Will shale gas give East Midlands an energy boost?

Shale gas map of East Midlands Shale gas deposits in the East Midlands could give the region a boost but environmentalists are expressing concern

Mention Melton Mowbray, and what springs to mind?

It's the Leicestershire town that gave the world the expression: to paint the town red.

It's also home of the traditional pork pie, its designation now protected by the European Union.

Yet its residents may want protection from the ingredients, a mile underground.

BBC One's Sunday Politics programme for the East Midlands has revealed the area is sitting on one of the biggest reserves of shale gas in the UK.

From pies to power

From the tranquillity of the Vale of Belvoir to the Derbyshire Peak District, the East Midlands is potentially very rich in gas deposits.

Ed Hough is a geologist, based at the British Geological Survey HQ at Keyworth in Nottinghamshire.

Melton Mowbray pork pie Melton Mowbray, known for its pork pies, could become famous for its shale gas reserves

He showed me box 14189. It contained rock drilled at Duffield, just north of Derby.

"This rock is over 325 million years," he told me.

"But any black mark on the rock indicates there was plant life of some kind.

"That's the tell-tale sign that this shale could produce gas."

Shale gas reserves have been identified in three main areas of the East Midlands:

  • the Widmerpool Gulf, which starts in Melton Mowbray and stretches through south Nottinghamshire into Derbyshire;
  • the Edale Basin in north Derbyshire and south Yorkshire;
  • the Gainsborough Trough in north Nottinghamshire.

The gas is found mainly in those parts of the region with a history of coal mining.

But how is the gas extracted?

Infographic showing shale gas extraction Infographic showing shale gas extraction

"Water is pumped at very high pressures. That splits the rock open," said Ed Hough.

"Sand is also pumped through the bore hole and that goes into the fractures.

"As the rock tries to close up, the pressured water and sand solution keep the fractures open and gas can flow from the rock to the bore hole."

It's called fracking.

This, and the latest drilling technology, has opened up new possibilities. But it's controversial.

In Blackpool, fracking off the Lancashire coast last year created minor earth tremors.

Drilling was suspended pending a government safety review.

US lessons

In the United States, critics claim fracking contaminates the water supply with gas.

Start Quote

Once those companies have milked the profits, the communities affected are going to pick up the legacy for generations to come ”

End Quote Alan Simpson Friends of the Earth

A fire ball, which was ignited when the cold water tap was turned on, became an internet sensation.

But the US is now also self-sufficient in gas and it's helping keep energy prices down.

The former Nottingham South MP, Alan Simpson, now a sustainable energy policy adviser for Friends of the Earth, is worried about the consequences of a new dash for gas.

"This is the experience from the States; if you give untrammelled permission to race down that route, you end up with thousands of drilling sites producing billions of gallons of waste," he told me.

"It's like a toxic soup that is just poured back into the land.

"Once those companies have milked the profits, the communities affected are going to pick up the legacy for generations to come."

Dash for gas?

Start Quote

Charles Hendry MP

If it comes, we must be ready to take full advantage of it”

End Quote Charles Hendry MP Energy Minister

The UK reserves, according to one industry expert, could be seven times larger than the whole of the North Sea gas field.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change admits it doesn't know the extent of shale gas in the UK.

In a statement, the Energy Minister Charles Hendry also said it doesn't know how economically and environmentally viable it will be to extract.

"At best, it's years away," he added.

"But if it comes, we must be ready to take full advantage of it."

That could be the signal for a new dash for gas that could transform the country's economy... but also our countryside.

John Hess Article written by John Hess John Hess Political editor, East Midlands

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    What that viral video, and other critics do not mention is that methane can occur in areas naturally. A recent anti-frackking documentary forgot to mention the "fireball" was a norm in the area for nearly 100 years.

    Shale gas is the way to go, and there seem to be other fuel deposits like gas crystals. Seems we can stop worrying about running out of conventional fuels anytime soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The problem with shale gas is that it's a very gloopy mix of all sorts of chemicals, and has an extraction to energy ratio of about 3, where as the lightly flowing crude oil that fuelled the west before the 1980's had a ratio initially of about 800, for this reason I see shale as becoming not a very economically viable fuel source, nuclear would be alot better, but alas, incoming taxpayer subsidy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    There are genuine concerns about shale gas exploration and fracking, and these need to be addressed. Local residents are entitled to be reassured that proper safeguards are in place. Nonetheless, this is a huge opportunity for Britain. It could be the key to lower energy costs, enhanced energy security, and economic recovery. It must be pursued with vigour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The only way to bring this gas out safely is to experiment in a few areas then get the companies to " spin " their way out of the damage that is done. While the government sit back and allow the rich to get richer at the expense of any poor soul who happens to live nearby.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This is our own beautiful communal back yard and we know what we do not do in our own back yard
    Are we THAT desperate for MORE economic development at ANY cost?


Comments 5 of 6



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