Introduction to Shale Gas

What is shale gas?

The British Geological Survey explains “shale gas is mostly composed of methane. Methane is ‘natural gas’ and is the gas used to generate electricity and for domestic heating and cooking. Shale gas is produced using technologies developed since the 1980s that enable gas to be recovered from rocks (mostly shale) which were previously considered to be unsuitable for extracting gas.”

A Golden Age?

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report states that natural gas is poised to enter a golden age.  However, it also states that it “will do so only if a significant proportion of the world’s vast resources of unconventional gas – shale gas, tight gas and coal bed methane – can be developed profitably and in an environmentally responsible manner”.

While commercial hydraulic fracturing has been around for several decades and used by various industries and sectors, recent technological advances have allowed a significant growth in production of unconventional gas in North America over the last few years. Its commercial success has opened up the possibility that similar economic opportunities potentially exist in other parts of the world, including Europe. This is dependent on the size and viability of its resources and the need to develop a sustainable industry in an environmentally responsible way.


TIME Magazine

Shale gas has ignited a lively and important debate. In Europe, this has focussed on the following:

  • Engaging the public in a broader energy debate to ensure an affordable supply is able to meet demand;
  • The need to get the right energy mix from a variety of different sources that support Europe’s long-term environmental objectives;
  • To ensure that communities are reassured, actively engaged and able to benefit from any development in their area;
  • Support job creation and reindustrialisation whilst also decarbonising Europe’s economy;
  • Developing a secure and ingenuous energy supply, reducing dependence on foreign imports.

Professor Terry Engelder on the shale gas debate