In the second of a two part series on the major issues surrounding shale gas extraction in Central and Eastern Europe, Andrew Ryan looks at how the academic debate could develop.
It seems that you can hardly get away from shale gas at the moment. There is an unbelievable amount of material out there: from industry and country reports, to newspaper articles and even feature length films. Yet, the majority of this material, most notably those from business intelligence companies, originates from a small cluster of academic work, indicating a dire shortage of these studies.
If you venture into this literature you will come across the same references again and again to the four or five truly original pieces of work, including Florence Geny’s 2010 piece at the Oxford Institute for Energy Research, another by JRC in 2012 and the Kosciuszko Institute’s report in 2011. The rest of the literature can usually be divided up into business intelligence reports and news articles. While generally reliable, the business intelligence reports are usually condensed versions of the aforementioned works, while news articles are overly concerned with the environmental impacts of fracking, public opinion and a frightening amount of guesswork. The literature around this subject is quite the minefield.
I see three ways in which academic research can and should develop:
- Firstly, it needs to begin employing mathematical modelling of energy prices and supply and demand in order to gauge the impact of shale gas. This would help predict the actual impact that extraction will have on an EU energy system under climate constraint, price liberalisation and trade balances with Russia. From initial research in this area it seems that there will be only minimal changes in the trade balance, when combined with an increased consumption of gas.
- Secondly, more geological research needs to be done. Notwithstanding efforts made by the US Geological Survey among others, Eastern Europe still lags well behind the geological knowledge of shale reservoirs built upon so successfully by the USA. This work can help in two respects. Firstly it can aid exploration companies in finding much-needed sweet spots and secondly it increase overall knowledge of shale plays.
- Finally, and this is an imbalance I am attempting to redress, the focus needs to shift away from the determinism of resource estimates and technological ability. Economically viable extraction is not simply a product of the presence and removal of resources. The USA’s success was based on the ability of institutions and companies to encourage and support production. In essence, research is needed to gauge the institutional ability of IOC’s and state giants, to overcome the idiosyncrasies of Eastern Europe and produce a competitively priced substitute to current supplies.