The International Energy Agency has compiled a special World Energy Outlook report on the use of unconventional gas. The report states that exploiting the world’s vast resources of unconventional natural gas holds the key to, what it calls, “a golden age if gas.” However, the report identifies that the golden age can only be reached if Governments and industry work together to help alleviate public concerns over the environmental and social impacts of such processes. 

“The technology and the know-how already exist for unconventional gas to be produced in an environmentally acceptable way,” said 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 IEA proposes that the gas industry should adhere to the seven following ‘golden rules’: “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.”

“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 license 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.” 

The report estimates that the application of the suggested ‘Golden Rules’ could push up the price of a typical shale-gas well by around 7 percent. The IEA estimates that under a ‘Golden Rules Case’, shale-gas production will explode, tripling between 2010 and 2035 to 1.6 trillion cubic metres. 

Environmental bodies were quick to criticise the new report, stressing the environmental impact of unconventional gas production renders the technology unacceptable.

Friends of the Earth's Energy Campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “Drilling for shale and other unconventional gas would put the world on course for catastrophic climate change – incomprehensible when we have clean energy solutions at our fingertips like wind and solar power.

“Our changing climate is already leaving millions hungry, destroying wildlife and costing our own economy billions – more fossil fuels will just make that worse.”

There's no guarantee the IEA's golden rules will eliminate the risk of earthquakes and water pollution – no wonder people are worried.

“The Energy Secretary knows shale gas is not the answer to our energy woes. He must convince the Government to cut energy waste and listen to the public who want more of their electricity to be powered by our sun, wind and water.”

IEA’s full report can be viewed here.