Shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been gaining momentum in the U.S. Other countries with important reserves are also considering the development of shale gas extraction.
Joachim Schleich, a professor and researcher at GEM, recently co-authored a study that investigated the global impact of increasing the production of shale gas.
"Currently, the U.S. is the primary producer of shale gas. With higher oil prices, shale gas production has picked up again in the U.S. Other areas in South America, China, the U.K. or Eastern Europe have important resources and are exploring the potential for fracking. Our study examined the global impact on greenhouse gas emissions if other countries were to develop shale gas production at the same level as the U.S."
Proponents of shale gas, much like other sources of natural gas, highlight the fact that it produces approximately 40 percent less greenhouse gas per kilowatt hour of electricity as compared to coal. However, the picture is not so simple, and recent research underlines the fact that an increase in shale gas production could lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions.
A negative impact on renewable energy
The energy market and the impact of shale gas production is not a simple black and white picture. The study explained that while shale gas may reduce the use of coal in certain situations (thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions), it will also reduce the creation and adoption of renewable energy sources.
"When shale gas replaces nuclear energy or renewable energy sources that means you're replacing a carbon-free energy source with a larger carbon footprint. If a country develops shale gas production, then it's going to use it. This could slow the transition to carbon-free energy sources," explains Joachim.
Increasing demand will increase greenhouse gas emissions
The researchers highlighted the demand effect as another negative impact of shale gas on greenhouse gas emissions. Shale gas production will increase the supply of energy resources and lower costs. While this may be advantageous in economic terms, lower energy costs translates to higher consumption. "The net effect of increasing demand will be to increase greenhouse gas emissions," adds Joachim.
Overall, the study concluded that if countries around the world decide to produce shale gas on the same scale as the U.S. the net effect will be a 0.8 percent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. "Of course, it's important to remember that this was a global study. The results on a country-level will vary according to the country's situation. Some countries like Japan and India could experience a small decrease in emissions, while others, such as Argentina, Canada, Mexico or the Russian Federation, would face an increase in emissions—up to 3% for Argentina!" concludes Joachim.