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Shale gas boom explained

One of the buzzwords the media have been bandying about recently has been ‘fracking’. This is an abbreviation for hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract shale gas. Although linked with some controversy, fracking is an engineering process that has evolved to keep pace with the current shale gas boom. Although Europe is lagging behind in this market, as an alternative to exhaustible petrochemicals, shale is growing apace in the US and Asia.

The future of shale gas

The shale gas boom is partly down to the fact that pockets of existing natural gas are diminishing. Shale gas is a natural gas that is trapped within shale. Shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock that is basically mud, formed by a mixture of clay and other minerals, especially calcite and quartz.

To describe the extraction of this shale gas as having undergone a boom in recent years is something of an understatement. In the United States, where there has been considerable investment in the technologies required to bring this gas to the surface, shale gas only accounted for about 1% of that country’s overall natural gas production at the turn of the millennium. Within the decade this figure has risen to well over 20%, with the latest forecasts predicting that over the next two decades, shale gas will account for almost half of all America’s natural gas needs.

Analysts are forecasting similar rises in production right across the globe, especially in China, which is estimated to contain the planet’s largest reserves. One reason the US and Canada are embracing the fracking process so enthusiastically, is that estimates of shale gas production show such potential that the longer term picture is the prevention of Russia or the Gulf nations from constantly dictating higher prices for the fossil fuel they export to Europe.

Shale gas: a reliable extraction process

The shale gas boom is dependent on an extraction process known as fracking. This involves drilling down into the shale rock, creating tiny explosions which shatter the hard sedimentary rocks in order to release the shale gas sealed inside. Sand, water and various chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure, which allows the shale gas to flow from the head of the well.

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