Governments worldwide must work with industry to address legitimate public concerns about environmental issues if unconventional natural gas is to reach its global development potential, Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told an audience at Rice University’s Baker Institute Aug. 17, a day after she toured the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas.
During her tour hosted by Shell Oil Co., Van der Hoeven said she was told the Chinese companies are among the most common visitors to the Eagle Ford, indicating an interest by the Chinese to obtain both US gas and also shale gas technology for use in China.
But it’s possible that public opposition to hydraulic fracturing and associated concerns about water availability and potential water contamination could stifle development and production of unconventional gas outside North America, she said.
IEA released a special World Energy Outlook report on May 29 about unconventional gas, Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, which presents a set of principles that can help address concerns about water supply, congestion, and other issues.
Van der Hoeven believes industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance while governments must ensure appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place.
Outside the US and Canada, it’s up to industry to demonstrate to the public that it can explore, develop, and produce shale gas safely while working with local communities to address concerns about water issues and road congestion, she said.
“It’s practice, not preaching,” that ultimately convinces the public and regulators, she said.
The Golden Rules underline full transparency, measuring and monitoring of environmental impacts and engagement with local communities, careful choice of drilling sites and measures to prevent any leaks from wells into nearby aquifers, rigorous assessment and monitoring of water requirements and of waste water, measures to target zero venting and minimal flaring of gas, and improved gas project planning and regulatory control.
IEA’s report sets out two possible future trajectories for unconventional gas with one being application of good practices and principles to underpin brisk expansion of unconventional gas supply and a second case being a lack of public acceptance meaning unconventional gas production rises only slightly above current levels by 2035.
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