Will Europe pass on a shale gas revolution?
Europe appears to be hesitant to tap its shale natural gas resources on concerns over fracking, a controversial drilling technique, and continued emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
U.S. supermajor Chevron last week halted work on an exploration well in the Romanian town of Pungesti after protesters rallied in opposition of hydraulic fracturing. The company had only secured the rights to explore in three areas near the Black Sea earlier this year, just months after a fracking moratorium was lifted. Romania, like many of its neighbors in Eastern Europe, may have enough natural gas locked in shale deposits to meet domestic demand for more than 100 years. The European Union said it was mindful of the shale natural gas phenomenon in the United States but needs to remain committed to its long-term goals of a future less dependent on fossil fuels.
Chevron suspended plans to look for natural gas in eastern Romania last week. Romania, like many others in the region, is looking for a way to become more self-reliant in an energy sector dominated for years by Russian energy company Gazprom. (Related article: Saudi Arabia to Use Shale Gas for Domestic Power Generation)
A study of the shale natural gas potential outside the United States by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found Romania holds 51 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable reserves. A moratorium on shale exploration ended in December though concerns over fracking may cloud the country's immediate natural gas future.
High-profile protests against Cuadrilla Resources earlier this year brought the European shale debate to the forefront of the discussion over Europe's energy future. Cuadrilla's Chief Executive Officer Francis Egan stressed there were understandable environmental concerns associated with fracking but said the benefits of shale exploration would soon become "crystal clear."
Janez Potocnik, European commissioner for the environment, said at a Monday conference on shale natural gas in London, however, that the long-term verdict wasn't yet determined.
"New sources of gas, such as from shale, are attractive," he said. "But we should not forget that shale gas is a fossil fuel and that our ultimate goal is a carbon-free society, which will require the development and support of renewable energies." (Related article: Investment Opportunities Arise as Majors Rush to Invest in Canadas LNG Potential)
Potocnik said that, while member states like Romania have a right to determine their own energy mix, they've also agreed to joint policies for the European future. By 2020, member states need to cut CO2 emissions, increase the share of renewables and increase energy efficiency by 20 percent against a 1990s benchmark. To avoid dramatic increases in temperature over the long term, the commissioner said EU members needs to cut their CO2 emissions by as much as 95 percent by 2050. Though some countries are doing better on specific benchmarks, no member is within site of the 2020 goalpost, however.
"Whether shale gas becomes a success story in Europe or not, whether it is profitable or not, we need to remain consistent with our long term strategy of a low carbon, resource-efficient economy," he said. "Just as we must do everything necessary to sustain and improve our global European competitiveness, we must also do everything necessary to live within the limits of our planet."