UK shale gas resources 'greater than thought'


Osborne: "Local communities should get, for example, at least £100,000 for every fracking well that is created"

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UK shale gas resources may be far greater than previously thought, a report for the government says.

The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England - double previous estimates.

Meanwhile the government has announced measures to enable shale gas drilling as part of its infrastructure plans.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon described shale gas as "an exciting new energy resource".

The BGS said its estimate for shale gas resources in the Bowland Basin region, which stretches from Cheshire to Yorkshire, represented potential resources, but "not the gas that might be possible to extract".

"Shale gas clearly has potential in Britain but it will require geological and engineering expertise, investment and protection of the environment," it said.

Drilling companies have previously estimated that they may be able to extract around 10% of this gas - equivalent to around 130 trillion cubic feet.

Shale gas map
'Early days'

If the estimates are proved correct, that would still suggest recoverable reserves of shale gas far in excess of the three trillion cubic feet of gas currently consumed in the UK each year.

Shale gas is extracted through "fracking" - the controversial process of freeing trapped gas by pumping in a mixture of water, sand and chemicals.


The truly massive shale gas resource of the north of England may bring tax revenues and possibly - not definitely - lead to lower bills, but it won't help the environment.

This week the government's climate change advisers warned that the UK was failing to keep pace with legally binding cuts in the CO2 emissions that are disrupting the climate.

The Environment Agency warns that if we want to keep burning gas we will have to rely on unproven technology to capture the carbon emissions in order to meet climate change targets.

It also warns that gas escaping from fractured wells may increase climatic disruption.

Meanwhile the International Energy Agency warns that the world can only burn a third of its existing fossil fuel reserves without a serious risk of de-stabilising the climate.

Shale gas plans will meet local environmental opposition too.

The process has helped boost the domestic energy industry in the US in recent years, where oil production has risen and gas prices have plummeted.

In a statement, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "Though it is early days for shale in the UK, it has the potential to contribute to the UK's energy security, increase inward investment and growth."

The government has unveiled a package of reforms to encourage development in the industry.

They include new planning guidelines to make the process of approving new drilling sites more streamlined, and a consultation on tax incentives to encourage exploration.

Communities affected by shale gas drilling are also expected to receive £100,000 in "community benefits" and 1% of production revenues, should sites start producing gas.

"Shale gas represents an exciting new potential energy resource for the UK, and could play an important part in our energy mix," said Energy Minister Michael Fallon

"Development must be done in partnership with local people. We welcome the commitments from industry on community benefits.

"This will provide a welcome boost for communities who will host shale exploration and production as well as offering strong assurances that operators will engage with them and work to the highest health, safety and environmental standards."

fracking graphic

He said communities hosting shale gas drilling could benefit from cheaper bills, regeneration schemes and new community facilities like playgrounds and sports halls.

The incentives are designed to overcome significant scepticism surrounding the process of fracking, which has generated environmental concerns.

Critics argue that it can cause earth tremors and pollute water supplies, and that shale gas wells could blight the countryside and affect house prices.

They also want investment in green energy sources, rather than fossil fuels.

Labour's shadow energy minister, Tom Greatrex, conceded that gas would remain "an important part of our energy mix in the future".

But he dismissed the announcement of incentives as "a desperate attempt to draw attention away from the government's cuts to infrastructure investment... and its abject failure to get the economy growing".

Power warning

Currently the UK's shale industry remains in its infancy, with relatively small energy companies such as IGas and Cuadrilla until recently the only firms with licences to explore share gas resources.

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, announced its intention to buy a stake in one licence in the Bowland Basin owned by Cuadrilla earlier this month.

The report for the government comes as energy regulator Ofgem warned that the risks of power blackouts has increased because excess capacity in the power industry has fallen in the UK.

The watchdog has twice warned in recent months that the amount of spare power is shrinking, partly due to some gas generators being taken out of service.

Centrica has already withdrawn two of its gas plants from operation. In April, SSE confirmed that it too would mothball gas plants and put off investments in new ones.

Adam Scorer, of the lobby group Consumer Futures, said: "Projections of ever-tighter capacity margins understandably raise fears of higher electricity prices.

"Government and regulator need to agree on the most realistic capacity scenarios, the least-cost ways of reducing demand and, where necessary, of incentivising new generation capacity."

Announcing further details of the government's spending review to parliament, Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander said the government had agreed "strike prices" in an effort to boost investment in renewable forms of energy.

The prices mean the government will guarantee to pay a certain price for energy generated through on-shore and off-shore wind, tidal, wave, bio-mass and solar power.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Unfortunately the human race is like a virus spreading across the planet and this is just another example of that virus using up all the available resources before moving on to another area leaving nothing for those coming after us. When we have used up all the shale gas what next?

    Our planet provides us with unlimited energy via wind, sea and sun and yet we do nothing with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    the 3% of atmospheric CO2 supposedly down to us

    You clearly know enough to be dangerous. 3% of GROSS annual CO2 emissions are down to humans but all other sources have natural carbon sinks that would balance out but for that 3%. Over 150 years that extra CO2 accumulates and is nearly 50% higher now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    Meanwhile - elsewhere on BBC - the Green Deal scheme intended to make homes more energy efficient has, despite 38,259 assessments resulted in not a single scheme being implemented.

    You can see where the government's interests lie and it surely is not with helping individuals like us reduce our energy bills - quite the opposite in fact so they can scare monger us into accepting the unacceptable

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Everything we harvest from the Earth has its cost - observable and hidden and this technology is no different and I suspect we will not know for many years. Solutions around fuel that humans create, create problems far greater than our levels of intelligence to correct.

    But for the gain-sayers of you perhaps a limit on the population so we no longer suck the good out of the planet? Thought not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Our genius politicians have been ignoring the warnings of a power shortfall for about 20 years. The shortage is about to become a crisis so I fear any intelligent debate about fracking will go out the window in the interests of plugging the energy gap.
    This whole debacle is a result of the 5 year political myopia that we live with whereby long term policy is irrelevant as it does not get votes

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Here's a good one? Example of how committed this lot are to the pledges they made before the last election? Don't Believe a word this Gov say folks, NO GM was I believe pledged, Environment sec now in cosy Pro GM banter? This Fracking deal is easy short term way out for these fools? Hydro, Tide,Wave, Bio,Solar, Wind, efficiency, low waste, clean anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    To all you lot who are leaping around in joy believing that unsightly, in your opinion, wind turbines will be ripped from the ground. Have you ever seen a large scale fracking plant. There are a terrible eye sore and massive. But hey as long as it's not in your back yard you'll be happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    Just now

    Bravo!..I was just about to say that!...I was also going to include that according to recent independent investigations that fracking isn't even cost effective & has to be subsidised in most cases by other things to make it appear viable & the overall conclusion was that it's all a con!

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Arrrr!... a few weeks after the Masonic Bilderberg meeting, we have had MPs backing the GM lobby and now we have them backing plans for shale gas extraction... what next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Bit of read, but worth it... (Royal Society/Royal Society of Engineering)

    (I'm still not convinced we won't be storing up trouble in many years to come, but like Horizon the conclusion is penny-pinching operators are actually the greatest immediate risk. Worth taking? I don't know)

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    whats the betting oversea companys get in first and the country get nothing out of it. the goverment should buy up all the rights now

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    According to industry experts, the extraction of only 10-15% of this would be commercially viable. Apart from any concerns over the fracturing process itself and the potential poisoning of water tables, much of the reserves are under built-up areas - with no space for the massive equipment required.
    Fracking suits countries with wide open spaces, no population,no crowded infrastructure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    We should be underplaying the potential of shale gas so that the external price of Stirling doesn't rise and make exports uncompetitive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Utterly foolish. The amount of extractable gas could be minimal but at great environmental cost. If the Government has decided not to invest in modern green technology tor our energy needs, there's a cheaper & environmentally safer alternative - COAL, of which we have hundreds of years' supply. Developing technology to neutralise the global warming effects would by much cheaper than fracking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    @ 320. Solutionist.

    Luckily we're an island... water, water everywhere! And yes, sea water can be used.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    As previous said this solves our energy problems for 30 years then what ...we are back to where we are now.

    Stop tinkering at the edges and go full throttle for nuclear, its the only way to guarantee we are energy sufficient in the futire

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    Fracking Hell! 30 years of US and other foreign firms creaming off the profits into tax havens and us left with the debris and, like North Sea oil & gas, another asset too quickly and cheaply exhausted (unlike Norway who have managed their resources more sensibly). So in 30 years we'll still need a solution. We should improve energy efficiency of buildings and transport - still huge savings there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    288 sprout

    'whilst risking earthquakes'

    These 'earthquakes' are equivalent to a hand-grenade going off two miles underground. They're not going to be noticed by anybody without specialist seismic equipment. Your house won't fall down, your garden won't disappear. You'll be wholly reliant on the BGS to tell you if there's been one or not.

    It's just scare-mongering by the luddites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    GE, one of the biggest tax dodgers in the world, is buying into shale gas. Why is the UK subsidizing a massively profitable industry? If it looks corrupt, it probably is.Job claims are a lie - the companies will use current O&G suppliers with few extra jobs. More big spend projects when the real problem with the UK is is spiraling real estate prices

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    So we could achieve energy security and not rely on Russian gas, create jobs, investment and growth here in the north and potentially decrease the cost of fuel bills. If all the outraged environmentalists down south are so very, very concerned about a few mild earth tremmors and alleged water posioning can I suggest you resign your cushy little jobs, move up here and try and find a job. Get real.


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