Shale gas production and the environment
The perspective of potential production of energy resources from new sources invariably raises high expectations, especially in terms of financial and economic benefits, but in the 21st century questions are raised about the price to be paid for developing yet another resource that the nature offers.
The civilization of today is permanently in limbo between hope and anxiety – a hope for economic development driven primarily by lower energy prices, and anxiety about environmental impact from the projects. The benefits from new gas resources are obvious and the European gas market will see radical changes with the development of unconventional resources.
Now, let's give consideration to the concerns that have appeared in the early phase of unconventional gas exploration and appraisal in Europe. What are the reasons behind these concerns? Is the production of unconventional hydrocarbons so different from the common and widely accepted production of conventional hydrocarbons? The product – natural gas – is the same. What makes the difference and the concerns so strong that they are potentially capable of blocking the process of exploration?
It should be explicitly stated that shale gas exploration, like all extractive industry operations, has an effect on the environment. The environmental compartments at risk are: surface and ground waters, top soil and ground, and the air. Moreover, landscape changes, heavier truck traffic and noise that are nuisances to humans and animals should be considered.
A majority of the aforementioned impacts is of short duration and can be minimized in a relatively simple way, for example by installing sound screens, application of low emission equipment or soil surface isolation. Adequate well construction, including in particular proper isolation of aquifers, effectively prevents groundwater pollution from the near-well zone and properly made site reclamation on well abandonment makes it possible to restore pre-drilling land use patterns. Several commonly used solutions that minimize environmental risks from mineral extraction are readily available.
A long history of deep drilling in Poland (more than 7,000 wells) and conventional oil and gas production testifies that these operations can be performed safely. Considering the specificity of unconventional hydrocarbons, however, a more comprehensive approach to environmental aspects of their production is required. This is primarily due to the necessity to drill more wells than in conventional fields and to perform stimulation procedures in each well.
authors Małgorzata Woźnicka i Monika Konieczyńska