Shale Gas and the Community
Energy matters to all of us. It is an important part of our daily lives, maintaining and sustaining the communities in which we live and work. Our cities, town and villages, our industries, homes, schools and hospitals all need energy. Our jobs and way of life depend on access to a commercially viable and affordable supply that is developed in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
So how could communities potentially be affected by a commercial shale gas operation?
As any operation is a long term investment and commitment, the energy sector understands that communities must be part of the decision making process and that the community must benefit directly from the opportunity shale gas could bring. It also understands that it must work alongside communities, addressing any concerns in a transparent and accountable way as part of a thorough regulatory and enforcement framework.
Where will shale gas development take place?
There are currently no commercial drilling operations in Europe.
The European Union has deferred the decision to explore for shale gas to each member state. This means that national governments retain the right to decide if and where they want to explore for shale gas.
Exploratory drilling is needed to clarify where Europe’s shale gas reserves are and whether they are commercially viable. Without exploratory drilling the energy industry will not know what the potential is and how best to exploit it.
At the moment, exploratory drilling is currently taking place under license in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Poland, Romania and Spain.
The European Union estimates that commercial operations could start in Europe sometime between 2015 and 2017.
For more information please visit the shale gas in Europe section.
UK Prime Minister describes community benefits on offer in the UK
How will shale gas be regulated?
European legislators have ensured that the exploration and production of natural gas in Europe is one of the most highly regulated processes in the world and subject to some of the most rigorous health and safety and environmental procedures within the energy sector. Gas from shale development is regulated by 17 different pieces of EU legislation, as well as a strong existing regulatory regime at national and local level.
The European Union has stated that all operations must follow guidelines that reflect industry good practice. Some countries already have these guidelines in place but every country must now regulate and enforce them as part of a transparent and accountable process. The objective is to ensure that climate and the environment are safeguarded, resources are used efficiently and the public is informed.
‘Member States should provide the public concerned with early and effective opportunities to participate in developing strategy’ – European Commission’s Recommendation on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing
Member States must then enforce these guidelines and make these findings publicly available. What this means is that if an operator seeks a license to drill in your community, all its activities must follow these regulations and governments must enforce them. Data will then also be made publicly available.
The European Commission has studied sustainable shale gas development and has provided a Recommendation
National governments can also impose additional regulations but it is up to each country to decide what these should be. Those governments that are looking at shale gas development are undertaking additional consultation programmes involving a broad range of both professional stakeholders such as academics and experts, policy makers, regulators, the energy industry, the business community as well as members of the public.
How could shale gas impact on my community?
Economic: In addition to the wider national benefits that a domestically sourced energy fuel can provide, communities which will host drilling operations can benefit economically in a number of direct and indirect ways. This could include community investment programmes, sourcing locally as well as creating employment for the local work force.
These opportunities are dealt with in more detail in the ‘Shale Gas and the Economy’ section.
Environmental: Energy companies have extensive experience of working alongside communities, producing different kinds of energy which seeks to manage and minimalize impact on the community or the environment. Every energy source has some risk, however minimal, so it is important that there is a transparent and accountable regulatory and enforcement process in place to provide reassurance to the local community and ensure that any potential environmental impact is controlled and managed.
These potential issues are dealt with in more detail in the ‘Shale Gas and the Environment’ section.
When should communities be consulted?
Shale gas operations can either be for exploratory or commercial drilling. The latter will only happen once an operator has determined that any potential operation is commercially viable. In both circumstances the energy sector and the community have an important opportunity to work together.
Engagement between an operator and a local community will begin before any drilling, and continue throughout the lifespan of an operation and beyond, to include completion and landscaping, reinstating the original fabric of the site back to its original condition.
Understanding how shale gas could be developed will help communities get involved, understand the regulation and enforcement process, and benefit from the opportunities that could be available.
The process of building the well site, drilling and completing a well takes on average a year. Here’s a how shale gas development works – from leasing to production applying these good practices:
- Well development begins with securing permits from national and local authorities and signing leases with landowners.
- Once the permits are granted, seismic data is gathered. During this process, seismologists use seismic vibrators to generate sound waves and geophones to examine the geological structure, analysing the shale layer, in order to determine the best location to place the well.
- In the next phase the well pad is built, allowing for the drilling of multiple wells from a single site, while minimising land use.
- At this stage, a drilling rig is brought in to drill thousands of metres below the surface and through the layer of shale. After the drilling, the well is secured, by putting in place multiple barrier layers of steel and cement to isolate the well from groundwater. For more information on well casing, please see The Process of Shale Gas Development.
- Once the well casing is safely in place, hydraulic fracturing can commence. It takes about one week to fracture a well, after which the well is ready to produce natural gas for decades.
- Pipelines are then laid to connect the wells to the existing grid that will carry the gas to households, industry, power plants, etc.
- Finally, the landscape around the well site is restored. This begins with cementing and properly sealing the well, ensuring complete isolation from the surrounding rock formation and protecting the soil and fresh water resources.
- Afterwards, the well heads are removed in order to start the reclamation process, which includes terrain levelling, regulation of the drainage system and replacing the topsoil which had been removed. Native plant species are also reintroduced.
How will communities be engaged?
National governments will outline how and when operators must consult with communities. However, beyond statutory requirements, the energy industry has been successfully consulting and working alongside communities for decades.
A shale gas operation is an expensive and long term investment for any operator and they will be keen to actively engage with the community to highlight the opportunities, to reassure people about any concerns and to start developing a relationship as a good neighbour.
This is your opportunity to get involved, speak to experts directly, follow the planning process and ensure that any operations directly benefit your community. It is also an opportunity to ensure that any concerns you may have are dealt with as quickly as possible.
There are many different ways that operators and the community can engage with each other. Programmes are usually adapted to suit what works best for everyone involved.