European study into the effects of shale gas extraction on people and the environment

30 Apr 2015

The general public is extremely concerned about the effects that extracting shale gas will have on people and the environment. Shale gas reserves exist in various parts of the world and may potentially boost the economies of the countries concerned, however a well-considered decision relating to their exploitation cannot be taken without accurate information on, for example, the associated environmental effects.  TNO is responsible for coordinating one of the first major European studies into the effects of shale gas extraction on people and the environment. 

TNO is coordinating a large consortium of research institutes that is currently performing European studies into the environmental effects of shale gas extraction. Geo-engineer Jan ter Heege explains the background to and approach used for this study, which starts on 1 June: “Many citizens are worried about the effects of shale gas extraction on their living environment. How will the surface activities and plant affect the landscape? What are the effects on groundwater? How will we be affected by the transportation of large volumes of injection fluid? We are going to investigate and identify the risks in all stages of the shale gas extraction process and assess how we can limit them. We will consult US experts and operators about their best practices, because shale gas has been extracted in the US for several years. We will carry out experiments to determine the behaviour of European shale formations. And we will use models to predict the impact of fracking methods and develop measures to mitigate the risk of environmental damage. The consortium will not get involved in the political debate about the usefulness and necessity of shale gas extraction. As impartial research institutes, we will only provide the required scientific knowledge. For example, the shale gas arguments map, which TNO launched back in February 2013.

Research in response to questions

The United States already has several decades of experience with shale gas extraction. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United States is on track to become the largest energy producer in the world in the near future. This country increased its shale gas production tenfold during the period from 2000 to 2010 alone. The European situation is different in many respects. Europe is much more densely populated than the United States, so the opportunities for large-scale shale gas extraction are far more limited.There are also many questions about shale gas extraction, which the consortium will now investigate together with TNO at the request of the European Commission. 

Further cooperation

TNO is coordinating the research project which is intended to identify and assess the effects and put forward recommendations. Ter Heege himself is responsible for coordinating research into the subsurface effects, for example, the impact of fracking – the process of fragmenting the rock to allow the gas to escape. He is also involved in model research studies that focus on limiting the impact of fracking and increasing its efficiency: “The extent to which a crack propagates itself in the rock depends not only on the type of rock, but also on the quantity of fluid that you pump into the rock, the injection pressure and the depth. We use models to optimise the fracking process; for example, by reducing the number of fracking activities along the length of a well. We can make predictions about European shale types by testing the models using measurement data from the United States. To improve our models further, we plan to intensify collaboration with the oil and gas industry for this research project. Their data and practical experience with shale gas extraction is of enormous value, not only for our research, but for society as a whole.”


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Please contact Jan ter Heege

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