OGP Executive Director Michael Engell-Jensen represented the Association at the third Lech Energy Forum, organised by the EU Commission in the mountains of Austria to discuss and develop perspectives for the future energy policy. Fellow participants at the session on 11–12 April included high level representatives of industry, politics and civil society.
In an intervention, Michael acknowledged that the use of fresh water for shale gas production is becoming a concern for many observers. However, he said, while shale gas production involves heavier use of freshwater than conventional natural gas operations, on average, it is nevertheless half as intense as what is required for coal production.
He went on to quote a recent macroeconomic study showing that over a 30-year span, shale gas development in Europe would require only 3% of the annual water consumption of France (33 billion m3). Even less water could be needed as recycling of produced water in shale gas operations becomes more the standard. This, he said, is already happening in the US. There, in the Marcellus basin, one of the country’s biggest, almost 100% of the water produced is recycled.
He acknowledged that restrictions in fresh water supply could exist locally.
“The protection of potable water aquifers is a great concern to all,” he continued. “As a result, wells are cased, and all casings are cemented—a long-established technique developed by our industry to withstand the high oil and gas pressures we encounter.
“Aquifers are therefore protected from contamination by the well’s thick wall of casings and cement. It’s also worth noting that shale hydrocarbon reservoirs are typically located thousands of meters below the water table. It is at these depths that hydraulic fracturing techniques are employed and typically fractures extend less than 300 m vertically.”
He went on to explain how conventional oil and gas production sometimes requires water (seldom fresh) to maximize oil production. This production water is almost invariably treated and re-cycled, he added.
Michael concluded by noting that, without energy, much of the world’s current supply of fresh water would not be available or fit for human consumption.