Early estimates indicate Spain has large shale gas sources. If technically recoverable, these reserves could revitalise the Spanish economy at a time of great economic uncertainty.
Size of the opportunity
According to a report by the Spanish Association of Companies in Investigation, Exploration & Production of Hydrocarbons and Underground Storage (Asociación Española de Compañías de Investigación, Exploración, Producción de Hidrocarburos y Almacenamiento Subterráneo, ACIEP), the estimated reserves of natural gas are about 2.05 trillion cubic meters. 80% of these would be found in the shale rock.
According to ACIEP, there are currently about 70 exploration permits (for different types of hydrocarbon) in force and a further 75 awaiting authorisation. The number of permits requested and granted has gone up by 80% in the last five years.
Although no drilling has yet taken place, the most advanced shale gas exploration projects are located in the Basque-Cantabrian basin in the north of Spain, namely the provinces of Álava (Basque Country), Burgos (Castilla y León) and the autonomous community of Cantabria.
Impact on energy security
Spain, which imports about 99% of its hydrocarbons and 76% of all energy consumed, potentially has enough shale gas resources to satisfy current demand for 55 years, according to data from the trade association ACIEP.
Impact on the economy
On 24th March 2014, Deloitte published the results of another study, this time on the economic impact of hydrocarbons in Spain. The research, commissioned by ACIEP and based on the estimates outlined by Gessal, assesses the impact of the exploration and development of conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons, including shale gas, on gross domestic product, job creation and imports and exports.
Among other findings, the report highlights that, under the baseline scenario, the exploitation of natural gas could allow Spain to become completely independent of gas imports by 2030 and an exporter of natural gas until 2050.
The government led by PM Mariano Rajoy (PP, conservative party) has repeatedly voiced its support for shale gas exploration. During an intervention in the Senate in February 2013, the Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria, stated that the Government will pursue opportunities involving hydraulic fracturing as long as they comply with environmental regulation.
Looking to respond to criticism from autonomous communities such as Cantabria or La Rioja (both have adopted laws to ban the use of the technique of hydraulic fracturing in their territories), a new Environmental law entered into force in December 2013 which included a mandatory environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for all shale gas projects including exploration.