The Strategist

Fracking in Europe: Is It the End?

07/20/2015 - 18:24

Netherlands suspended the use of fracking technology, along with several other countries, where shale gas is criticized harshly. It seems like fracking boom did not happen in Europe.
 Another country has decided to refrain from the use of fracking. The Dutch government has introduced a five-year moratorium on commercial production of shale gas using this technology. At the end of this year, the authorities will decide whether Netherlands have fracking future or not, and whether to renew the 2018 test drilling.

Fracking is not a new method, it has been known around for centuries. However, the oil wells are news. Natural gas is extracted from non-traditional fields, such as coal seams and shale rocks, with help of fracking.

In the US, the technology gets rapid spread as high energy prices make the appropriate development of unconventional oil and gas fields. About five years ago, European countries have also begun to explore the potential of fossil energy sources. Natural gas has been declared green and environmentally friendly. A number of Eastern European countries hope that shale gas will allow them to get rid of energy dependence on Russia. Yet the reality does not justify these expectations - as it often happens.

Shale gas fracturing allows connecting the pores of dense rock and to release of natural gas. During the fracturing, well is pumped with a special blend - usually, it is 99 percent water and sand. The mixture is pumped into the rock to a depth of 1,000 to 5,000 meters under a strong pressure. Sand falls down, where it should help keep open the cracks in the rock. Through them, the gas later comes to the surface. Since sand and water are not very well mixed, the mixture is often completed with chemicals that provide the appearance of a homogeneous, thick liquid.

Environmentalists fear that the chemical cocktail can poison groundwater, and if not agents, then the natural gas itself will do it for sure. In 2010, a documentary about the anticipated effects of fracking caused a real stir in the United States: television featured cranes, in which the water was so contaminated with methane that it would be easy to ignite the lighter.

In addition, there are concerns that fracking could trigger an earthquake. In the US and in Germany, it has been suggested that some of the occurred earthquakes in recent years could be obliged to shale gas. If European fracking widespread, earthquakes may become more frequent, experts fear.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens in many European countries are ready to fight - energy companies have begun to look closely to shale gas. France is one of the countries, which, presumably, could get the maximum benefit from their shale gas as the ground on its territory has large deposits of the resourse. However, since 2011, the country has a moratorium on the fracking use. France's example was followed by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and other European countries.

Even in those states where fracking approved at the national level, some regions are against it. For example, this happens in the UK. They plan to soon start mass use of hydraulic fracturing technology, but Scotland and Wales have banned the method. The situation is similar in Spain, where some provinces, such as Catalonia, fracking is refused.

Germany still has a moratorium on shale gas. However, after the summer recess, the Bundestag should consider a bill under which fracking will not, in principle, be prohibited, but severely restricted. There will be only allowed drilling for scientific purposes, studying the risks of hydraulic fracturing technology for humanity and the environment.

Several wells In Eastern European countries have already been drilled. For a long time, Poland was seen as a prime candidate for a large-scale extraction of shale gas in Europe. But then everything changed. Trial drilling did not bring the expected success, foreign investors have handed over their positions, and mobilized environmental movement disrupted plans of fracking introduction.

The same thing happened in Romania. Unsuccessful results of test drilling and protests from environmentalists led to major US energy companies withdrew from Romania in early 2015. Other countries initially had it clear that fracking is not their promising technology.

The development of shale gas is harmful to the environment, decided Norway and Sweden. Environmentalists want to ultimately win the war for Europe, free of fracking.