In Europe, the exploration of shale gas resources has just started, but with the exception of Poland most activities have been halted or delayed because of stakeholder concerns about environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing. With examples from Poland and Germany, the paper summarizes these socio-economic challenges, covers the sensitive dialogue of technical experts with non-technical stakeholders, discusses suggestions on how to address perceived versus real environmental risks, and concludes with an outlook on how these constraints may be overcome so that shale gas developments in Europe may proceed.

According to published stakeholder concerns and media coverage in Europe, most of the concerns are linked to a perceived risk of groundwater contamination through the use of chemicals during hydraulic fracturing, or the release of methane or induced seismicity. Based on an analysis of perceived versus real environmental risks, and how they have been addressed in the media, suggestions for a re-focus of stakeholder communication and management are drawn.

Operators might be well advised to develop a collaborative strategy to overcome stakeholder concerns in an industry with a poor reputation and biased media coverage. The paper provides suggestions for such a strategy refocus with the objectives of creating stakeholder acceptance and gaining supporters. Elements of this are full disclosure of project information, stakeholder engagement and education, promotion of shale gas benefits, and avoidance of environmental and health & safety impacts.

The critical public discussions in Europe have not only halted or delayed shale gas developments, they have also impacted industry reputation in the region, including conventional oil and developments, as well as other industries. Stakeholder acceptance has thus become the dominant challenge of shale gas developments. It is therefore crucial for the operators and partners to collaboratively invest in promotion, information, and education. This in return will balance biased media coverage, and gain trust and acceptance, thus allowing for further shale gas developments in Europe.

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