This article was published in Unconventional Oil & Gas Monitor, 4 June 2012.

Like it or not, the unconventional gas industry has a lousy reputation. It is widely blamed for water contamination, earthquakes and fugitive emissions of methane that by some estimates make its climate impact worse than coal. Yet the industry could be on the brink of a twenty-year fracking boom worth almost $3 trillion – if it cleans up its act. That was the message from a new report by the International Energy Agency, Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, launched in London last week.

In this so-called golden age, service companies would drill 1 million wells, using thousands of rigs, and triple unconventional gas production to 1.6 trillion cubic metres (tcm) by 2035. The boom would put downward pressure on prices and global greenhouse gas emissions, slash import bills and raise energy security. Happy days – for both the industry and the IEA’s energy-importing member countries.

However, there must be serious doubts about whether such a scenario is achievable or even physically possible. And if it is, IEA has ducked the real climate implications, meaning any boom could be vulnerable to a policy guillotine just as it gathers pace.

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