The US Energy Information Administration estimates that between 2010 and 2040 global energy consumption will grow by 56%. How is the world going to meet this demand? As fossil fuel reserves dwindle, shale gas is looking like a viable alternative. But are the risks associated with its extraction too high or can those risks be avoided? Three experts share their view point.
Everyone agrees that we face a challenge – unless we take action now, we will not be able to meet our future demand for energy. Many agree that we need to invest in technologies that help us use energy more efficiently. But how should we meet the remaining demand? There is a clear split between those who say investment should focus on renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar power, and those who say there is plenty of fossil fuel left if you only look for it hard enough.
According to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2013 report, renewable and nuclear power sources are the world’s fastest growing sectors, at 2.5% a year, but fossil fuels still account for nearly 80% of all energy production. Natural gas consumption is increasing by 1.7% a year, thanks in part to developments in shale gas extraction.
In the US, the recent boom in shale gas production has contributed to cheaper household energy prices and helped manufacturing sectors such as plastics. Other governments are hoping to catch up. The EIA estimates the total volume of technically recoverable shale gas worldwide to be around 7,299 trillion cubic feet (tcf). It puts the US fourth on the list of countries with the largest resources, behind China, Argentina and Algeria.
But concerns have been raised by environmental groups that the process of using pressure to release shale gas from the earth – hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – can lead to water supplies being contaminated and that it has been proven to cause seismic activity in some cases. They also argue that, as the energy sector accounts for around two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, countries will not be able to meet climate change targets unless they pursue renewable energy.
Professor Mohammed M. Amro, Director of the Institute for Drilling Engineering and Fluid Mining at the Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg in Germany, and Bas Eickhout, Member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Green Party, present the two sides of the argument and discuss what role shale gas should have in meeting our energy needs. BASF Board member Dr. Harald Schwager explains why the production of shale gas pays off, not just in economic terms.