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 help gain access, 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 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 in other locations.

In China, we are partnering with PetroChina to produce enough tight gas a year at the Changbei field to meet around 20% of Beijing’s annual gas needs, and we are exploring for more resources in other parts of the country.

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.

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.

We have worked for several years to improve water management at our facilities in Canada, first in Groundbirch, British Columbia, and then in Fox Creek, Alberta. In August 2017, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recognised Shell’s efforts as an example of industry best practice for water management.

We have taken steps to reduce our overall fresh water footprint from our oil and natural gas operations. We have also been looking at ways to reduce overall water demand through our project design as well as re-using water. Previously, we agreed with the municipality to use Fox Creek’s treated waste water for hydraulic fracturing: in return, we helped upgrade the town’s reclaimed water facilities. In 2017, around a third of Shell’s water demand in the Fox Creek asset was met by produced water and waste water.

We have been pursuing similar initiatives in Groundbirch where we worked with the nearby city of Dawson Creek to build a reclaimed water facility to treat and recycle the city’s waste water for local industries and the community.

At Changbei, in Shaanxi province of northern China, we work with the forestry department to help protect biodiversity in the Yulin area. 

Read more about Shell and fresh water

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 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 45 doctors.

Buying and hiring locally

We aim to be good neighbours by helping to generate benefits for those who live close by our operations and planned developments. Part of this includes creating jobs and building skills among local communities. At Groundbirch, in Canada, we support and work with local training organisations to help individuals gain skills and experience. We also host learning sessions four times-a-year for our Indigenous partners.

In the Groundbirch area, we do business with qualified, competitive local and Indigenous-owned businesses: in 2017, 64% 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 programme 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, Shell has sponsored three six-month training programmes for unemployed workers in San Patricio del Chañar (Neuquén), an underdeveloped rural area. These programmes have focused on skills that are relevant to the oil and gas sector. To date, 424 workers have graduated, of which 35% have secured employment; 25% in the energy sector. We have also implemented entrepreneurial and agricultural training programmes.

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 Indigenous communities.

In development planning, we engage early on with Indigenous communities, trappers and other interested parties 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.

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 safely and more easily outside the area. We also supported road safety programmes for primary school children.

At Groundbirch in north-east British Columbia, Canada, an initiative with the Twin Sisters Native Plant Nursery, a local Indigenous-owned business, allows us to reclaim land using native plant species and helps employ community members.

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.

Shell’s principles for producing tight/shale oil and gas

We follow global operating principles focused on safety, environmental safeguards, and engagement with nearby communities to unlock resources safely and responsibly.

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