Shale gas and the technology used to extract it – hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ – has become a great controversy in the last couple of years. Shale gas is promoted as a safe, clean energy source that can help Europe increase its energy security and provide an affordable transition to a low carbon economy. But, as the US experience has shown, serious environmental and human health concerns continue to dog shale gas drilling. Chief among these are threats to groundwater quality, concerns about how much water is needed, worries over fracking’s impacts on air quality and its stimulation of earthquakes and its potential impact on climate change, which could be comparable to coal.
There are also concerns about the impact of shale gas on sustainable and clean energy, and more particularly about the pressure it will exert on investments in renewables. Given its high carbon intensity, the scale of expansion and level of investment needed, it is not clear how shale gas could ever be a ‘transition fuel’ as claimed by the industry and its supporters, but that it will instead lock us in to a future of fossil fuel use. At the same time it is becoming ever clearer that we will exceed the Earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases (GHGs) long before we run out of fossil fuels. Meeting the EU’s target of less than two degrees Celsius of global warming depends on burning less than a quarter of the proven reserves of fossil fuels by 2050.
This briefing will examine some of the uncertainties around shale gas, including the gaps in existing EU legal and regulatory frameworks, the realities of enforcing an effective regulatory framework, the cost pressures, and the influence of the shale gas lobby. It will also examine the implications of European support for shale gas on the global energy picture, in particular on the impacts in developing countries. In that perspective, this briefing will argue shale gas cannot contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular the goal to achieve environmental sustainability.
(Text extracted from the publication's introduction)