Europe is on the cusp of an expansion in the development of unconventional gas resources and many analysts are turning to the United States and Australia to learn lessons from markets at different stages of the development curve. Most attention has been focused on similarities and differences in geology, service industry and gas price whilst consideration of environmental stewardship has been dominated by concerns over the potential environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Broader issues of local water security, waste water management and landscape impact have, in contrast, received less attention.

To address these issues, the authors take an alternative look at the European market, using experiences in the United States and Australia to consider the risk management practices, regulatory measures and stakeholder engagement techniques that have achieved greatest success in stimulating the industry whilst at the same time protecting environmental assets. Although the industries in the US and Australia exhibit notable differences to that which may develop in Europe, several overarching observations can be made. The importance of joint-stakeholder working, transparency and carefully defined boundaries of jurisdiction are some of the key factors.

Drawing lessons from these examples and others, the authors conclude by identifying three initiatives essential to the emergence of a viable, publically acceptable and sustainable unconventional gas industry in Europe:

  • Collection of robust and reliable environmental baseline data;

  • Using and communicating sound science; and

  • Implementing collaborative governance.

Failure to implement these initiatives could stifle projects, breed uncertainty, promote conflict with existing industries and the public and potentially, discourage investment. Conversely, by implementing the three recommendations, Europe would be better placed to encourage unconventional gas development in a manner that secures social and economic benefits whilst maintaining high levels of environmental stewardship.

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