and given chance to gain general acceptance.

The power of large and small innovative private companies can address the environmental challenges of shale gas development, enabling even the toughest regulations to be met, just as they drove the technology that led to the unlocking of shale gas over the last twenty years in North America.

As Poland’s PKN Orlen puts it: “Breakthrough technologies and revolutionary innovations ultimately reduce costs and win the economic competition by providing alternative solutions, a fact consistently proven by each ground-breaking invention in the energy sector”. The comments were made by CEO Jacek Krawiec, in a recent report by the company on technology in the energy sector.

One message was clear from the latest Society of Petroleum Engineers unconventional conference (the home of shale gas innovators) in the US last July – even in the US, the shale revolution is only just beginning thanks to technological advances. And those advances are not only protecting the environment and cutting costs, but are also continuing to expand recoverable reserves year by year – from 100 years gas consumption in the US at current rates in 2012 to 110 years this year.  As technology advances more rock types can be tapped and more distant reserves can be reached, while more of what is in existing wells becomes recoverable.

Energy Transformation’s report on innovation in Shale Gas, “Harnessing Innovation to Make Unconventional Gas Conventional” will be released on November 25th in Brussels. Register here.