Maria van der Hoeven: Responsible shale industry ‘would thrive’

Explorers must address social and environmental concerns over shale gas extraction if the unconventional fuel is to thrive, the International Energy Agency has said.

Launching a new report by her agency on the issue, IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said the technology was available for environmentally-responsible production of unconventional gas.

However, she warned that “if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks”.

“The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance, and governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place,” she added.

The report, Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, sets out a list of recommended measures to ensure best practice.

These include: full transparency, measuring and monitoring of environmental impacts; engagement with local communities; careful choice of drilling sites and measures to prevent any leaks from wells into nearby aquifers; rigorous assessment and monitoring of water requirements and of waste water; measures to target zero venting and minimal flaring of gas; and improved project planning and regulatory control.

Hoeven said the IEA’s approach had already been endorsed by G8 leaders at their recent Camp David summit.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, the report’s chief author, said the agency estimated that the additional measures could add an extra 7% to the cost of a single shale well, but that this rate would be much lower for a typical larger development.

He said that unconventional gas production could triple to 1.6 trillion cubic metres globally by 2035 if the rules are followed, but that if they are not shale gas production may remain static in future, weakening the ranking of gas in the global energy mix as prices rise.

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