The communications aspects of shale gas E&P according to a specialist

Marcus Pepperell is the spokesperson for Shale Gas Europe, a platform managed by FTI Consulting for all actors involved in the exploration and development of shale gas, tight gas and coalbed methane. It aims to promote a dialogue and provide first-hand, up-to-date information to citizens, policy-makers and the media on all the key issues surrounding the development of shale gas in Europe.

Shale Gas Europe is supported by Chevron, Cuadrilla Resources, Halliburton, Shell, Statoil, and Total Gas Shale Europe.

Prior to taking up his present position in January this year, Marcus spent 6 and a half years in the Middle East working in energy communications programmes and spent 10 years in London before that. In the context of developing Europe’s future energy resources, he says: ‘It’s important that key decision makers and those who influence these decision makers understand the broader energy context. We are starting to see a more pragmatic approach emerging but Europe’s shale gas debate has been surprisingly myopic when its future potential has yet to be fully understood. An informed dialogue is important as we’ll end up with a better understanding of the key issues facing the energy sector and the potential that shale gas could play in addressing some of the challenges Europe faces.’

Ahead of the 2nd EUROPEAN SHALE GAS AND OIL SUMMIT 2014, taking place in London, UK on 29-30 September, Marcus Pepperell offered Natural Gas Europe his insights on the public relations and communications aspects of European exploration and production of unconventional gas.

Please tell us a bit about the Shale Gas Europe platform and its aims and objectives.

We’re predominantly a resource centre and a platform for what we believe is fact-based and constructive communication on shale gas-related development issues. Ultimately, it’s about addressing the potential for responsibly developing Europe’s onshore reserves of shale gas.

We’ve got a broad mix of communication channels: a website, a Twitter handle to the site, blogs; we have a newsroom for making media statements and we respond to policy and reports. We’re active in having a public dialogue, providing professional commentary, and have attended and hosted events here in Brussels and around Europe.

Our objective is to ensure that Europe’s shale gas opportunity is not misunderstood. I think we are moving towards a more pragmatic debate – particularly in countries such as Poland and the UK, which are at the forefront of the European exploration process – but also in other countries such as Spain, Romania, Denmark where exploration is also underway and potentially The Netherlands which is currently undertaking a strategic environmental assessment of its shale gas opportunity.

The European Commission estimates that we could potentially have commercial production by 2015-17. As soon as this becomes a reality then the communication focus will shift to the regulatory and enforcement framework, rather than “do we or don’t we have shale gas?”

Many are quick to point out the difficulties of developing shale in Europe, such as the high costs of production compared to North America, Europe’s high population density, or the huge amounts of water necessary for hydraulic fracturing, and lately it’s not being described as a game-changer for Europe. In that context, what do you think is the strongest argument for Europe to pursue unconventional resources?

The strongest argument is that we have the opportunity to develop an indigenous domestic energy source. Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on energy imports. More than half (53.4%) of the EU’s gross inland energy consumption in 2012 came from imported sources. In the same year the EU imported 65.6% of its gas consumption.

While “traditional” gas deposits may be dwindling, many countries in Europe have significant deposits of shale gas. The International Energy Administration has estimated that Europe could hold trillions of recoverable cubic metres of shale gas across several member states. It is as yet uncertain exactly where reserves are located, how large they are or whether they are commercially viable. This is why it is important that further exploration takes place.

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