A number of other factors are holding back the European shale gas industry, including but not limited to the continent’s density and a lack of infrastructure and pipelines. Property rights are also important. While in the U.S. minerals under the land usually belong to a homeowner who is willing to negotiate, in Europe it’s usually the state that owns underground resources.
“There are these typical arguments and those I don’t believe in,” LaBelle said. “Those issues are not big enough to stop shale gas development if countries were serious about it. I think if a country does want to adapt something, like renewable energy in Germany, it will go for it.”
The biggest hurdle now for the shale gas industry is Europe is social rejection, according to LaBelle. “In the U.S., everything [shale gas development] began and just went on before there was real public input into it. Because from the industry point of view, it was much more evolution of technology rather than revolution, whereas Europeans see this as dramatically different technology.”
According to Murphy, Europeans are concerned because they are dealing with an “unknown.”
“There is no question that there is environmental pushback because of concerns that people have about the development of shale gas, which they are not accustomed to,” he said. “So [Europe is] working with an unconventional gas resource that they have no legacy knowledge of, as we do in many places in the U.S. and Canada.”
That is why Europe needs to decide whether it wants shale gas or not. The process is slow, and while Europe will not beat the U.S. on gas prices, greater independence from Russian gas imports is at stake. Even that is not assured; in 2012 the European Commission claimed that shale gas production would not make Europe self-sufficient in natural gas, as has happened in the U.S. The best scenario supposedly is to maintain imports from Russia at the 60 percent level and not let it grow.
Some researchers tend to look positively at the future. “Ultimately, a resource will be developed where it is,” Murphy said. “I think the technology will keep changing. Certainly it will become more environmentally friendly over time. When those things happen, those changes in technology will likely propel this forward fast in time in countries where it didn’t initially start.”
By comparison, LaBelle assesses the development of shale gas in Europe pragmatically and sees it as an investment. “The more shale gas we extract, the more gas we use—even from Russia or [liquefied natural gas terminals]—the more structure we build,” he said. “And that infrastructure will be around for more than a hundred years, and it’s not going anywhere.”