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Three quarters of UK shale gas cannot be recovered

Human geography and planning considerations will prevent 75 percent of the UK’s shale gas from ever reaching the surface according to a new study in the journal Science of The Total Environment (see also presentation slides):

“Estimates of shale gas recoverable reserves have not considered the carrying capacity of the surface and have been governed by the volume of the organic-rich shales and the limitation of the technical recoverable fraction of the gas developed within that shale. However, the premise of this study has been that the recoverable reserve is limited by the carrying capacity of the surface.”

The EU-funded study led by the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University based its findings on an examination of existing gas well pads in the USA, Holland, Poland and the UK, together with similar hazardous installations like petrol stations and waste water processing plants to arrive at a footprint for an average fracking well pad.  They then fitted the maximum possible number of well pads within each of the UK’s fracking license blocks (each of which is theoretically supposed to support 100 well pads).

By taking account of the need for road access, the need for a safe setback from houses and other infrastructure, and the need to avoid diverting prohibitively expensive features like railway lines, roads and rivers, the number of well pads that could be fitted into a block fell significantly.  The best fit they could make was 42 well pads in SE93 (northwest of Hull), the worst fit was just five in SD52 (Lancashire).  The average number of well pads per license block was just 26; meaning that 74 percent of Britain’s shale gas deposits cannot be accessed.

Sarah Clancy, the study’s lead author explains:

“Our findings suggest the number of wells could be limited by existing and immovable infrastructure which, in turn, would reduce the amount of shale gas that could be extracted.

” The carrying capacity of the land surface, as predicted by this approach, would limit the technically recoverable gas reserves for the Bowland Basin from the predicted 8.5 × 1011 m3 to only 2.21 × 1011 m3.”

This latest study will come as a major blow to an industry whose profitability was already questionable.  The accessible 26 percent of Britain’s technically recoverable shale gas reserves might prove to be profitable if energy prices rise in future.  But if you were looking for somewhere to invest your pension pot, you would do well to look elsewhere.

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