View point BASF
Shale gas has brought an unexpected industrial boom to the United States. Production is now being debated in Europe. Shale gas can contribute to securing energy supply in many countries of Europe. BASF supports investigating the potential of shale gas resources in Europe and is actively involved in exploration and production in other parts of the world.
Natural gas is the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel because it generates significantly less harmful CO2 and lower levels of emissions when combusted. For that reason, natural gas is an important stepping stone in the transition to an energy supply based on renewable resources. Natural gas is a kind of lifeblood of BASF. It is both an essential building block in the manufacturing of chemical products and is also used as a fuel to supply the major BASF sites with electricity and steam. Moreover, BASF is involved in natural gas production through its subsidiary, Wintershall, Germany’s largest internationally operating oil and natural gas producer. BASF’s largest site in Ludwigshafen alone has a higher natural gas requirement than Berlin, a city of more than three million inhabitants.
Shale gas is essentially no different from natural gas and the same ecological benefits apply in its utilization. The raw material in shale gas is trapped within formations of shale, a sedimentary rock that is commonly rich in oil and natural gas. As recently as the 1990s, exploitation of these resources would not have been economically viable anywhere. The gas is released from the shale by a technology called hydraulic fracturing – also known as fracking. This technology has been safely used in conventional gas production on a wide scale in Germany since the 1960s with no adverse impact on the environment or groundwater.
Shale gas fracking initially involves drilling vertically deep into the ground until the target rock layer is reached. The drilling is then redirected in a horizontal direction perforating the rock containing the gas. This is followed by the actual fracking process which means the injection of fluid at high pressures into the natural gas field to create artificial routes for the gas to flow. The fluid is about 98% water and sand. Less than 2% is made up of chemicals. These are required for various reasons, such as anticorrosion and the reduction of friction. The borewell itself is lined with multiple layers of cemented steel pipes. This creates an impenetrable barrier between the borewell and water-bearing layers (aquifers).
Dr. Harald Schwager, Member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE
The technology has progressed over the years to a level of sophistication that enables economic and ecologically compatible production of shale gas in many parts of the world today. Shale gas has invigorated the US as an attractive industrial base again and attracted investment worth billions as a result of lower energy and natural gas prices. BASF wants to be part of that process and is currently planning to construct a number of new world-scale plants in the country. The benefits of shale gas to the US are not just economic, however: as natural gas is significantly more environmentally friendly than coal with regard to climate, the country has been able to achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
In Europe, shale gas could maintain local natural gas supplies at today’s level for many years and significantly increase European energy and raw material supply security. BASF, therefore, supports the research into the potential of shale gas resources in Europe and is actively involved in exploration and production of shale gas in other parts of the world, such as Argentina.
Dr. Harald Schwager has been a Member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE since 2008. He is responsible for Oil & Gas, Construction Chemicals, the Region Europe and Procurement. He holds a doctorate in chemistry and has been working at BASF since 1988. Prior to joining the Board of Executive Directors, he held several positions such as President of the Inorganics division and the Ludwigshafen Verbund Site Management. From 1998 to 2003, he worked for BASF in Brussels.