Problems with shale gas include drinking water contamination, air pollution, land grabs, heavy water-use, noise pollution and traffic disturbance - claims campaigner
This week, the European Gas Policy Forum 2012
is meeting in Brussels to discuss shale gas's potential contribution to security of supply and climate action. With almost every speaker either an oil industry employee or a known supporter of shale gas, it is not hard to imagine that shale gas exploration will be viewed in a favourable light. But, outside such a closed group of fossil fuel pushers, it is getting harder for the European Union to ignore public resistance to shale gas and mounting evidence about its harmful impacts.
Three studies by different units of the European Commission have found problems with shale gas. A report published last month by the environment directorate general identified
a number of high risks for health and the environment linked to shale gas operations - such as drinking water contamination, air pollution, land grabbing, heavy water-use, noise pollution and traffic disturbance. It also identified numerous gaps in current EU environmental legislation, which inadequately covers many aspects of shale gas extraction and heightens the risks of people being exposed to water contamination and air pollution.
In another report, the directorate general for climate action confirms
that shale gas is more carbon-intensive than conventional gas, and is therefore not a low-carbon energy source and cannot help achieve the EU objective of decarbonising the energy sector by 2050. Even more recently, a German study
on "hydrofracking risk assessment" states that the "global-warming footprint of shale for gas extracted at a depth of 1,000 meters is 30 per cent larger, and is twice as large for gas obtained 2,500 meters down, compared to the natural gas currently used in Germany".
A recent study from the joint research centre also dampens the alleged economic benefits that shale gas is supposed to bring to Europe, stating "shale gas production will not make Europe self-sufficient in natural gas" as "the best-case scenario for shale gas development in Europe is only one in which declining conventional production can be replaced, and import dependence maintained at a level around 60 per cent". In September, MEPs on the European Parliament Environment, Public Health and Safety Committee voted in support of a report recognising the high risks shale gas poses for people's health and the environment. The document outlines the need to strengthen the EU regulatory framework to make sure the highest environmental standards are in place.
Despite the clear case against shale gas, there has been little action towards a ban on its exploration. Unfortunately, the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee voted in favour of a report citing shale gas as a necessary fuel for energy security. The committee took the view that shale gas can contribute to EU climate objectives, while recommending a robust regulatory framework. Numerous non-government and civil society organisations all across Europe, as well as the European Green Party, are campaigning against shale gas extraction and production. Local opposition to shale gas is spreading. A global day of protest, called 'Global Frackdown' took place on September 22 and saw tens of thousands of citizens in more than 20 European countries calling for a stop to the development of the shale gas industry.
However, too many European representatives seem to be out of touch with their voters on this issue. Evidence and public opinion are stacking up in favour of a blanket ban on this fuel that is not only environmentally damaging in its own right, but also diverts
investment away from low-carbon and renewable energy sources. If we proceed down the shale gas path - Europe will be gambling on a dangerous extractive process, generating higher greenhouse gas emissions, further constraining itself with fossil-fuel dependency and scuppering its chances of sustainable, renewable energy – all for the sake of vested interests in the fossil fuel industry.
Events like the European Gas Policy Forum 2012 cannot continue to ignore citizens and science. There may be only one environmentalist speaking at this week's conference but the voices of those concerned about shale gas are growing. The dangers of shale gas will have to be recognised and the brakes put on this high-risk, unnecessary technology. Our latest report r
ecommends that Europe permanently closes its doors to unconventional and unwanted fossil fuels like shale gas
, and embraces a low-carbon energy model, based on renewable energy and improved energy savings.
Antoine Simon is shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe