Stakeholder Engagement on Shale Gas in Europe: Has It Already Failed?

Chaîneau, Claude-Henri (Total E&P) | Lennock, Jean (Total E&P)



The production of natural gas from unconventional sources in the United States, and more generally North America, has put a spotlight on an industry that has been developing in the US for more than 30 years. This industry is a complex web of companies that produce, process and transport gas and oil. It has reshaped the energy supply market in North America and created a new business model. Since 2010, interest in unconventional gas has spiked in Europe with several companies revealing their interest in shale gas. The production of shale gas is characterised by the drilling and fracking of a large number of wells creating a significant footprint on the natural and human environment. This footprint and the perceived environmental impacts associated with it, have transformed engagement between companies and its stakeholders including advocacy groups, NGOs, academics, scientists and politicians. Relationships with communities living close to, or affected by, these activities have also been influenced by the public debate, on the ground protests and widespread communication of ‘facts’ by those against shale gas. The emotional debate has even spilled over into the media: some journalists and publications have become anti-shale gas activists in their own right. Politicians’ opinion appears to be balanced between the pros and cons. Oil and gas companies are increasingly forced to compete for space to present technical approaches, current or future economic benefits as well as their approach to managing positive and negative impacts. This is not facilitated by the ambivalence of elected politicians and government staff towards shale gas exploration. While a heated debate and anti-shale gas activism took place in North America during production, the European protest was in full swing in the early exploration phase. Total has experienced the opposition to shale gas in several countries. In France, a highly charged and emotional debate resulted in a moratorium on hydraulic fracturation and the cancellation of licenses. Having learnt from this experience at home, Total has consistently sought to, or encourage its partners to, proactively engage all stakeholders particularly local communities as well as opposition activists, take part in public debates at national and local levels, and demonstrate transparency through the disclosure of environmental and social studies, and the early sharing of information. However, the force of opposition and criticism remains undiminished and appears to be extending to conventional activities.