A new report puts the value of shale gas to the British economy at £95 billion of investment, but says it won't be cheap.
It adds that exploitable reserves can theoretically contribute up to 25% of the UK's current gas consumption.
The survey, by consultants Energy Contract Company, examines the extent of British reserves of the gas and provides an overview of its potential.
It locates rich shale gas reserves across Sussex through to
Hampshire, and Cambridge through to Oxford, extending to Bath. These are
traditional Conservative heartlands.
Were they to be exploited, it would mean, at peak production, 100
drilling rigs working on 10 projects with several thousand wells, a
visual impact that would raise comparisons with that of wind farms.
Moreover, between 13 and 40 million litres of water could be required
over the lifetime of each well, says the report. With water reserves
already dangerously low in the south and south-east, it is questionable
whether the Environment Agency would give permission for this quantity
to be used for such a purpose.
Once used for fracking, this water could never be used again, since
the toxic chemicals that are added to it as part of the hydraulic
fracturing process would need to remain forever trapped below ground to
prevent contamination of the potable watercourse.
The report says, “while the [shale reserves] in places may be very
large, the production rate per well is likely to be low … a fraction
of the claims in the press”.
It adds that the yield from shale wells typically halve in four months as the ‘easy wins’ are flushed out.
A survey for DECC
made earlier this year by the British Geological Survey estimated
reserves could be as large as 150 billion cubic metres (bcm) (5.3
trillion cubic feet TCF).
This new report estimates that about half this amount could be recoverable.
It hypothesises that production could reach 2,100 million cubic feet
per day by 2029-30, which represents slightly more than 50% of the total
North Sea gas production this year.
The Geological Survey argued that the geology of the UK mitigated
against pollution of groundwater by the toxic chemicals used in fracking
because the sources of gas lie beneath impermeable layers of rock which
would trap the polluted water.
However, a series of European Union reports
published earlier this month called for much tighter regulations to be
in place before shale gas exploitation should be continued in Europe.
These reports said that there have been no studies done yet on
methane intrusion into aquifers, which is responsible for so-called
“fugitive emissions" of this potent greenhouse gas, and these emissions
might vary by up to "a factor of ten".
As a result of all this, the ECC report cautions that: “Shale will
not be a ‘cheap’ source of gas and there is unlikely to be a repeat of
the US experience”.
In the United States in the last five years, the exploitation of
shale gas has caused a revolution in energy supply and a 50% reduction
in gas prices.
Over here though, where the State owns the mineral rights to what
lies beneath the land surface, rather than the owner of the land as in
the United States, the story is likely to be different.
Environmental regulations are also tighter here and are likely to get
tighter still, land is more intensively used on this tiny island, and
there is much greater competition for water use.
There is also likely to be much higher local opposition. Protests
seen in Lancashire against Cuadrilla, a company whose drilling caused to
minor earthquakes near Blackpool, could be nothing compared to what
might be seen in Conservative heartlands.
On the other hand, Owen Paterson, the new Environment Secretary, is
understood to be in favour of the rapid exploitation of shale gas.
France ponders a U-turn
In France, which holds even more reserves of shale gas than Britain,
an estimated five trillion cubic meters according to the US Energy
Information Administration, there has been a ban on drilling for shale
But this is coming under pressure following lobbying from energy
firms Total and GDF-Suez, as well as business leaders, and amidst
concerns about the lagging French economy.
As here, it is the State that owns mineral rights to reserves found
underground. Also as here, there have been street protests against the
President François Hollande has opposed fracking, but supporters say
that shale gas may be exploited by other techniques, should they emerge.