Ten reasons why the UK shale gas boom is not all it is fracked up to be

Posted: July 25, 2013 by tallbloke in solar system dynamics

Some good info and points for debate in this article from Jonathan Michaels. All points of view about the UK’s energy future must be considered and discussed

Michelle Spaul

Why is shale gas important?

On 27 June the Department of Energy and Climate Control (DECC) released a study by the British Geological Survey (BGS) showing that the shale gas resources under a swath of northern England, called Bowland-Hodder shale, could be enough to fuel the UK for 40 years.

As a headline this is remarkable; with hopes of emulating the boom experience by the US over the last 30 years, there is much excitement that UK shale gas could bring economic prosperity to regions rich in this resource and because it could mean UK energy independence.  Looking deeply into the report and other materials suggests that we may want to hold off celebrating just yet.


Where is all the gas?

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Comments
  1. Thank you for the reblog. I look forward to all comments and debate on this subject. I will be updating my post shortly and would like to incorporate your views and those of your followers in my piece.

  2. Kon Dealer says:

    What a load of puerile recycled tosh.

    1.“The study is not complete”
    But every time they look they find more…

    2 “Shale Gas is ‘fracked’ and the UK doesn’t have fracking expertise or equipment”
    But the multinationals who operate in the U.S. and here do. So what’s the problem?

    I could go on, but it is like watching paint dry.

    Who is this useless counsel of despair?

  3. Hi Kon
    Thank you for the constructive criticism, I like to think well research rather than recycled, but I guess that is just a perspective.
    Yes, the do find more, but if you read the report you will see that most of the factors come from an analogy with Barnett Shale, until we drill there is no confirmation this is correct. As I said the only way to know is to drill.

    Which brings us to equipment – as this article in the Telegraph shows (sorry more recycling) all the equipment is being used
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/commodities/10151313/Forget-a-quick-shale-gas-revolution-here-we-dont-have-the-technology.html

    And if a US company can be paid to stop drilling in the US, that would have an upward pressure on price, which is why point ten is the key point – the price of UK gas will be higher than American Gas and that isn’t as cheap as people would like to think (I have an improved version of the price chart which I will incorporate in an updated version of the piece)

    Also, and as a manufacturing engineer disappointingly, we don’t have the manufacturing base to make the equipment ourself. Unless we extract really slowing (which would make a mockery of ‘energy sufficiency’ and ‘move from coal’) our industry won’t have time to build up. The major ‘trickle down’ benefit disappears.

    Expertise – same thing.

    Personally, think it is more likely that we will end up using Chinese equipment and specialists than those from the US.

    I am sorry you found the article to be dull, I am learning about the subject and writing, any suggestions for improvement will be taken on and used for the update.

    As for counsel for despair, if I had managed to retain your interest to the bottom of the piece you would have seen that I think we have to frack, so that we can build sustainable forms of energy. I think that is pretty positive.

  4. Tim Spence says:

    Your gas price’s seem to conflict with my graph (wholesale prices) showing US prices falling since 2008 not 2012

  5. Andrew says:

    This is not just about energy security/price, also industrial security. Even food price security, we used to make our own fertilliser, we could again now. Costs of production have totally overwhelmed crop price, never more than this year, there will be severe trauma in ag this autumn. The straw that broke for many.

  6. Richard111 says:

    A point I’d like to mention; severe winter weather has a rather adverse effect on overhead power distribution cables, would underground gas pipes be as vulnerable?

  7. That post is nothing but idiotic green propaganda.

    1) No survey can ever be complete, and as we have seen estimates have not dropped but increased. Moreover, as the technology improves the cost will drop making extraction cheaper. The deep beds in the UK should (assuming that regulatory costs are similar and formations are equivalent) be more cost efficient per volume of gas to produce than the USA.

    2) Weatherford, one of the biggest companies providing fracking services has bases, albeit not all directly connected, in the UK. Other majors service providers are also present. It is relatively trivial for them to transfer equipment and technologies from north America to UK. Check out their fracology technology.

    3) Try looking at the Navigant report on the prospect for global unconventional gas production and the impact on UK gas prices. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unconventional-gas-the-potential-impact-on-uk-gas-prices

    4) There is a vast amount of oil and gas further down. Techniques to investigate and evaluate the deep formations are only just beginning to be evaluated. It won’t take a 100 years to develop these techniques and associated production technologies.

    5) This BishopHill post demolishes another of the points: http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/7/21/energy-impact.html.

    6) How many people have been killed in other industries? Compare to ‘green’ energy hydroelectric dam failure deaths: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hydroelectric_power_station_failures

    7) Check out the FrackNation video and “Energy in Depth” website. Also, UK government reports do not agree the assertion. Cave systems are not km’s below ground where the shale gas is to be extracted, but a few 10’s or at most a 100’s of metres from the surface. Cave systems have an exit for water.

    I don’t have time to spend on further rebutting these or the last few points which are basically about politics and speculation. However, a few comments: A few 100m^2 of land has insignificant cost compared to the project totals. Mineral rights in the UK are not generally owned by landowners. Directional drilling, fracking, and the reassessment of formations previously thought to be barren will continue, and more significant oil/gas resources and the sources will come on-stream. Concurrent to this, the cost of the present technologies will be forced lower through competition and scaling. Prices therefore will almost certainly drop in real terms.

  8. michael hart says:

    I broadly agree with Jonathan Drake. A lot of the arguments being put forward against shale are political and speculative “what if?”s. A lot of the objections don’t really involve “we” at all, unless “we” means the commercial companies that would be doing the actual getting it out of the ground and selling it. Those companies may or may not consider it technically feasible and worth trying. That’s their job. Their loss or gain.

    And when did Greenpeace etc become technical experts in the extractive industries? They’ve spent most of my adult life wishing they didn’t exist and trying to thwart them at every opportunity.

    Given APPROPRIATE and REASONABLE precautions, why not find out if shale gas works? Certainly the whole thing can forcibly be MADE uneconomic by government fiat and other socio-political aspects. But it is not the government’s job to drill for oil and gas, but to set the legal framework for a sensible national energy policy: An area where they seem to have been largely absent for many years. Whether this is due to incompetence, corruption or cowardice, I don’t really know.

  9. hunter says:

    The list is basically a written version of putting one’s fingers in one’s ears and shouting “lalalalalalalalalalala”.

  10. hunter says:

    Richard 111,
    Good question.
    Natural gas moves out of Russia to Europe in winter via pipeline with no show stopping problems.
    In the subtropics of Texas when hurricanes knock out electricity, gas keeps flowing.

  11. Hi Andrew

    Life is too short for a full list of things that we depend on oil for. Food is probably the key, I am pretty fond of water, medicine, communications, ability to earn an income from our consumerist economy…

    Michelle

  12. Answer to Tim Spence

    Same data. I have taken a longer view – back to 1996 when modern fracking was introduced in Barnett – it took five years for production to really kick is and it peaked around 2008. I think choosing a near term data point ignores the fact that well head prices have only turned to 2002 levels. Not really a big decrease.

    Also when you look at the prices NG is sold at, no user experienced the same price drop as at the well head. I have only compared City Gate, it could be that Henry Hub also dropped by the same amount – but that is an industry figure and doesn’t really impact us as consumers

  13. Answer to Jonathan Drake

    I think we could debate the facts ad nauseum, as you say it is all politics and speculation.

    I don’t agree that prices will drop in real terms, this market is dictated by supply and demand just as much as oil, gold, silver and bonds – here is an interesting article

    http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article41561.html

  14. Hunter, I think you are saying lalalalalalala. There comes a point when finite resources become too expensive to exploit. It is likely oil has passed that point -hence the tight oil and tar oil revolutions. Gas will reach that point sometime. I would like to not be caught up in that event, by planning for it.

  15. As to no problems with methane pipelines you do need to look to countries that report their data – here is one from Boston https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=mehtane+pipeline+leaks&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&gws_rd=cr
    and one from Washington DC http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2021331722_frackingscrutinyxml.html

    As methane is much smaller molecule than those in oil, we can expect it leak more often / sooner from pipes that are corroding or cracked. Oil pipeline leak every day, the difference is we can see oil. When methane leaks outside cities its ‘only’ impact is global warming. In cities there are other problems

  16. Hi Tallbloke

    Sun readers have been a good barometer for elections and I think you are suggesting that they are a good barometer for fears about fracking. As I think you know I am pro fracking as a step to a sustainable energy future – here’s a study that suggest other people have a similar view.

    This study http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/articles/a-green-energy-future-11372.html shows that “79% want to see a reduction in the use of fossil fuels over the next few decades; 81% express a desire to reduce their energy use; and support for solar (85%) and wind energy (75%) remains very strong”

    By the way, thank you for the opportunity to debate this subject with your followers, I have learnt a lot and will let you know when I update my article.

    m

  17. michael hart says:

    Michelle, I’m not sure where you live, but in the UK we have been supplying methane from the North sea to almost all houses in the country for many decades. Pretty much no one in the cities considers it a bad thing (unless they believe in cAGW, maybe). It’s introduction did however remove a handy and painless method for committing suicide (the previously supplied “town gas” contained carbon monoxide).

    Once again, you appear to wheeling out technical objections that have little basis in reality.

  18. tallbloke says:

    Paul, the Cardiff study is worthless IMO. Fails to address the ussue of affordability. I.e. how much people are prepared to pay for green energy.

  19. tallbloke says:

    http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=23425
    A landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, shows no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site. After a year of monitoring, the researchers found that the chemical-laced fluids used to free gas trapped deep below the surface stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas that supply drinking water, says CBS News.

    Although the results are preliminary (the study is still ongoing) they are a boost to a natural gas industry that has fought complaints from environmental groups and property owners who call fracking dangerous.

    Drilling fluids tagged with unique markers were injected more than 8,000 feet below the surface, but were not detected in a monitoring zone 3,000 feet higher.
    That means the potentially dangerous substances stayed about a mile away from drinking water supplies.
    The boom in gas drilling has led to tens of thousands of new wells being drilled in recent years, many in the Marcellus Shale formation that lies under parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. That has led to major economic benefits but also fears that the chemicals used in the drilling process could spread to water supplies.

    The study, done by the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, marked the first time that a drilling company let government scientists inject special tracers into the fracking fluid and then continue regular monitoring to see whether it spread toward drinking water sources.

    One finding surprised the researchers:

    Seismic monitoring determined one hydraulic fracture traveled 1,800 feet out from the well bore; most traveled just a few hundred feet.
    That’s significant, because some environmental groups have questioned whether the fractures could go all the way to the surface.
    The researchers believe that fracture may have hit naturally occurring faults, and that’s something both industry and regulators don’t want.
    Source: “Study Finds Fracking Chemicals Didn’t Pollute Water: AP,” CBS News, July 19, 2013.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57594498/study-finds-fracking-chemicals-didnt-pollute-water-ap/

  20. HI Michael

    Response to your first comment – I agree the only way to know is to drill, in the meantime how much emphasis should be put on shale gas in planning the economy – agree about the competence etc of politicians.

    Second comment – 13% of UK households are not connected to the grid http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/files/2011/10/Off-gas-consumers.pdf

    About leaks – I can’t find data to say how many there are from UK pipelines, though the National Grid’s website has press releases about some. And leaks from production are reported through DECC – in the North Sea 55 leaks were reported during June 2013.

  21. Tallbloke
    Post one – I thought the Sun survey just asked are you for fracking – so why do you expect more from Cardiff?

    Post two – I saw this study and a few others, including some that the EPA pulled, hence saying unsubstatiated. Can’t help noticing that you missed the caveat from the DUKE researcher – here it is for ‘balance’
    “This is good news,” said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the study. He called it a “useful and important approach” to monitoring fracking, but cautioned that the single study doesn’t prove that fracking can’t pollute, since geology and industry practices vary widely in Pennsylvania and across the nation.