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New Ways to Secure Energy Security

Submitted by on 28 Mar 2013 – 14:20

By Alf Svensson MEP, Member of the European Parliament Development Committee

When we turn on a lamp, we expect it to light up. Likewise, we assume, as a given, that the car will start, the mobile phone will be charged and that the heating in our houses will work. There are few questions as important in our everyday lives as questions concerning energy. And we are living in an ever more constant state of energy dependence.

The hunt for energy has always been a challenge for humankind, ever since our ancestors learned the art of fire to get access to heat and light. Without access to energy, people have lived, and still live today, in poverty and misery. In the Development Committee of the European Parliament we often discuss how people in developing countries can get access to energy in order to create humane living conditions. To run a school or a hospital in Sweden and Europe is impossible without access to energy. We recently saw the risks and dangers of power failures in a big city such as New York after hurricane Sandy.

We are today more or less completely dependent on fossil fuels. Energy demand is politically highly important since our choices of energy sources have repercussions on the environment and the global political arena, and almost completely rule countries’ economies.

The strive to differentiate energy sources is becoming more and more important. Sweden has access to both water power and nuclear power with high security. In Europe as a whole, another important source of energy is coal energy. But we should always investigate possible complements to these sources of energy. One alternative that has not been discussed enough, at least not in Sweden, is shale gas. In the European Parliament though, shale gas is being discussed more and more and not long ago, there was a vote on two reports in plenary describing both the advantages and problems of shale gas.

If we could extract shale gas through environmentally-acceptable methods, it could become an important source of energy supply. It has even been proposed that shale gas will, within the not too distant future, stand for 30% of the world’s total primary energy supply. A Swedish newspaper wrote in November that Algeria has deposits ten times the yearly European consumption of natural gas. America, where the advancement towards extraction has come the furthest, calculates that it will become self-dependent on natural gas for the coming 100 years thanks to shale gas extraction. Within a couple of years, shale gas extraction could turn America into an exporter of gas.

It is hard to know the amount of gas available for possible extraction in Europe, but a number of EU countries have already cleared the way for exploring potential deposits. Sweden is one of these countries. Test drillings have been made on several locations, for instance in Skåne and Östergötland.

Shale gas, which lies deep down in the earth, is often extracted by so-called “fracking”.  Water, chemicals and sand are pumped 1000-3,500 metres deep into the soil, causing cracks in the shale from where the gas can be extracted. This particular technique uses huge volumes of water and there might be a risk of contamination of ground water. In the future there might be other techniques at hand that might be less harmful to the environment. Needless to say, any extraction in any EU country would have to take place with high environmental standards, and areas where drinking water is found, it must be protected. But why stop investigating the matter, as some would be happy to do, before it is investigated thoroughly?

If we are able to extract shale gas in an efficient and environmentally-acceptable way, the EU would be less dependent on energy imports. Natural gas produces 25-30% lower carbon emissions than oil, and even lower compared to coal. From a global perspective, the gas would eventually be able to replace coal.

The extraction of significant amounts of shale gas in Europe is likely to make the EU stronger in the aspect of external security matters. Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown many times that he is ready to use the “energy weapon” against his neighbours. Many of the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries do not respect human rights and freedoms. With access to our own energy, countries in the EU would be able to act more freely because of this energy independence.

All efficient forms of energy imply some environmental impact and they all have their pros and cons. Nuclear power involves risks. Hydropower affects our rivers. Wind power is inefficient in relation to its cost. Oil and natural gas result in high carbon emissions and cement the power of dictators in the Arab world and in Russia.

In some EU countries and in parties here in the Parliament there is talk of a total ban on the extraction of shale gas. I think that would be very unfortunate. It is time for our politicians to further support the potential for the exploration of shale gas in the EU and for mining in an environmentally-safe manner.

Politicians are supposed to work to make life easier for people. Citizens’ lights, cars, schools and hospitals should be able to function without politicians or public opinion putting up barriers, or stopping investigations and research.