La baisse des taxes sur l’exploitation du gaz de schiste (de 62% à 30%), décidée par David Cameron fait débat en Grande-Bretagne : ses effets sur l’environnement restent encore discutés, de plus l’ombre des lobbys planent sur cette décision. Cependant le gaz de Schiste pourrait redorer le blason royal sur la scène internationale…
What exactly is Shale gas?
Shale gas is unconventional natural gas confined inside sedimentary rocks named shale rocks. It can be found between 2,000 and 3,000 meters below ground and its reserves account for 32% of all natural gas. In the 1980s American engineers developed a way to extract that gas: fracking, which consists in digging a well, breaking the rock with explosives then using a mix of sand, water and chemical products. Gas can then rise to the surface and be collected.
However this process requires a huge quantity of water, about 15,000,000 L per fracking site, and despite vigilance, a significant volume of water and chemical products can get out and infiltrate phreatic tables and sources of drinkable water. Moreover the environmental and health consequences of shale gas exploitation are in the spotlight. In fact, according to the documentary “Gasland” produced by Arte, a substantial number of drinkable sources are polluted and a lot of gas comes out of water taps in places close to exploitation sites.
What think Britons about that?
Consequently a huge wave of outrage swept over the UK. For instance Green MP Caroline Lucas was arrested after she demonstrated in the Balcombe drilling site. A fracking exploration site is to be closed because of the pressure of demonstrators who accused it of hurting migrating birds.
So why did Cameron decide to drop taxation?
The United Kingdom led the first manufacturing revolution thanks to coal. Today Cameron believes shale gas is the next main source of energy. The UK government doesn’t want to be late in benefitting from what could be the world’s future source of prosperity. Shale gas could boost the UK economy but it could also disrupt the international order. The United States is the model, it was first to exploit shale gas and the experience looks profitable. Traditional gas producers worry about that because they know that raw material is as much an economic issue as a diplomatic one.
Is the American case really the same as the British one?
The UK government argues that shale gas is really a great opportunity for the UK. Energy minister Michael Fallon said recently that it would be irresponsible not to allow shale gas extraction because the real resource of the British underground looks better than expected. Nevertheless a recent survey demonstrates that it will be less productive for the UK than it has been for the United States. In fact the price of extraction will probably be higher in the United Kingdom.
Have other actors influenced the government’s decision?
When it comes to climate or energy policies, energy lobbies are never far. The most important companies (Chevron, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil) hired people to convince the government the exploitation of shale gas was necessary. Lyndson Corby is often named in the British press as one of those who influenced Cameron. What is more surprising is the role of the United States. It has been trying to influence European states so they become less dependent on Russia. The influence of the lobbies coupled with the known environmental impact explain why people reacted with hostility to Cameron’s decision.
What to think about shale gas?
We should stay away from shale gas. or at least really examine its impact in an unpartisan way, which is almost impossible, as one can hear absolutely anything on the subject. According to Gazprom, it is very polluting, but isn’t it because Gazprom has a lot to lose with the exploitation of shale gas? According to Shell or Chevron, it is not so polluting and it could be the future of the UK economy. All we really know is that it’s an economic success in the USA and that shale gas extraction is polluting. However it should not to be forgotten that lower gas prices are profitable for energy independence, employment and competitiveness. Could it also harm the development of renewable energies? Indeed for the countries that have no fossil fuel reserves but a potential shale gas reserve, it would become useless to invest more in developing expensive green energies. It could therefore have an impact on the future development of renewable energies and delay a necessary energy transition.
Clément MOREAU & Julien VIELCANET