Algeria Plays Dangerous Game On Shale Gas Exploration

Article Summary
At a recent workshop on shale gas exploration, regional experts and mining officials from Algeria —- which has significant gas reserves —- discussed the technical and environmental challenges of gas exploration. One hurdle is that gas exploration involves exploding toxic chemicals underground. Mohammad Ben Haddar reports.

Yesterday [February 26], at the opening of the workshop on shale gas that took place at the Oran convention center in Oran, Algeria, the Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines, Youcef Yousfi, highlighted the progress that has been made in researching ways to find and mine shale gas in Algeria, which he indicated has very large reserves.

The minister stressed that Algeria is the first African country to embark on a research program concerning the exploitation of shale gas with the aim of developing the sector and turning it into an important part of Algeria’s energy reserves. He added that Algeria’s shale gas extraction capabilities are not comparable with those of the United States, a leader in this field. "We hope to develop partnerships with all interested stakeholders who have the required technological expertise to develop these resources in our country," he said.

In his speech, he stressed that this is a new experience for Algeria, and that “this is why we would like to to work with companies that have demonstrated expertise in this field." Abdelmadjid Attar, President of the Algerian Association of the Gas Industry, organized the conference, which was attended by local and international experts such as Torstein Indrebo, General Secretary of the International Gas Union (IGU). Attar said that the two-day conference was the first of its kind in the MENA region, and that it aimed to provide a forum for discussion on new gas resources across the world and in Algeria, and find solutions to the anticipated technological and environmental challenges that gas exploration, development and exploitation entail.

Abdul Hamid Zarkan, Chairman of the Algerian Association of Gas Industry, confirmed the goals announced by the Minister of Energy and Mines. Zarkan also mentioned the need to study the technological and environmental challenges that this gas development program will face, and take into account the high financial costs of such studies.

El-Khabar interviewed several specialists who revealed that Algeria’s first shale gas drilling project will include two basins, one of which is likely to be in the south-west of the country; the other  is likely to be on the outskirts of Salah. These experts revealed an interesting fact about the drilling process: The gas is extracted by blowing up underground boulders using a combination of water and chemicals. This practice threatens ground and sea water.

Those interviewed revealed that the explosions would have to be very strong and that they would likely lead to cracks in the ground, causing the chemical-water solution to leak out into the environment, contaminating it. What’s more, in the exploratory region, water resources will be exhausted. These factors will be at the heart of an intense debate before any final decision on the project is reached.

Some experts on the pitfalls of shale gas drilling have questioned how European countries like France and Germany were able to prevent this type of exploration. Algeria seems to be engaging in this field for the sole purpose of following the US example.

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Found in: shale gas, exploration, exploitation, environmental issues, algerian reserves, algeria
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