Myth 1: Shale gas is a source of clean energy.
Fact: Not exactly. Natural gas is generally accepted as the cleanest fossil fuel, releasing about half as much CO2 as coal, less nitrogen, and negligible emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury. However, methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is released as shale is drilled and transported. Recent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and Cornell University have raised concerns about the impact of methane emissions on the carbon footprint of shale gas. So while shale gas may be cleaner than coal, just how clean is still up for debate and heavily dependent on industry practices.
Myth 2: There’s enough shale gas in N.A. to last us more than a century.
Fact: Inconclusive, due to fluctuating estimates. What is clear is that technical improvements in drilling methods and better technology for discovering reserves have substantially increased estimates over the past 10 years. Recent competing reports by the U.S. Geological Survey and Energy Department point to vastly different estimates of shale gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale region, ranging from 84 trillion to 410 trillion cubic feet.
Myth 3: Shale gas development has a small impact on the local environment.
Fact: To be determined. Environmental concerns arise from injecting significant water resources mixed with toxic chemicals into the ground as a way to dislodge the shale gas. Companies do not disclose these chemicals in Canada. Several well blow-outs and surface spills in the U.S. indicate these chemicals may be finding their way into the water table. Then there’s the issue of what to do with the water once it’s been used. Based on these concerns, the Canadian government recently launched two separate environmental reviews of the shale gas extraction process.
Myth 4: Natural gas, increasingly sourced from shale gas, is a bridge to renewable energy.
Fact: Debatable. The “dash for gas” as a result of cheap and seemingly abundant shale gas may significantly reduce emissions from fossil fuels, but the huge investment in new natural gas infrastructure, including power plants, means less capital flowing to true clean-energy solutions like wind and solar power, potentially delaying the transition to renewable energy. In the Alberta oil sands, which are heavily dependent on natural gas for extraction and refining, low input costs because of a boom in shale-gas development is making the pursuit of dirtier oil more profitable. In this sense, cheap shale gas is more of a barrier than a bridge to renewable energy.
Myth 5: Shale gas will keep natural gas prices low.
Fact: Not necessarily. If there’s a massive move to using natural gas for transportation and power generation, production of shale gas won’t keep up and prices will rise again. New technologies will likely lower extraction costs in the future, but as the most accessible locations for shale gas extraction are exhausted, the cost of discovery and removal will rise.