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Something Worth Arguing About

The newly launched European Shale Gas Argument Map aims to provide information both for and against the extraction of shale gas.
This article appeared in Vol. 10, No. 3 - 2013

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MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij presents the European Shale Gas Argument Map to the European Parliament. Commissioned by TNO, a Dutch independent research company who strive to ‘connect people with knowledge’, the European Shale Gas Argument ‘map’ is essentially a diagram which details arguments both for and against the introduction of shale gas extraction within Europe. The analysis was launched at the European Parliament in February 2013 with the aim of bringing about judicious discussion on the subject, as explained by Member of European Parliament (MEP) Lambert van Nistelrooij: “What we did today is decide to ask the European Commission to come up with a broader debate. We should have a reliable, trans parent, sustainable way of approaching the shale gas ques tions in the next year.”

The ‘map’ functions by providing the reader with information both for and against the extraction of shale gas. For example, within the economy section of the diagram one of the pro arguments is that ‘shale gas production increases regional employment’, while one argument against it is that ‘it is unclear how much gas can be profitably produced and whether public investments are worth making’.

Rational Debate?

Rene Peters, the Director of Oil and Gas for TNO, said that “the first use we hope that this ‘argument’ will get is that the discussion will go more into a rational debate, rather than an emotional debate.” He continued by saying “We have already identified a number of areas where good scientific evidence or researchbased facts are not yet available to make this a balanced discussion. And that’s why we have decided to take the initiative, together with the European Energy Research Alliance, to come up with a European research programme on shale gas – to actually deliver unbiased and factual information to get the discussion on shale gas rationalised.”

The European Shale Gas Argument Map has been developed to encourage a “European initiative to do research on shale gas, because knowing more about it is of great importance,” said Mart J. van Bracht, Director of TNO Energy. Van Bracht went on to say that “natural gas is one fuel which at this moment is really important for the European economy, but will also be very important in the future.” A mention of the economy will surely have many ears pricked, supporter of shale gas or not.

Shale gas extraction through fraccing has widely been ill received within the public domain. As acknowledged in ‘Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas’, a report by the International Energy Agency, a key constraint is that ‘unconventional gas does not yet enjoy, in most places, the degree of societal acceptance that it will require in order to flourish’. And, with the imminent release of the fraccingthemed, highbudget movie Promised Land, starring Hollywood legend Matt Damon, the debate will roll on.

Media on fraccing, such as the film Gasland by Josh Fox, have acted even further to restrict an informed and open debate on the topic. On a recent blog post Fox wrote, “Politicians and publications have conditionally endorsed so called ‘safe fraccing’ as a part of the nation’s energy mix. But safe fraccing is an impossibility, and the industry’s claims for it are knowingly based on false premises.” This is a view that is widely received and supported, and the negative perception is particularly strong within the European Union. But, as Rene Peters points out, “The European shale gas industry is capable of working responsibly, and the restrictions are much tighter here than in the US.”

Pros and Cons

The European Shale Gas Argument Map will allow for a timely and important debate to find a voice within a wider audience – highlighting the pros as well as the cons. By producing this report TNO have visualised a subject which is being lost in the passion of a minority. It should work to bring about a view and an understanding which has widely been ignored up to this point, and will allow for proper research and facts to decide on the future of shale gas and fraccing within Europe.

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