Natural Gas and Nagging Earthquake Fears

News from The Netherlands this week poses another challenge to the natural gas industry. The Dutch government is cutting production from Western Europe's biggest gas field, operated by an ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) / Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) joint venture, by a quarter over the next three years.

Natural gas is a hero or a villain, depending on whom you ask. For some, it provides a bridge to a new energy future of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased energy independence. For others, it's a distraction from truly clean energy sources that also poses unacceptable risks to human health and the environment. One particular concern is called "induced seismicity."

Stop rockin' my world ...
Induced seismicity -- sometimes more specifically referred to as human-induced seismicity -- is the phenomenon by which some human activity increases the incidence or severity of tremors and earthquakes in the surrounding region. Lately, we're seeing increased evidence that induced seismicity might be more prevalent than we initially realized. This week, we're learning that natural gas extraction in Western Europe's largest gas field, near the Dutch town of Groningen, has increased regional seismicity over the past 25 years.

To be clear, it's not fracking per se that seems to create the problem. It's underground injection, which is often used to dispose of wastewater after the fracking process is complete.

This isn't some fringe concept. Extractive companies are aware of the issue. ExxonMobil and Shell study it closely and have dedicated risk-management strategies. Both companies cooperated in the study that produced the Dutch results, as well they should. This is one of those areas where a single big event could turn the public completely against fracking, and maybe even natural gas in general. Getting out ahead of induced seismicity is just good business.

Shell is one of the founding members of a new initiative to improve the sustainability of shale development. Tackling the risk head-on in this way is crucial to preserving a future for natural gas. Watch the following video to learn more.

More on the natural gas story
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Sara Murphy

Sara has been writing about and analyzing companies from a sustainable investment perspective for the last 15 years. An ardent optimist, she believes that it is entirely possible for all stakeholders to benefit and profit from companies' ingenuity and innovation.

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