Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Analysis

Public opinion stands in way of EU shale gas revolution

  • Oil and gas firms face a bumpy ride over shale gas (Photo: Jan Slangen)

If the oil and gas industry thought that a US-style shale gas revolution would seamlessly find its way across the Atlantic, it has had a rude awakening. Getting public support for fracking in Europe risks descending into a street-fight between industry and environmental NGOs.

The UK government has been particularly gung-ho in its attitude to shale gas drilling, offering generous tax incentives to companies for fracking.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

For their part, a number of drilling companies have promised that residents living near drilling sites will share in the profits, with plans to offer at least £100,000 (€116,000) to each community close to an exploratory well, of which there are likely to be thousands, together with a 1 percent cut of any profits if the well produces gas.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne have become enthusiastic cheerleaders for natural gas drilling as they bid to be Europe's first country to emulate the US shale gas revolution.

Gas prices have more than halved, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created in America. Research carried out by The Economist estimates that the booming natural gas sector has added more than 1 percent to US GDP.

The north of England is also set to become the UK's first fracking hub, after a survey in June by the British Geological Survey estimated that 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas reserves lay beneath the rocks of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Put into context, that is twice the estimated size of US reserves, while extracting just 10 percent of this would be enough to meet the gas needs of the UK for more than 40 years. For a country that currently imports 80 percent of its gas, this is serious stuff.

Meanwhile, a recent report published by the Institute of Directors, a leading, London-based think tank, estimated that investment in shale could peak at £3.7 billion a year, supporting 74,000 jobs.

A boom could also "generate significant tax revenue" for a government which is now eyeing up what it hopes could be an energy bonanza to rival the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1980s.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph earlier this month, Cameron could not have been clearer, warning opponents that "if we don't back this technology, we will miss a massive opportunity to help families with their bills and make our country more competitive."

But while you might expect a swell of public support for anything that promises to reduce utility bills, many are sceptical.

A survey by pollsters ICM found that 44 percent of Britons felt that the country should drill for shale gas. with 26 percent opposed.

However, when asked whether they would be comfortable with fracking near to their home, opinion was split down the middle - 40 percent opposed, 40 percent supportive and 20 percent undecided. In other words: don't frack in my back yard.

Earlier this month, anti-fracking campaigners chalked up a notable victory when Caudrilla announced that it was suspending plans to carry out drilling operations in Balcombe, on the English south coast, over fears that their site would be overrun by protestors.

If nothing else, the state of debate in the UK is a microcosm of why Europe is unlikely to see a shale gas boom comparable to that in the US.

For one thing, a number of EU countries, including the UK, are very densely populated. Drilling is therefore more intrusive for more people.

In contrast, well organised nimbyism, together with mobilised environmental campaign groups, are less of a factor in a country as large and with such a long history of oil and gas drilling as the US.

Moreover, environmental protection regulation is stricter across Europe than it is in the US. Nor is the regulatory framework as fragmented between local, state and federal level as in the states, where the industry also carries a lot of political lobbying muscle through candidate campaign contributions.

The process of fracking - or "hydraulic fracturing" - is probably the most controversial aspect of shale gas exploration.

Fracking involves the fracturing of various rock layers by a pressurized liquid using a well-bore hundreds of meters underground which allows natural gas to be extracted from the rock.

Critics argue that fracking causes earthquakes, pollutes the water supply and uses huge amounts of water. The NGO Food and Water watch told this website that up to 20 million gallons of water are used per well, of which between 25 and 75 percent comes back up to the surface.

To Kent Moors, Professor at Duquesne university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the main hubs of the US natural gas industry, shale gas extraction doesn't have to be a zero-sum game of serious environmental degradation in exchange for lower gas prices.

"If we get to a point where we have to decide whether to provide clean water for our children or stay warm then we've already lost," he told this website, adding that "if companies can't solve the adverse environmental impacts then they shouldn't be drilling."

It seems clear that the oil and gas industry in Europe is going to have to do a lot more work to convince public opinion than its US counterparts.

In particular, they need to calm fears about the chemicals used in the fracking process and the waste water that is left behind. One big step they could take would be to reduce or eliminate entirely the use of dangerous chemicals, such as Glutaraldehyde, Petroleum Distillate and Ethylene Glycol, which often contain cancer causing agents.

For the moment, it is uncertain whether a middle ground can be found in a debate which risks become polarised between drill-happy industry enthusiasts and environmental campaigners who want a flat-out ban on fracking and on developing any new means of energy production that is not renewable.

But it increasingly clear that - to Europeans, at least - advocates of shale gas extraction need to do more to assuage public fears that fracking will not cause long-term environmental damage.

Without public support, the gas will stay underground.

Opinion

We need an honest debate on shale gas

The debate on shale gas is reaching hysterical proportions. It is high time to have a frank, open and honest debate that acknowledges both the merits and drawbacks of shale gas, writes Roderick Kefferpütz.

EU ditches plan to regulate on shale gas

The EU commission has backed away from regulating shale gas extraction, leaving national governments in charge on the controversial practice.

News in Brief

  1. Sánchez and Podemos agree coalition deal in Madrid
  2. Three new commissioner-designates pass legal scrutiny
  3. ECJ: EU countries must label Israeli settlement products
  4. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  5. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  6. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  7. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  8. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax

Planned German coal exit boosts case for Nord Stream 2

German commission recommends phasing out coal power over the next 19 years - which will provide additional arguments to build the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which both the European Commission and the US have reservations about.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Catalan MEP is 'elected', court advisor says
  2. Pro-Israeli group scores own goal on EU retail labels
  3. New commissioners clear 'conflict of interests' hurdle
  4. Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice
  5. What does Macron really want on Western Balkans?
  6. Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority
  7. EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture
  8. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us