Please note: This blogpost is a reply to the article “Why shale-gas should remain in the ground” by Sonja Peterson.
The energy sector is looking to America: for as shale gas production expands, the USA is becoming increasingly independent of gas and oil imports, and is even striving to export the gas. That is not just a competitive advantage for the American economy; it is also geo-strategically significant. In the last five years the shale gas revolution in the USA has led to a decline in the US gas price of up to 80 percent at its peak, which has created a competitive advantage, especially for energy-intensive companies.
Europe is not America
Even if one cannot expect the same developments in Europe as in the USA with the presumed shale gas deposits, it is important to strive towards a diversified and competitive energy supply. The opportunities and challenges of shale gas production must be investigated and evaluated carefully. But Europe, especially Germany, has just begun research activities in the area of shale gas. At the moment it is still unclear whether the presumed shale gas deposits can even be produced in a manner that is commercially viable and ecologically sound, and whether they can be confirmed. Just recently companies in Poland ended their activities and put a considerable damper on Poland’s euphoria.
Research must be possible
However, those who denounce a possible production of unconventional natural gas right from the beginning owing to the hotly debated use of hydraulic fracturing ignores future opportunities and technological advancements. Intense research is necessary to secure energy resources for the coming decades. That may also include shale gas, which cannot, however, simply be extracted at the push of a button. It requires preparations lasting up to a decade. If shale gas production could be turned on and off like a gas power station, the debate would be conducted differently. But that is not the case. Hence, Europe must not turn its back on research, but should weigh up all the arguments objectively and create a legal framework in which safe and reliable shale gas production is possible. This task falls to both the European Commission and all Member States. The British government has recognized this and given the green light for the exploration for new shale gas deposits.
Dialog is important
The public debate is highly emotional. Fracking is a conflict-laden energy policy issue, feared almost as much as nuclear energy – at least in Germany. Hence, a more objective debate on the production of unconventional gas deposits is urgently required. That requires the support of policy-makers, but also a greater commitment from natural gas producers. They must take the concerns of the citizens seriously, explain what they are planning and involve them in all stages of the planning. If this can be achieved, there will not be a gas revolution in Europe based on the American model, but a reliable and responsible energy supply.