The first problem is that there simply isn’t enough gas. For fracking to become a viable business on a large scale in the UK, an enormous geological resource of shale gas is necessary. The enthusiasm for shale gas tests in the UK between 2011 and 2019 was founded on government-commissioned reports from the British Geological Survey (BGS), which predicted that several tens of years of gas supplies would exist beneath central and northern England, south Might be possible. Eastern England and Central Scotland.
But such reports are clearly speculative, and always calculate the maximum possible resource. Typically, after more detailed work, commercially viable reserves do not exceed 10% of the original estimate.
In the UK, the results of exploratory drilling were mostly poor. The drilling triggered several small and several moderate earthquakes. To add further insult, rock samples were analyzed and found to contain only small amounts of extractable gas or oil.
The gas and oil that is there is not at the extreme underground pressures found in the more successful shale fields of the US and Canada. These high pressures are a sign that there is too much fuel to extract easily.
The idea that the UK has a similarly vast potential shale gas resource implied that its shales had not already generated the gas – that potential was still to come. However, laboratory results suggest that the gas may have already been generated in these rocks in the geological past. Over millions of years, Britain’s landmass has been buried, raised, reburied and destroyed. This complex geological history has provided many opportunities for gas to leak through many of the country’s faults and crevices so that only remnants remain. If the UK wants to develop a major US-style fracking industry, 280 million years is too late.
Even if enough gas is discovered, the challenge is to bring in specialist equipment and skilled people for drilling and development. Thousands of boreholes would be needed over ten years to produce the gas in abundance for the country. The disposal of huge amounts of salty and radioactive wastewater is actually another major challenge.
No wonder the UK government is wary of saying that the agreement of local residents is needed before fracking can proceed. Because fracking has a difficult history in the UK, and was only imposed top-down by the David Cameron government, there is widespread suspicion and mistrust in the communities affected by the proposed drilling.
Those doubts can probably be turned into acceptance by long conversations, providing better information, and building trust – but that takes years. Another option proposed by some shell developers would be to pay cash directly to local residents and communities – up to 6% of initial revenue in some cases. America shows that sharing financial spoils can provide quick routes to change opinions. But stronger regulation is needed to prevent shale developers from paying a community to support development, then rapidly exiting an area once the gas is exhausted, and abandoning the consequences. A broken borehole drilled in 2019 near Preston still hasn’t been plugged.
A long time ago Britain had a lot of onshore shale oil and gas. But because the country has an inaccurate geological history, oil and gas have been long gone, overflowing with abundant faults and fractures. American and Canadian geology is very simple, and that’s why their shale gas is still there.
Solar and wind make electricity cheaper than gas, and methane leaks are warming the world to a great extent. Both the International Energy Agency and the IPCC clearly state that there is a need to sharply reduce fossil fuel production. Why would the UK destroy its best international reputation and the world-leading clean energy industries of the future? Fracking in the UK poses a number of commercial and technical challenges, which may or may not be overcome, there is a vast public perception legacy to convert, and an environmentally acceptable path remains unclear.