Post Summer Wrap-up on Fracking in Europe
Did you go ‘unplugged’ this summer, when you were walking in the mountains or hitting the beaches? Were you not checking the World Wide Web for the latest news on fracking, shale gas, unconventional oil and gas?
Not to worry, this blog will catch you up in no time.
The summer of 2015 was barely underway when the Dutch government decided that there will be no commercial shale exploration before 2020. The Dutch government first wants to get a clearer view on the transition of the Netherlands to a zero-carbon energy mix. Once the post-2020 energy mix of the Netherlands is better understood, a decision will be made whether the moratorium on shale gas continues. In any case, the licences that had been awarded to the exploration company Cuadrilla were cancelled.
Speaking of Cuadrilla… you may have heard that the Lancashire County Council rejected its application to start drilling and fracking in northern England before the summer even began. Despite the complete lack of a social licence to operate in Lancashire (definitely after all the mistakes the company has already made), Cuadrilla decided to appeal the rejection of its application, stubbornly trying to get fracking going against the will of the local population. Cuadrilla must have complained to the new UK government about pesky anti-fracking protesters and reluctant local councils. The result? The UK government is continuing its ‘all out for shale’ strategy, which is bound to fail. As part of its counter offensive, the new Conservative government is pleasing its corporate supporters in the fossil fuel industry by offering an additional 1000 square miles of the UK for fracking and by allowing fracking around its national parks. Moreover, the communities secretary has floated the idea that he could ‘call in’ any application for fracking in order to fast track such projects, thereby allowing ministers to bypass local councils entirely.
The UK government is the only remaining government in Europe that still clings to the idea that fracking and shale gas is key to Europe’s long-term objective to drastically reduce its emissions, limit its dependency on natural gas imports and deliver affordable energy to European households and consumers. Its political leaders are suffering from what I call the ‘island syndrome’: Successive UK ministers delude themselves into thinking that the many setbacks suffered by the industry in countries like Poland and Romania, where big companies like Chevron and Exxon failed to find commercially viable levels of shale gas, offer no lessons for the UK.
Speaking of failures, super oil major Total announced in mid-August that it is abandoning its drilling for shale gas in Denmark, because – again – the geological structures that Total was hoping to frack proved to not be commercially viable. The drop in oil as well as gas prices, which started last summer, will only make the prospect for European shale gas bleaker, proving our point that fracking can only happen if and when natural gas is expensive.
Does that mean that the European ‘shale fail’ is complete? Certainly not. Cuadrilla remains stubborn in its efforts to get fracking underway in the UK. In Romania, the threat of fracking is not completely over, after Chevron abandoned its shale gas licences: The Serbian oil and gas company NIS is exploring for shale gas in Romania. Fun fact: The Russian state-controlled company Gazprom is a majority shareholder in NIS. Isn’t that ironic? After all the talk of President Putin undermining attempts at finding shale gas in Europe, it’s a company controlled by Russia pursuing shale gas in Europe? Sometimes, facts are stranger than fiction!
While fracking has undoubtedly disappointed in Europe, the United States’ energy policy continues to rely heavily on fracked gas. Fracking is also expanding in Argentina’s Vaca Muerta basin. Plans to start fracking in Ain Salah – central Algeria – have been met with stiff opposition from the local population: As Halliburton found out, wasting precious water resources is not popular among people living in the desert. Who would have thought?
So, it should be clear: We need to keep growing our international movement for a ban on fracking. This is why the 2015 Global Frackdown comes at a crucial moment, namely just one month ahead of the Paris climate talks. Our political leaders need to understand that fracking for more oil and gas is incompatible with taking sweeping action on climate change. This year’s Global Frackdown to Paris is an important contribution to the global mobilization to keep fossil fuels in the grounds. We need a rapid transition to an energy system that puts 100 percent renewables and efficiency at its core, not diddle around with the idea, promoted by industry, of natural gas as a so-called transition fuel. I hope that you will stand with us during this year’s Global Frackdown to get a ban on fracking on the agenda of the Paris climate talks! Please join the Global Frackdown by signing our awesome sign-on letter, which clearly outlines why fracking for natural gas and fighting climate change are mutually exclusive.