In the search for alternative energy sources, many different systems are being introduced and tested to ascertain which is likely to be the most effective replacement for fossil fuels. Thus we have seen the growth of wind farms as well as hydro and solar power schemes in the US, Europe and across the globe. Shale gas extraction has also increased since it first became more significant at the beginning of the millennium. What does shale gas hold for you and your family in the future, and what are the key facts you need to understand about this process? Here is a brief guide to shale gas extraction.
What is Shale?
The impending energy crisis, when fossil fuels will be exhausted, has proved to be the spur for seeking out other ways to support the world’s energy needs. Along with many others, you are probably already taking more care of the earth’s resources, simply by recycling or reusing goods that might simply have been thrown away not so long ago.
Shale is not a newly discovered type of sedimentary rock, as you might imagine. Before the middle of the 19th century, it was common to use the terms schist, shale and slate interchangeably; slate mining often referred to shale in the language of underground coal mining, right up until the 20th century. Shale is actually a collection of different types of mineral rock and mud or clay, which have been compacted; it is fine-grained and contains thin fissures, which is why it is relatively easy to split open to extract gas.
In 2000, approximately one percent of the natural gas in the US came from shale; ten years later it was more than 20 percent, and energy expert Daniel Yergin emphasizes that ongoing shale gas development resulted in a leap in supply to 37 percent by 2012. Yergin predicts that by 2020 more than half of the US gas supply will be derived from shale extraction.
As of 2013, shale has been commercially mined in significant quantities in the US and Canada, while experts estimate that China has the world’s largest reserves. Assessments have been made of shale resources in South America, Australia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Pros and Cons
Daniel Yergin has pointed to the possibility that there could be sufficient shale gas to power the US for the next 100 years, allowing for manufacturing to be re-established, and for pollution levels and other environmental issues to be tackled by countries such as China. It has the potential to lower energy costs.
Uncertainties about shale gas production center on the disposal of wastewater from the fracking process and the effect this can have on aquatic and other habitats. Additionally, the drilling process is noisy and disruptive, can cause the deterioration of the landscape and air quality, and even destroy access to clean water for communities.
The debate about shale gas extraction is still in the early stages, and solutions to the problems it is known to cause are needed urgently if this important resource is to be reclaimed.