Resource Potential

A total of 14 wells have been drilled to explore for shale gas in the UK, with only three wells being fracked to date. Currently, there are no proven shale gas reserves due to the lack of wells drilled and tested,

Whitelaw et al. (2019) and Lodhia et al. (2022) calculated GIIP (gas initially in place} of 140 Tcf and 131 Tcf respectively which is ten times lower than what the BGS derived but still a significant resource. The research was based on UK shale data and took into consideration the geological complexity in comparison to the BGS study which focussed on US analogues.

Impact on UK Gas Prices

Reversing the moratorium will not provide a quick fix to reducing UK gas prices because UK gas is traded on an international market where prices are set in relation to global supply and demand. If the resource potential of shale gas is proved, gas storage facilities could be required if production exceeds demand. The UK has some of the lowest storage capacity in comparison to other major European countries. Therefore, the gas could be exported rather than used domestically until capacity issues are addressed.


The diverse nature of the UK’s geology will pose significant challenges for fracking operations. Basins in the north of England have been subject to a complex geological history resulting in highly faulted and compartmentalised basins, which has reduced the economic potential of the shale gas. Thousands of wells would be required to be drilled to ensure commerciality over areas with high population densities, which would increase the cost and time to produce shale gas in the UK.

Energy Security

Shale gas provides an opportunity for the UK to significantly increase energy security by increasing domestic gas production and reduce reliance on imports in the medium to long term. This could provide the UK with more bargaining power when negotiating long-term gas supply contracts. However, shale gas will not provide an immediate solution to energy security due to the time it will take to drill the number of wells required to produce commercial quantities, coupled with the requirement of drilling rigs with specialist equipment and highly skilled fracking crews which are not currently available in the UK. Finally, local support and planning permission are key to commencing operations and this remains an enormous hurdle for the industry.

Environmental Impacts

Shale gas production could reduce the reliance on imports which have a higher associated carbon footprint. The North Sea Transition Authority reported that domestic production has less than half the emission intensity of imported LNG. Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and will play a significant part in the UK reaching carbon neutrality. Shale gas could be used as a bridging fuel through replacing coal and oil to produce energy until renewable and nuclear capacity increases.

However, the process of fracking is fiercely opposed by environmentalists especially following the induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing at the Preston New Road wellsite in 2018 and 2019. Another environmental concern is the risk that fracking poses to groundwater contamination. However, the depth of shale in the UK is often much deeper than the aquifers and unlikely to pose a major risk. Large supplies of water are required for fracking operations and the method and rate of extraction could impact local water supplies. Other impacts to local communities include increased traffic and damage to the natural environment and noise and air pollution.

Based on the aforementioned points, the lifting of the moratorium on fracking could lead to an increase in domestic production, however the understanding of the environmental impacts and gaining societal acceptance must be addressed before shale gas can positively contribute to the UK’s energy security.