A special World Energy Outlook report on unconventional gas, Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, released in London by the International Energy Agency (IEA), presents a set of "Golden Rules" to meet concerns about natural gas resources exploitation.
The report calls on various government bodies, industry and other stakeholders to work together to address legitimate public concerns about the associated environmental and social impacts.
"The technology and the know-how already exist for unconventional gas to be produced in an environmentally acceptable way," stated IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. "But if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks. The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance; governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place."
The Golden Rules underline the importance of 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 project planning and regulatory control.
At their recent Camp David summit, G8 leaders welcomed and agreed to review this IEA work on potential best practices for natural gas development.
"To build on the Golden Rules, we are establishing a high-level platform so that governments can share insights on the policy and regulatory action that can accompany an expansion in unconventional gas production, shale gas in particular," said Maria van der Hoeven. "This platform will be open to IEA members and non-members alike".
"If this new industry is to prosper, it needs to earn and maintain its social licence to operate," said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report's chief author. "This comes with a financial cost, but in our estimation the additional costs are likely to be limited."
According to the report, applying the Golden Rules could increase the cost of a typical shale-gas well by around 7%, but, for a larger development project with multiple wells, investment in measures to reduce environmental impacts may in many cases be offset by lower operating costs.