Don’t expect UK fracking to be cheap or easy, conference told

4th March 2014

Shale UK conference report 2

Fracking shale oil and gas in Britain will be technically and socially challenging, Professor Joe Cartwright, of Oxford University, told the Shale UK conference today.

He was one of a series of speakers who spelled out the difficulties facing a UK shale industry.

Professor Cartwright said one of the biggest problems was likely to be public opposition. “We need to rebuild trust with the public. You are painfully aware just how distrusting of us they are. They do not know who to believe…There are a lot of people who will take a lot of persuasion.”

Lord Oxburgh, a former chairman of Shell, pointed to what he called “intense local hostility” to intrusive activity. “These are great brutes, these operations”, he said. “You are going to have to get into places that people regard as private sanctuaries. In certain parts of the world this will be a serious concern….At the well head you have 4,000 horse power of heavy diesel engines. Noise is going to be a problem.” He said drilling in the UK would also be densely distributed (see 33,000 shale gas wells in Lancashire, professor predicts) and that would also be disruptive.

There was a lot of hype about UK shale, Lord Oxburgh said. “Politicians are making a lot of very silly statements”. He said the UK resource was large but the reserve (what is recoverable) was largely unknown. He said shale was not energy-efficient because there was a low ratio of energy input needed for energy recovered (1:2, compared with 1:20 for conventional gas).

He said a UK shale industry would have a negligible effect on UK gas prices. “Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand this at all.” It may offer energy security, he said, but this will come at quite a cost. “Coal may be cheaper way to produce gas.”

Production declines rapidly in shale gas wells, said Dr Ian Walton, of the Energy and Geoscience Institute, Utah. He said production from a well halved within 12 months and dropped to 20 per cent of peak levels after three years. New wells, therefore, needed to be drilled each year to maintain production.

Professor Richard Davies, leader of the Researching Fracking in Europe consortium, called for improvements in the quality of discussion about shale. “It is ridiculous to say fracking is safe”, he said. “There are going to be risks. Nothing is ever risk-free. We should be honest about that. We should continue to research the risks and discuss them honestly with the public and politicians.”

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