Traditionally most natural gas has come from rock formations that, once drilled, allow the gas to flow freely. But supplies of this easy-to-access gas are declining. Many of the remaining vast gas resources lie trapped tightly in dense rock, inside pores up to 20,000 times narrower than a human hair.

Called tight and shale gas, these resources were previously considered too costly or difficult to access, yet the overall volume of available gas can be much higher than in conventional gas reservoirs. We use advanced technology to unlock them, contributing to global growth in natural gas production.

Shell has decades of production experience with tight gas – in the USA and Canada, the North Sea, and mainland Europe. Over time we have found ways to safely develop the fields and produce the gas with greater efficiency, lowering costs and limiting our environmental impact.

Producing tight and shale gas

At all our tight gas operations, we use a technique known as hydraulic fracturing to break open rock and release natural gas. This involves pumping fluids into the well bore at high pressure. The fluids comprise around 99% sand and water, with 1% chemicals added to help the gas flow more freely.

Fracturing typically takes place a kilometre or more (thousands of feet) below drinking water supplies. We insert concrete and steel barriers into the wells as standard practice to prevent any drilling or fracturing fluids from entering into local water supplies.

Read about advanced technology we use to safely produce tight and shale gas

Around the world

Shell started producing tight gas in the early 1950s in south Texas. Today we produce enough natural gas in North America to meet the energy needs of millions of homes. We are also exploring for tight oil and gas in locations in the USA, Canada, and Argentina.

Read more about tight and shale gas in the Americas – opens on our US website

Building on our experience in North America, we are developing tight and shale gas operations globally.

In China, we produce enough tight gas a year at the Changbei field to provide power for 12.5 million homes, and we are exploring for more resources in other parts of the country. Other developments include in South Africa and, together with Exxon Mobil, in the Lower Saxony Basin of Germany.

In Australia we acquired Arrow Energy in 2010 in a joint deal with PetroChina, to produce another form of tight gas called coalbed methane – natural gas found in coal seams.

We also have agreements with the state gas production company Ukrgasvydobuvannia in Ukraine to jointly explore and produce tight gas in Eastern Ukraine, and to develop the approximately 8,000 km² Yuzivska field in the same area.

Communities and environment

Man testing river water

Listening to residents near to our operations helps us form strong relationships and find ways to address local concerns about our operations. As we expand our activities we have implemented a number of environmental measures with the aim of protecting local biodiversity, keeping air and water clean, and reclaiming the land once drilling ends.

Read about how we work with communities and our commitment to the environment.

Keeping the natural balance

Municipal water treatment lagoons at Dawson Creek
Municipal water treatment lagoons at Dawson Creek

At our Changbei operations in China we reuse water wherever possible – in drilling and cleaning, for example – to limit our fresh-water use.

At Groundbirch, in Canada, under an agreement with the City of Dawson Creek we have supported the construction of a water recycling plant for the city. The plant treats sewage and other waste water which is then be piped for reuse by Shell. This avoids the need to draw on fresh water and, without the need to ship water in, cuts truck journeys by 3,000 km a year.

The local government also uses some of the water to clean roads and water sports fields, and sells some of it to industry.

Read more about Shell and fresh water

At Changbei, in Shaanxi province of northern China, we work with the forestry department to help protect biodiversity in the Yulin area. We supported, in particular, a scientific study of the relict gull to develop effective conservation methods.

Listening and learning

As part of the social investment programme for our tight gas operations in China, we met with local residents and government representatives in the Shaanxi province to understand their needs and concerns. This led to us funding a new school building and donating books and computers to aid learning. Shell volunteers also went into the classroom to help students learn English.

Many people were concerned over the lack of health care in nearby villages: we launched a medical training programme together with the local youth association and have already trained 15 doctors.

In Ukraine, we held a number of meetings with local communities, non-governmental organisations and local government officials to explain the way we operate and to address concerns. We have continuously engaged with communities to answer questions around hydraulic fracturing, water management and the social and economic benefits of our projects – the jobs we can create and the skills we can help develop.

In view of some concerns that tight gas production can contaminate local water resources, we invited Ukrainian NGOs to witness sampling groundwater near the location of our first well.

Buying and hiring locally

Our operations create jobs and help build skills among local communities. At Groundbirch, in Canada, we help local companies develop skills needed on the project. We also support the Northeastern Aboriginal Skills Employment Partnership programme, contributing $40,000 annually to help train Aboriginal People for job opportunities.

In the Groundbirch area we do business with qualified, competitive local and aboriginal firms: in 2012 well over 65% of our contractor spend was local.

As part of our Duvernay operations near Fox Creek, Alberta, Shell has partnered with a local college to fund a dual credit welding program at the local high school. The programme allows local students to train as welders and take a certification exam, providing them with the necessary skills to obtain work in the industry and in their community.

In the Neuquén province of Argentina, where we are drilling for shale oil and shale gas, we worked with a local employment office and mayor to launch a training programme to equip local people with new skills for the growing energy industry.

Respecting traditional life

Aerial view of two people at gas plant

As well as bringing new jobs to regions we respect traditional livelihoods. Around our Changbei operations in China we worked with Yulin college to help goat farmers breed higher quality goats from specially selected stud goats to earn more from their farms.

Many of our projects in Canada traverse the traditional territory of local aboriginal communities. In development planning, we engage early on with aboriginal communities, trappers and other community members to understand traditional land use areas and help avoid disturbing culturally-sensitive areas or those used traditionally for fishing, hunting or trapping. We invite community members to sites before construction to identify plant species or any traditionally sensitive landscapes that we should seek to avoid during construction.

In Alberta, Canada, we have partnered with a local college to fund and coordinate a reclamation project with a local aboriginal community. The project is building on-site reclamation capacity in the local community and furthering traditional knowledge-sharing between Shell and Aboriginal elders and youth.

Forming local partnerships

We work with organisations and the government in regions surrounding our operations, in some cases helping to improve facilities for local people.

In the Shaanxi Province of China we worked with local government and funded the construction of 240 underground storage tanks and 12 pumping stations. This provided around 3,000 local people with better access to drinking water.

We have upgraded existing roads and built 100 kilometres (62 miles) of new roads, helping previously isolated villagers to travel outside the area. We also supported road safety programmes for primary school children.

At Groundbirch in north-east British Columbia, Canada, we are providing financial support to help renovate an historical post office into a new community and cultural centre for Dawson Creek and surrounding areas.

More in energy and innovation

Tight and shale gas technology

We use advanced technology to safely unlock resources of natural gas trapped tightly inside dense rock, and reduce our environmental footprint.

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