IEA: Global best practices needed in shale gas boom

The International Energy Agency called today for the adoption of best practices for shale gas production worldwide.

The agency’s “Golden Rules” seek to mitigate the environmental impact of the rapid shale gas expansion. Adopting the rules would reduce energy-related CO2 emissions by 1.3 percent, compared to a situation where the rules aren’t used. But per-well costs would be 7 percent higher, the agency said.

Instituting global best practices would also calm public fears, allowing natural gas production and demand to expand, while moderating fuel’s price and creating jobs, the IEA noted.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said shale gas can be produced safely. However, she noted, public skepticism is strong.

“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,” van der Hoeven said in a written statement. “The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance; governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place.”

The rise of shale gas has raised environmental concerns worldwide. The technique of hydraulic fracturing – which pumps massive amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to force out natural gas – has drawn the ire of environmental groups, who fear it contaminates aquifers and causes small earthquakes.

In a list of best practices, the independent agency, which monitors energy issues globally, called for governments and the oil and gas industry to better measure and monitor environmental impacts of shale gas production. It also promoted full transparency and communication with impacted communities.

Prevention of well leaks, limited gas flaring and rigorous monitoring of waste water should also be priorities, the agency said.