A gas field potentially sufficient to meet Spain's needs for the next five years has been discovered in the Basque Country. Basque regional premier Patxi López says that surveys in Álava province have identified 13 unconventional gas holdings of some 180 billion cubic meters in an area known as Gran Enara. The find would be enough to keep the Basque Country itself supplied for 60 years.
López said that the Basque regional government will invest 40 million eurosin the project while the two privately held US companies, Heyco Energy and Cambria Europe, will invest 60 million euros between them.
Two wells are to be drilled initially see if extraction is technically feasible and economically viable.
"This is a strategic project for the country, a guarantee of future sustainability," said López during a visit to Dallas, Texas on Friday, where he is travelling with a group of Basque business leaders.
Bernabé Unda, the Basque regional government's industry minister, said that the find could make the Basque Country virtually self-sufficient. "This will be the motor of our economy, it will generate work, employment, and wealth for businesses in the rest of the country," he said on Friday. At present, natural gas accounts for 42 percent of the Basque Country's energy demands. Spain imports almost 100 percent of its gas and oil supply.
Non-conventional gas is fuel that is attached firmly to subterranean rocks, rather than sitting in pockets, and is more difficult and costly to extract.
Developing the expertise to get the gas out has only become viable recently, thanks to massive investment by companies such as Heyco.
As natural gas has only half the carbon emissions of coal, shale gas could also help in the fight against climate change, by providing a bridge between polluting oil and gas and new renewable energy sources.
But there are growing concerns that developing these gas reservoirs may cause serious environmental harm. That is because the shale gas boom has been enabled by a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
It involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals at high pressures deep underground to break up rock formations and allow the gas to escape into wells from where it can be piped to the surface.
Most of the brew of water and cocktails used to extract the gas stays far beneath the earth, however, with uncertain long-term consequences. Campaigners are calling for the technique to be halted until further research can be carried out.
Environmentalists have argued that the fracking process is inherently risky. In the United States, where shale gas is being hailed by industry as a potential substitute for oil, fears have been raised about the effect of the chemicals used, explosions and links with seismic activity and allegations of illness.
A Cornell University study also concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas are higher than those for coal.
Environmentalists in Britain and the United States are calling for a delay in fracking until a major review of the practice has been published by the US Environmental Protection Agency.