Several years ago I wrote a blog titled: so up in arms about shale gas. At the time, I was exploring whether I was for or against drilling for Shale Gas in the Netherlands. My conclusion was that, above all, the consequences of this drilling needed to be studied better, but that there was a huge economic interest in it. Meanwhile, the shale gas debate in the Netherlands has died down, but I found out from a documentary in early January that by importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States we have actually only shifted the problem. So LNG okay, but not in my backyard...

What is Shale Gas anyway?

Shale refers to a petrified clay layer in the ground at a depth of about 3.5 km. The (natural) gas here, unlike for example the well-known gas bubble in Slochteren, is trapped in a non-porous rock and does not come out on its own. Drilling for this layer is rather difficult and in times of abundant, other, easier to extract resources, therefore economically not profitable either. However, times are changing, reserves are beginning to run out and with the increasing world population and associated prosperity, it is becoming increasingly interesting to drill into these layers. A well is first drilled vertically to about 3 km deep, then continued horizontally (in that layer). Then holes are made in the pipe with explosives, after which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the layer under high pressure. This is called fracking (from the English: hydraulic fracturing).
This creates cracks in the Shale layer where the gas is released and can escape through the well.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

There are a number of concerns:

  • Chemicals are used in fracking. The oil companies are quite secretive about the composition of those chemicals. The composition also determines the success of fracking and thus the competitive position, hence. It is now known that this is not lemonade. Critics fear that the groundwater will be polluted with these chemicals, with all the consequences that would entail.
  • Natural gas in drinking water
  • Large quantities of contaminated water are returned from the well, which must be stored or processed.
  • The origin of earthquakes
  • Horizon pollution (drilling rigs in the landscape)

Since the Netherlands has not yet drilled for Shale Gas, all these alleged dangers are based on experiences from America, reinforced by Josh Fox's documentary Gasland. See burning drinking water in this excerpt from this documentary!

Still wrong, then?

In the United States, shale gas extraction has been on an explosive fast track for several years. So fast, in fact, that so many people and equipment are needed, that outdated drilling rigs are also being used and people with little expertise. Unlike Europe, the U.S. does not have an established gas industry, but is a typical oil country. Well requirements in the U.S. are also lighter than European standards. Examples: Dutch drilling sites must have tubing with a fluid barrier to contain any leaks of frac water. Furthermore, in the Netherlands the casing pipe around the drill pipe is completely sealed with concrete, in the U.S. they only need a top and bottom layer, and there are a few more significant differences. Finally, there is the dubious political issue that controversial Dick Cheney has given gas producers an exemption to the Clean Water Act.

What are the benefits?

An article in business magazine Forbes cites a study by Yale University: The Arithmetic of Shale Gas." which quantifies what Shale Gas extraction has contributed and continues to contribute to the U.S. economy. If not for Shale Gas extraction, the U.S. would have had to import LNG. The savings realized by extracting Shale Gas exceed $100 billion per year (!) at current production volumes.

The impact of Shale Gas on the US Chemical Industry is also unimaginable. Since 2010, some €200 billion has been or is being invested (under construction or planned) in 351 projects linked to shale gas in the US.

Do you have an opinion on this? Leave a comment in the comment box or Tip then the editor, and we can write a blog about it or respond to it and we can all learn something from it.