Innovation Shale Gas Extraction

Cristina Madrid



Despite the environmental impacts and financial burden that shale gas extraction brings to local communities, the energy geopolitical situation might push countries with shale reserves to promote exploitation. This case study focusses on the assessment of the potential of shale gas as a supposed transition innovation for a lower carbon economy.

We looked for the main narratives related to shale gas in Europe then assess how plausible they are, and how robust QST is to complete such assessment. The narrative identification is done with a round of interviews at EU level and a media analysis. The plausibility check is based in MuSIASEM. The robustness of the analysis is completed using a workshop series in Spain, The Netherlands and the UK.


Results - highlights


The dominant narrative on shale gas is related to natural gas prices

Figure 1. Sample of the dominant narratives against the variation of the Henry Hub gas prices (red line) and production costs (dotted line).


We found that the dominant narrative in the press and internet media changes according to the relation between gas prices and production costs (Figure 1). Two narratives have been selected for assessment:

  • Shale gas is a low carbon transition innovation
  • Shale gas is a geopolitical and energy sovereignty factor


What if…   we had shale gas development in Europe?

An increase of gas prices might bring shale gas back to energy policy discussions in Europe. We checked its role as both low carbon innovation and energy sovereignty factor. We defined a scenario where Poland supplies enough shale gas to the rest of the Union to offset the closing of the Groningen fields in The Netherlands (22 billion cubic meters). Wells were geomodelled taking into account geology and current legal regulations.

Figure 2. The role of shale gas as an energy sovereignty factor. Evolution in the number of wells above and below the economic (A)  and energy (B)  breakeven points. Poland scenario.


There are very few wells, if any that go beyond the energy and economic breakeven points (Figure 2), which falsifies the role of shale gas as energy sovereignty factor. So this narrative is not plausible.

Regarding the role of shale gas as low carbon transition innovation, we mapped the rate of emissions of methane -25 times higher global warming potential than CO2-to the atmosphere in a low and a high well density scenario at each well stage 9Figure 3). The results showed that the emission rate increases with energy production during the early stage and the production stage. However, during the decay stage (reached at about 2 years from SPUD the usual lower productivity comes with a high pollution rate. Natural gas might be considered a lower carbon transition innovation, as compared to coal, but shale gas might not be the best innovation to increase supply.

Figure 3. The role of shale gas as a low carbon technology. Relation between energy metabolic rate and methane emission rate in Drilling, Production and Decay well stages in a low (left) and high (right) density scenario.




The findings indicate that a shale gas industry in Europe is not worth it. Neither the gas productivity nor the environmental impacts are justified by the energy or the economic benefit to society. The shale gas sector will only be able to contribute to energy security while the sector keeps drilling and the wells are young. However, it would not contribute to decrease GHG emissions and most of the environmental impacts will come from wells with negative energy and economic return on investment.


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