Why shale gas is not a viable solution

Shale gas or the illusion of getting rid of Russian gas

In the last two months, the energy model of many fossil-fuel dependent European countries, and especially those of Russia, has been turned on its head. Russia accounts for 40% of the gas consumed by the European Union1, a key market for the Kremlin. Every day, the European Union pays almost 750 million euros for energy supplies to Russia2. Closing these sluice gates to Russian gas and funding in favor of the Putin regime was therefore declared a state of emergency in Europe from the very first days of the war.

Rather than seize this opportunity to take a first step towards the definitive phase-out of fossil fuels, which must be enforced in Europe by 2035 in order to limit global warming to +1.5°C, French governments and industrial groups and Europeans are turning to one another new dependency on , this time with American shale gas:

  • The European Union has negotiated deals with the United States to increase the amount of imported liquefied natural gas. It is also investing heavily in new gas infrastructure to increase its import capacity. France is no exception and is planning to build a floating terminal in the port of Le Havre, a project backed by the government, Total and Engie3.
  • Engie has renewed its import contract with Cheniere Energy, a specialist in liquefied natural gas. At the beginning of March, the term of this contract was extended from 11 to 20 years and the import volumes were revised upwards4.

We remind that if shale gas is regularly presented as a “transitional energy”, the development of its exploitation represents an ecological catastrophe. Explanations.

Shale gas & hydraulic fracturing

Shale gas is a fossil gas retained in clay or marl rocks, generally buried between 1500 and 3000 meters deep. To extract it, this rock must be fractured using a process called hydraulic fracturing. This process is a fossil gas extraction technique that involves injecting a high-pressure liquid containing chemicals to break up a rock and make it permeable. This extremely polluting process has been banned in France since 2011.

An environmental impact comparable to other fossil fuels

Extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing is responsible for releasing significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas with a far more powerful warming power than carbon dioxide. Leaks during the processes of extraction and transport of the gas come into question.

Environmental Impact of Methane. Credit: Reporterre

The consequences for the environment are dramatic. Intensive exploitation of the Permian Basin, the largest oil and gas field in the United States, could by 2050 consume 10% of the global carbon budget available in the 1.5 degree global warming scenario5.

The hydraulic fracking technique is also a large water consumer. In fact, breaking the rock requires the injection of millions of liters, which are not always treated6. The US Environmental Protection Agency warns that the liquid mixture injected during hydraulic fracturing contains pollutants that can contaminate the subsoil and especially the groundwater7 and cause significant health risks.

Consequences of shale gas exploitation on the territories

The American Institute of Geophysics (USGS) has established the link between hydraulic fracturing and the significant increase in seismic risk in certain regions. This increase is due to the re-injection of wastewater from the extraction process underground. This reinjection can cause uplift of the tectonic plates at the source of the seismic tremors8.
Such is the case in Oklahoma, which has nearly 4,500 wells that receive effluent from hydraulic fracking. The number of magnitude 3 or greater earthquakes in this southern US state increased from 20 in 2009 to 585 in 20149.

In addition, shale gas extraction requires the drilling of a large number of wells, which distorts the landscape and has a non-negligible impact on local biodiversity10. This infrastructure, which is necessary for the extraction and transport of shale gas, is being built at the expense of the local population and their opinion, which is usually completely ignored..

Well site in Wyoming, USA.  Credit: Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight
Well site in Wyoming, USA. Credit: Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight

A brake on the energy transition

Investments and purchase agreements to develop shale gas are long-term investments that force us into our dependence on fossil fuels. This is evidenced by the Engie shale gas import contract, which has been extended by nine years.
While the IPCC warns us about itWe have little time left to break the impasse11, these policy decisions represent nothing less than a step backwards in the fight against global warming. In order to respond to the vital challenge we face, we have no other choice Expand renewable energies and use energy resources soberly and efficiently.

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