07 Feb 2014

JRC support to Commission's Recommendation on shale gas

Hydraulic fracturing is used to extract shale gas
Hydraulic fracturing is used to extract shale gas
© EU

On 22 January, the European Commission issued a Recommendation on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (such as shale gas) using high volume hydraulic fracturing in order to contribute to bringing clarity and predictability to public authorities, market operators and citizens. It invites Member States to follow minimum principles when applying or adapting their legislation applicable to hydrocarbons exploration or production using high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The Recommendation was accompanied by a Communication outlining the potential new opportunities and challenges stemming from shale gas extraction in Europe, as well as an Impact Assessment that examined the socio-economic and environmental impacts of various policy options.

The JRC has been actively involved in the preparation of these texts. JRC scientists contributed to the Impact Assessment procedure to evaluate the environmental impact of shale gas extraction on land, water and air quality and also from an energy security point of view, assessing the shale gas resources in the EU, its impacts on the region's security of supply and on natural gas pricing. Moreover, JRC scientists assessed the use of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing of shale gas reservoirs as reported under the current EU regulatory system on chemicals (REACH) and developed proposals on how the registration of such a use could be facilitated. Detailed results are presented in three reports: "Spatially-resolved assessment of land and water use scenarios for shale gas development: Poland and Germany", "Unconventional Gas: Potential Energy Market Impacts in the European Union" and "Assessment of the use of substances in hydraulic fracturing of shale gas reservoirs under REACH". Based on this scientific expertise, the JRC will manage the European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction that will be established by the Commission.

From an environmental perspective, specific technology scenarios, to represent worst-, average- and best-case assumptions regarding water and land-use requirements for shale gas development have been implemented using spatially-resolved water and land availability/demand modelling tools, such as the Land Use Modelling Platform (LUMP). The study was carried out for Germany and a river basin in Poland for the period 2013-2028. These countries have been chosen for their potential reserves of shale gas and availability of geological maps. The scenario analysis was complemented by a risk assessment of potential human and ecosystem health impacts attributable to the accidental or operational release of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of shale formations, based on a life cycle approach. Considerations to support future air quality impact assessments for shale gas development activities are also included in the study.

In addition, and from a technology perspective, another JRC report reviews hydraulic fracturing and alternative fracturing technologies by searching the open literature, patent databases and commercial websites. For each identified technique, an overview is given containing a brief description, potential advantages and disadvantages and some considerations on costs. Finally, the status of the technique (i.e: commercially applied, under development, concept, etc.) is also given for its application to shale gas extraction.