New report says fracking can solve UK energy problem
BRITAIN is sitting on shale deposits filled with enough gas to supply the whole country for at least 40 years.
The giant reservoir of fuel sits in the rock under the Bowland basin stretching across Lancashire and Yorkshire, experts at the British Geological Survey revealed yesterday.
Politicians hailed the new report on the shale, which DOUBLED previous estimates of the amount of gas beneath the UK, offering the hope of solving future energy problems and giving a £4billion-a-year boost to the economy.
There could be 1,300TRILLION cubic feet of gas in the Bowland Shale, which stretches through north-west England, the report says. A second report, due in the next year, will examine more evidence of gas beneath the Weald in Kent.
The figure is 433 times the UK’s annual gas consumption of three trillion cubic feet, although scientists say they do not yet know how much of it they can get out of the ground.
On past experience around ten per cent of the gas — around 43 years’ worth — could be recovered, experts say.
New maps showed the gas was present in areas including west and south of Manchester, around Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster and south of Nottingham, as well as surrounding Harrogate, York and Scarborough.
Yesterday David Cameron’s spokesman said: “The PM is enthusiastic about an energy source which has the potential to provide cheaper energy for the country for years to come and can bring us real benefits.
“Shale gas is an excellent opportunity for us to have cheaper energy for many years to come. We’ve got to get the right planning permissions in place and make sure that communities will benefit.”
Energy minister Michael Fallon added: “Today is the day Britain gets serious about shale.
“It would be irresponsible not to take advantage of significant quantities of shale gas if they are found and are recoverable.”
The director of science at the British Geological Survey, Prof Mike Stephenson, who wrote the report, warned the figures for the size of the Bowland deposits were still at the “back of the envelope” stage.
He explained people should be careful not to confuse “the resource” — the size of deposits found in the rock formation — with “the reserve” — the amount of gas that could be recovered.
Scientists say the shale lies in two layers — one shallower and nearer the surface containing around 264trillion cubic feet, and another deeper-level layer which contains an estimated 1,065trillion cubic feet.
The evidence was collected from 64 wells that have been drilled across the area. This was combined with seismic data to build up a 3D picture of the rock types below the surface, Professor Stephenson said.
News of the findings spread fast. Last month British Gas agreed to invest up to £160million in exploration in the Lancashire area, while French oil giant Total said yesterday they would like to explore for shale gas in Britain.
The gas is extracted by “fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing — pumping chemicals, water and sand into dense shale rock formations to release the gas, which is then pumped to the surface.
The process was blamed for causing earthquakes near Blackpool in 2011, after which a number of measures including seismic monitoring and the use of less fluid were recommended by British scientists.
Fracking has also been linked to fears of contaminated water supplies.
This week a US university study found evidence of raised levels of methane in drinking water near fracking sites in Pennsylvania, though it is not regarded as hazardous to health.
The process has sparked an energy revolution in the US, which is expected to overtake Saudi Arabia as an energy producer by 2020.
It has already significantly boosted US domestic oil production and reduced gas prices and is thought to have offered gas security to the US and Canada for 100 years.
The gas can be used to create electricity, generating only half the CO2 emissions of coal.
Yesterday the Government promised that communities affected by shale gas drilling locally could expect to receive £100,000 in “community benefits” and one per cent of production revenues, should sites start producing gas, with the money being provided by the drilling companies.
Mining company Cuadrilla, who have a licence to explore the Bowland basin, said yesterday further exploration wells were not expected to be drilled until early next year, with commercial production not likely to begin before 2016.
Let’s Get Fracking
By LORD LAWSON, Former Energy Secretary
THERE is not a lot of good news around these days.
The one great exception is the revelation that here in England we have more than twice as much shale gas to be exploited than was previously reckoned.
This offers the prospect of both an abundance of cheaper energy and a greatly reduced need to import. Yet there are those who wish to turn their backs on it. We have to ask what sort of people we wish to be.
Are we to be held to ransom by green fanaticism or are we prepared to face the future with confidence and take advantage of the huge opportunity – which promises to be even bigger than North Sea oil – that beckons?
Let’s get fracking.
Boosted by gas
By TERRY ENGELDER, US Geoscience Professor
IN America the economic benefit of fracking is overwhelmingly obvious.
It has been a great economic burden for a long time to import more than half our fuel. Fracking lets us drill for our own gas and oil so we have cut our fuel imports by half in under three years.
It has also created huge numbers of jobs and there are major environmental advantages too.
The transition of coal to natural gas has reduced CO2 emissions markedly, and fracking has also had such positive results that America is now nearly in compliance with the Kyoto Accord on cutting greenhouse gases.
Fracking is not risk-free, and does cause some nuisance.
But the environmental and economic rewards far outweigh these, and nobody in the UK should stand in the way of drilling for gas.
It’s all around
By Dr BENNY PEISER from the Global Warming Policy Foundation
THE upper estimate for these reserves make it the biggest shale basin in the world, yet this estimate is just for the north of England. There is shale more or less all over the place and it is estimated there is more offshore than onshore.
Obviously you can only extract ten or 20 per cent, but that could be up to 50 years’ worth of gas for the UK.
On the issue of safety, let’s not forget that of the million-plus wells in the US we haven’t seen a single lawsuit, so it seems to be a low-risk technology, much less than North Sea oil or gas — and the UK has a good record for environmental regulation.
The north of England could benefit with an entirely new industry. We know the environmental issues, so any contaminated water used for fracking needs to be cleaned up properly and the minor earth tremors closely monitored and regulated.
Too high a price
By ANDY ATKINS from Friends Of The Earth
IF you believe the fossil fuel industry, there is little that shale gas won’t do. They say it will cut our energy bills and create much-needed jobs.
The Government seems to have swallowed this and is offering gifts left, right and centre — a tax break here, simplification of regulation there — but the reality is very different.
Most experts say shale gas is unlikely to cut energy prices in the UK as it has in the US. The costs of getting the gas out of the ground will be too high.
Fracking is a risky technology. Experience elsewhere shows it can cause water contamination and increased air pollution.
We have the best potential in Europe for renewable energy from the wind, waves and sun. Harnessing this, alongside tackling energy waste, is the right direction for UK energy policy.