A Primer on Shale Gas: Breaking Things Down for Policymakers

As shale basins appear to be emerging across Europe, government officials and policymakers in Brussels are struggling to grasp the concepts associated with unconventional gas. 

 

In his address to delegates at the European Unconventional Gas Forum in Krakow, Poland, Michael Engell-Jensen, Executive Director at International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, suggested getting away from the expression “unconventional gas.” 

 

He explained, “It’s not helpful to policy makers, and we’re trying to get away from using it.”

 

Engell-Jensen pledged to give an example of what his organization was saying to regulators, policy makers and politicians around Europe. “We have introduced them to some of the production techniques: horizontal drilling, which maximizes without drastic footprint; and hydraulic fracturing.”

 

The Association, he said, had about 75 members, and a management committee.

 

“It’s got a load of service companies as well, and we discuss best practice, standards and procedures that we adhere to. A number of committees are focused on things like communications and HSE,” he explained.

 

 “There’s sizable potential around Europe,” he said of unconventional gas, including CBM, tight gas and shale. “There’s real prospectivity.”

 

He spoke of protection of groundwater. “It’s never happened that fracks have propagated through the strata,” said Engell-Jensen. “The US government has issued reports that that’s never happened. If you have a well integrity failure and there’s a botched cement job, it could affect an aquifer that way. 

 

“We know how to mitigate that risk,” he added. “There are procedures for dealing with that.”

 

He cited a problem that had happened in the US: fracturing fluids spilling into rivers.

 

“Take it through in more detail to show that water contamination doesn’t occur,” he suggested. “We’re not using oil based drilling fluids when drilling through the aquifer. You can see that you have full coverage of the cement, an extra precaution taken by the industry.”

 

In terms of well casing and cementing integrity, he said: “One of the principals of the industry is to have barriers in the well, mechanical barriers as well. It’s an important message to get through to them.”

 

He said his organization had taken policymakers through the history of hydraulic fracturing.

 

“It’s highly tested technology. No government reports have found instances of contaminated groundwater. Wellbore integrity ensures that the fluids don’t get into the aquifers. And fracking fluid is mostly water and sand,” he added.

 

Mr. Engell-Jensen noted that in Europe chemicals were regulated by “REACH.” “There’s some debate in the EC in how REACH should be operated going forward.”

 

He explained that even if the chemicals used in fracking fluid had been registered according to REACH, there were some who questioned what those chemicals’ effects were when they were mixed together. Engell-Jensen admitted voluntary disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluid was a sensitive issue.

 

In terms of water use he contended that shale gas production was one of the most water efficient sources of energy, especially when compared to coal. Produced water, he said, was often used in a later stage of production to minimize impact on local water supply.

 

“The industry is committed to treating flowback water and disposing of it in the proper way,” he said. “We’ve got procedures to make sure contamination doesn’t happen.”

 

He pointed out the possibility of drilling up to 8 wells from a single well pad, maximizing reservoir access. In terms of trucks and dust, he suggested not transporting fracking fluids. “You can also choose your sweet spot very effectively, so there are ways of minimizing the footprint,” said Engell-Jensen.

 

He challenged the assertion of  Robert Howarth from Cornell Univeristy who, according to the results of a study, contends that the greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas are greater than that of coal.

 

This is not correct,” he said. “Gas is actually 60% cleaner than coal - the opposite of what the professor was saying.”

 

“It will become a big issue in the UK and it’s something we have to concentrate on.”

 

Will Europe differ from US? asked Mr. Engell-Jensen, who commented:  “The geology is different, and in terms of the subsurface ownership, Europeans won’t get massive paychecks. 

 

“What the European Commission has said was ‘We’re very happy with the regulatory regimes for exploration, but when you’re going into production we need to have discussions.’”

 


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