This paper discusses how non-technical risks are impacting shale gas developments in Europe and how challenging it is to obtain the Social License to Operate. Although still at the early exploration phase, most European developments are already significantly hit by stakeholder concerns, lack of public acceptance and often lack of government support. Some European countries have even halted early exploration - at least temporarily - by political decision. Most of the public concerns are of environmental nature, especially linked to the use of chemical additives in the hydraulic fracturing process and related concerns about potential groundwater impacts, but hardly any is based on real events in Europe. Most concerns have developed on the back of perception and experiences in the US. This paper also takes a critical look at the discrepancy between public environmental concerns and real environmental risks.
Initial experience in Europe has shown that the non-technical challenges have initially been underestimated, and that huge efforts are necessary to gain public acceptance and political support. A lot of efforts have already been put on stakeholder engagement, public information on technical processes, disclosure of chemicals and initial promotion campaigns, but the acceptance in most parts of Europe – Poland being the only exception - remains challenging. Besides technical and regulatory requirements, obtaining a "social license to operate" is thus of increasing importance for the success of a project.