Danish municipality approves country’s first shale gas drilling licence


Frederikshavn, 2007. [Mint&Ginger/Flicr]

Frederikshavn, a municipality located in the north of Denmark, voted ‘yes’ on Wednesday (25 June) to letting the French energy company Total explore whether there is shale gas in the area. It is the first time a drilling license for shale gas has been approved in Denmark.

The approval has been met by angry protests from citizens in the local community, who fear their drinking water will get polluted and the landscape damaged by drilling rigs and road construction. They have complained to Denmark’s Climate and Energy Minister Rasmus Helveg Petersen who emphasised that the shale gas drilling is entirely the decision and responsibility of Frederikhavn’s municipality.

Shale gas extraction uses so-called hydraulic fracturing technology – or ‘fracking’ – involving underground explosions and the use of chemicals to in the shale layers of rock. Shale gas has been debated in EU member states as a result of the escalating East-West tensions over Russia, endangering the energy security of some European states, including Germany, which are heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies.

The mayor of Frederikshavn, Birgit Hansen, said Total’s drilling license does not include fracking.

“There won’t be extraction of shale gas with chemicals. That’s not what we have agreed to. We don’t want to touch the commodities in the subsoil if we can’t dig them up in an environmental-friendly way,” Hansen told the Danish national broadcaster DR.

Denmark has considerable sources of oil and natural gas in the North Sea and ranks as number 32 in the world among net exporters of crude oil. At the same time, the small Scandinavian country is known to be one of the most environment-friendly countries in the world, with wind energy counting for 30% of the electricity demand and the country expects to be fully independent from fossil fuels by 2050.

If shale gas is found in Frederikshavn, it will take 7-8 years before extraction can take place.

Shale gas is an 'unconventional' fossil fuel that is found within natural fissures and fractures underground. Until recently, no method of safely transporting it to the surface existed.

It is mined via hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, the process of breaking apart layers of shale by horizontally pumping liquids and a number of chemical additives under high pressure thereby releasing trapped gas reserves.

To proponents, shale gas represents an untapped and welcome alternative energy source to traditional fossil fuels. To detractors it is a hazardous and highly-polluting fossil fuel.

At the moment the continent depends on gas imported from Russia, and disputes between that country and Ukraine have disrupted winter supplies in recent years.

In the US, shale gas already accounts for 16% of the world's largest economy natural gas production, although analysts disagree about its long term potential.

  • 22 July 2015: Commission to review implementation of recommendations on shale gas and consider making them legally binding

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