The American energy entrepreneur, Chris Wright, told the House of Lords last month (14/1/14) that Britain would need only 35 shale gas drilling rigs and 700 wells a year.
Giving evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee investigation into shale gas, he said his figure was based on the 350 rigs currently drilling 7,000 wells a year in the US. Mr Wright, chief executive of Liberty Resources, said: “The British market is an eighth the size of the United States market, maybe a tenth with our growth in gas exports to Mexico. So 700 wells, or 35 drilling rigs, would probably supply UK gas if it was parallel to the United States.”
Mr Wright said the number of rigs in the US was falling. “Seven to 10 years ago we had five times as many rigs drilling for US gas, and our gas production was declining and gas prices were going up. We have far fewer rigs today because they are so much more efficient. It will be better five years from now as well.”
Mr Wright’s figures were significantly lower than those given to the same committee a week earlier (14/1/14) by Sir David King, Special Representative for Climate Change, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the government’s former Chief Scientific Adviser. He said “It would take something like 1,000 to 2,000 wells being drilled every year [in the UK] to have the sort of impact that some of us would like to see on our economics.”
The House of Lords asked both men what they thought the visual impact of fracking would be. Mr Wright said: “Drilling rigs are 200 feet tall, so they will be viewed. There will be a lot of cars and trucks with people going to work. Each drill pad is maybe five or 10 acres, so there will definitely be a visible impact, no doubt about it,”
Sir David said he doubted that the US experience would be replicated in the UK because of the UK’s high population density and “the difficulty of seeing planning permission being granted on a scale that could come even close to matching the scale in the United States.”
The number of rigs and wells drilled in a year doesn’t, however, give the full picture of the scale of fracking in the US. Rigs are simply the equipment that does the drilling and, as Mr Wright, said in his evidence, they are moved around from site to site, sometimes drilling around 20 wells a year.
The Environmental Protection Agency said 35,000 wells were fracked every year in the US and Environment America said 82,000 wells have been fracked since 2005. Last year, the Wall Street Journal found at least 15.3 million Americans had a natural gas well within one mile of their home that has been drilled since 2000.
In addition to the shale gas rigs mentioned by Mr Wright, the US also had 1,422 onshore oil rigs operating at the end of last month. And oil, rather than gas production, could be have a significant impact on parts of Britain. Toni Harvey, senior geoscientist, at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, told the House of Lords last October that in the Weald Basin in southern England, the shale is more likely to hold oil than gas.
Last year, Earthworks reported on the scale of fracking for oil in Karnes County, Texas. Since November 2010, 18 oil wells had been drilled and fractured within a mile of one family’s home. Within two miles, there were 37 existing oil wells, several oil and gas processing facilities and a salt injection operation.