Owen McQuade speaks to Christophe McGlade, doctoral researcher at University College London’s Energy Institute, about the uncertainties surrounding the future role of gas.
Gas has three key roles to play in a future with a low carbon economy, according to Christophe McGlade.
One is as “a very minor role as a back up to renewables.” McGlade explains: “The wind doesn’t produce when it isn’t blowing so you need a back-up, and gas is ideally placed for that.”
If carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be finalised, gas could have “a much more central and long-term role.” Gas with CCS “gets us pretty close to carbon neutrality so it could be a very big part of our electricity supply in 2050,” McGlade contends.
The concept of natural gas as a bridge to a completely renewable energy economy has become a popular sound-bite, McGlade observes.
More discussion is needed. There could be a possibility of gas being a bridge to the acceptance of nuclear energy “or some other technology coming through,” he says.
McGlade’s research examines the main influences on the outlook for oil and gas.
These include the total resource availability, the investment in and cost of resource extraction, the role of technological progress, global demand for oil and gas, and the impacts of geopolitical mandates or events. He also investigates the timing and extent of the cross-over between conventional and unconventional resources as well substitutes.
On shale gas, he notes that it has “become very popular and it is a very important source to address.” Estimating how much shale gas exists is “a very uncertain business.” UCL is currently examining the ranges in the estimates that have been made on shale gas.
“Even in a region such as the US, where you’ve got five of six years of pretty good production history, there are still massive ranges in how much gas people think there is,” McGlade tells agendaNi.
Pointing to the Marcellus shale in the north east of the United States, McGlade says: “There have been over 5,000 wells drilled there in the past few years, yet ranges of estimates are [up to] 23 trillion cubic metres. That’s seven-and-a-half times the global gas consumption.”
Before Europe, or indeed the UK or Ireland, get “too excited” about “going down the gas route”, McGlade warns that “it’s important to get more information.”
When asked about the future of shale gas in Europe, McGlade says that there are discrepancies in the projections for shale gas. “Looking out to 2025, some people say there will be 5 billion cubic metres per year; some people say there’ll be 200.”
Recent results from Poland “haven’t been too encouraging,” he adds. “Exxon recently announced a few wells which weren’t particularly commercial. They also announced that the resources there weren’t as high as some people were hoping.”
McGlade concludes: “I think European shale gas potential is there. There will be some production, but whether it will be as high as some people were hoping two or three years ago is not looking quite so sure these days.”
Future of gas seminar: Christophe McGlade