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Austria encouraged by IEA to tap into shale gas

A global energy advisor has said that Austria should think about tapping into its domestic shale gas supply to relieve some of the dependence the country has on Russian imports.

The advice from the International Energy Agency comes amid tensions between Europe and Russian president Vladimir Putin over Ukraine that have seen sanctions placed on Russia that could result in hikes in gas prices in Europe.

IEA has encouraged Austria, whose gas supply is almost all imported from Russia, to consider revisiting its shale gas resources. Shale gas extraction has been explored in the past in Austria but a project from energy company OMV was cancelled in 2012 because of bureaucratic obstacles and public protests.

Shale gas is extracted by fracking, a controversial method that uses explosives to break up the earth to release gas. It is a method widely used in the US but is more restricted in Europe because of tougher regulations including environmental and mining laws. Many states have banned exploration using fracking, with the UK as an exception.

"The IEA recognises the sensitivity of this (shale gas) issue and encourages the government to formulate a position regarding the potential use of shale gas resources," the agency said in its recommendation to Austria.

"The government has yet to develop a strategy or position at the federal and regional levels on shale gas opportunities and risks, nor has there been a well-informed and prepared public debate that would focus on economic benefits, environmental concerns and technological aspects."

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