The development of gas and oil from unconventional reservoirs, whether shale or coal bed, has the potential to transform world energy markets, providing the opportunity to a number of nations in the developed and developing world to become energy self-sufficient. The prospect for a cleaner source of fossil fuel energy is compelling in a sense, but the socio-environmental impacts associated with the industry and risks for the environment have triggered legitimate concerns amongst the community.
Energy policies are based on three core dimensions – energy security, energy cost and sustainability. Energy policy-makers in all countries aim to achieve the same three objectives: maximising security of supply, minimising cost, and minimising social and environmental impacts, including emissions. These three policy goals constitute a ‘trilemma’, entailing complex interwoven links between public and private actors, governments and regulators, economic and social factors, national resources, environmental concerns and individual behaviours. Delivering policies which simultaneously address energy security, the cost of energy and socially and environmentally sensitive production and use of energy is arguably one of the most formidable challenges facing government and industry. The critical chain approach has been the traditionally dominant energy policy approach. This approach is predicated upon prioritising energy security. Such an approach posits that only when energy supplies are secure are energy policy-makers able to focus on implementing specific policies which target energy aff ordability or lower cost of energy services. Moreover, only when energy supplies are both secure and aff ordable are policy-makers able to focus on the social and environmental performance of the energy supply/demand value chain.
Given the global energy challenge, particularly the eff ect of continued reliance on greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuels on global climate, the critical chain approach that prioritises security and aff ordability over environmental and social sustainability of energy choices has arguably outlived its usefulness. A holistic understanding of energy challenges, which can be referred to as an energy ‘trilemma’, is an alternative approach which balances the three key energy policy goals. For example, the World Energy Council claim that the ‘energy trilemma’ provides a clear framework to deliver the energy transformation and make sustainable energy systems a reality.