08 December 2012 9:43 am | | 14

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A shale gas drilling tower

By Reynald Du Berger

As a retired professor with an avid interest in energy issues, I am disheartened by the shale gas misinformation campaign being spread across the United States, Quebec, Europe, and most recently, Tunisia. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has dubbed the coming years as the “Golden Age of Gas,” which suggests this is an energy source that deserves to be seriously considered, not rejected based solely on myths and half-truths.  With recent anti-shale statements from the Fédération Nationale de l’Electricité et du Gaz, Tunisie and comments from Mohamed Larbi Bouguerra, it’s clear that facts desperately need to be injected into the debate.

Mansour Cherni, the National Coordinator for the Fédération Nationale de l’Electricité et du Gaz, Tunisie, is asking Tunisians to reject shale gas development on the grounds that it “pollutes the ground, the air, and the water.” These assertions are false.  Hydraulic fracturing, the technique that unlocks natural gas trapped in shale and other tight reservoirs deep beneath the surface, is a safe technology that has a 60 year history in the North America. According to the Ground Water Protection Council, an organization of American state regulators, it has been used more than one million times and has never been found to contaminate drinking water.

The fluids used to hydraulically fracture the rock are 99.5 percent water and sand, with the remaining 0.5 percent being additives that are also typically found in common household products like cleaners and detergents. Generally less than 12 chemicals are used in one operation, not the 750 recently reported. Wells are designed with multiple layers of cement and steel casing to keep fluids separate from the environment. After the fluid is used, it is recycled for use in other wells, treated or injected into deep disposal wells.

There have also been concerns that shale gas will deplete Tunisia’s water supply. The Kennedy School at Harvard University found that water used for shale gas development, on a per-unit-of-energy-produced basis, requires comparable or even less water than other energy sources. In the United States, water usage for all oil and gas activity – including hydraulic fracturing – typically represents less than one percent of total water demand in any given area. In some parts, that number is as low as 0.1 percent. Recycling and using non-potable water sources are options that companies routinely employ when water is scarce.

It is surprising that some unions have rejected shale gas development, rather than seeking factual information on the opportunity it presents. In the United States, trade unions have played an instrumental role in shale gas development.   Butch Taylor is the president of Ohio’s Local 396 Plumbers & Pipefitters Union, one of many local unions whose workers have benefited from the industry.  Before shale gas development they were facing 30 to 40 percent unemployment but now have “full employment” and “relish” the opportunities the industry provides their workers.

Mohamed Larbi Bouguerra, in letter published November 6 in Leaders, asserts there will be wells drilled every 600 metres, with 3 wells every 2 kilometres. However, with horizontal drilling many wells can be drilled from a single location, extending out in different directions, so impacts are greatly reduced. In fact, a typical shale well can access as much natural gas as would have required ten or more conventional wells. Further, the claims that shale gas caused flaming faucets in Texas, foul-smelling water in Pavillion and contaminated water wells in Pennsylvania have all been investigated and disproven by state regulators.

Shale gas development is occurring safely in the United States and Canada, and the growing consensus in other countries is that shale gas can be developed safely with proper regulations. The European Parliament has rejected a ban, seeking instead regulations adapted for the European context.  In France, the Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg has credited innovation for shale development that can be conducted “without destruction.” And workers’ unions in the United States have done so too.

With an estimated technically recoverable resource of 13 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of shale gas, Tunisians should look at all of the facts before deciding the fate of a safe, clean energy source that could provide much needed Tunisian jobs and government revenue – just as it has in the United States.

Reynald Du Berger is a retired geology professor at the Canadian Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

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Comments (14)

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  1. Patrick says:

    An internet search does confirm that this guy is very much on the right wing. Hard to accept that he has the best interests of the Tunisian people at heart. There are numerous videos and documentaries online that actually debunk a lot of what he is saying, so I would urge caution in accepting his arguments.

  2. Alexandra says:

    There are a lot of independent studies out there showing that shale gas can be developed safely. Stanford University participated in a study for the US government last year. You might want to look at that for some independent information. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/august/zoback-fracking-qanda-083011.html

  3. Caveman says:

    Tunisia has more than enough SOLAR and does not NEED this !

  4. zommarah says:

    @ David… a climate change denier is no scientist…

  5. Ahmed Morsa says:

    Not sure whether any of the people commenting actually read this article correctly. I believe him that shale gas can be found without compromising environment. Canada and US have far more advanced regulatory regime than us in Tunisia. We are rioting in the streets for better economic conditions and we deny an industry which can help…only in this country!

  6. Truthteller says:

    Doesn’t Tunisia have a water shortage crisis to be squandering this precious resource on the extraction of natural gas? Better to invest in solar energy, of which there is plenty.

    I agree with everyone above, the views here are too rosy and partisan. He sounds like a lobbyist for the company. Fracking is extremely controversial and has all manner of negative side effects on the environment.

    • Ahmed Morsa says:

      Canada and US have far more advanced regulatory regime than Tunisia. If they do it there safely why not in Tunisia? We are rioting in street for better economic conditions and we deny this shale gas industry? We are crazy.

    • Angela says:

      Yes solar energy is clean, safe and Tunisia has the perfect climate for it. Just because the US does it does not mean its good for people or the environment. Since when did the US have a good environmental record.
      Drilling for shale and other unconventional gas would put the world on course for catastrophic climate change – incomprehensible when we have clean energy solutions at our fingertips like wind and solar power. Our changing climate is already leaving millions hungry, destroying wildlife and costing economies billions – more fossil fuels will just make that worse. There’s no guarantee the IEA’s golden rules will eliminate the risk of earthquakes and water pollution. What seems like a quick input of money is clearly not in this case….I hope Tunisia resists.

      • Fabiola says:

        Elliminate the risk of earthquakes? Earthquakes are caused by movement of tectonic plates and have absolutely NOTHING to do with environmental conditions. Earthquakes will continue to exist regardless of what happens in the surface.

  7. zollat says:

    This guy is an extreme right-wing Quebecker, with radical and racist views about anything not “French-Canadian and Catholic” in Quebec. If he did live in France he would be a member of the Front National, the Xenophobic french party.

    Tunisia-live, before allowing people to use your platform, do a proper VETTING.

    Tunisia-live, be PROFESSIONAL.

    • Fatima says:

      I disagree with his personal opinions but I found the shale information and the links he provided to be interesting. If we can develop it safely and make money from it, I think we should go ahead. If not, it should be stopped. I’d like to know more about it before I decide.

  8. Adam says:

    If you read Reynald du Berger’s blog http://duberger.wordpress.com, you will find that he regularly expresses views that are anti-environmentalist, sceptical of climate change and Islamophobic. His opinions should be taken with more than a grain of salt.

    • Angela says:

      Dont trust anything these people say about the environment especially in poor countries that they dont care about anyway, This man should not be given article space especially when he is clearly trying to dupe the readers. I wonder who paid for his opinion would like to know that. Shale gas is not ok for any environment or the people in its area. I really hope the government tell the company to f…off

    • David says:

      He is also a scientist using facts and credible study to back up his claims. Rather than speak to those facts you take easy road and call him names…says a lot about you.

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