Unnoticed by the general public, one of the first European shale gas wells was drilled in Poland in 20091. In the USA, where the shale revolution originated and has been well underway since the mid-2000s2, a heated debate about the topic was already raging. It is not only a debate about inflammable tap water, energy security, global climate change and gas prices, but also one which lays bare the entangled web between industry and politics.
This debate has now reached Brussels, where the European Parliament (EP) and other EU institutions have been besieged by the big players from the oil and gas industry. ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Statoil, Shell, PGNiG, Total, OMV and co. are not only trying to downplay the devastating environmental and social effects of shale gas development, but are also seeking to brand gas as a climate-friendly energy option for a low-carbon future.
Avoiding a regulatory framework for shale gas at the EU level is at the top of the industry's wish list. Backed up by their government, Polish Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are trying to paint a rosy picture of shale gas development, hoping for more energy independence from Russia.
This report maps corporate lobbying in the current battle around shale gas in the EU. The European Parliament is expected to vote later this month on two reports on whether shale gas should be regulated, marking the end of the first round of the lobby battle in Brussels.
Shale gas and hydraulic fracturing
The term unconventional gas generally refers to shale gas, but also includes tight gas and coal gas (coalbed) methane. Shale gas is natural gas trapped in shale rock formations, which makes it hard to recover. The exploitation of these resources has only become possible thanks to the combination of two technologies: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. In order to extract shale gas, an enormous quantity of water containing chemicals is pumped into the well, in order to “frack” or fracture the shale bed and push the gas to the surface3.
Most of this toxic cocktail remains underground where it poses a potential danger to the water table. The rest flows back as waste water which can be contaminated with radioactive substances, depending on the local geology. Shale gas is therefore a lot more harmful to the environment than conventional natural gas4.
In Europe, Poland and France have the largest estimated shale gas resources, and the UK, Sweden and Germany are thought to have significant reserves5. Yet there is general agreement that Europe is unlikely to experience the kind of boom seen in the US, which has become a net exporter of gas due to shale gas exploitation. European resources of unconventional gas are seen as at best compensating for the decline in conventional gas production, limited in part by the different geology, legislation and also by higher population density6.
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French translation available here
- 1. International Energy Agency: Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas. World Energy Outlook. Special Report on Unconventional Gas, May 2012, p. 124, available at: www.worldenergyoutlook.org/goldenrules/#d.en.27023
- 2. Kefferpütz, Roderick: Shale Gas Fever: Replicating the US gas revolution in the EU?, CEPS Policy Brief No. 210, Brussels, June 2010, p.2, available at: www.ceps.eu/book/shale-fever-replicating-us-gas-revolution-eu
- 3. Friends of the Earth Europe: Unconventional and unwanted. The case against shale gas, Brussels, September 2012, available at: www.foeeurope.org/foee-unconventional-and-unwanted-the-case-against-shal...
- 4. Food and Water Watch: Fracking: The new global water crisis, Washington, March 2012, available at: www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/fracking-the-new-global-water-crisis-e...
International Energy Agency: Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas. World Energy Outlook. Special Report on Unconventional Gas, May 2012, p. 124, available at: www.worldenergyoutlook.org/goldenrules/#d.en.27023
- 6. International Energy Agency: Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas. World Energy Outlook. Special Report on Unconventional Gas, 2012, p. 120-130, available at: www.worldenergyoutlook.org/goldenrules/#d.en.27023