The head of the company which holds all the hydrocarbon exploration licences in Somerset has predicted he could be drilling a gas well in the county in two years.
In a rare interview, broadcast this morning, Gerwyn Williams, of South Western Energy, gave details of his company’s plans. He told BBC Local Radio he expected to find both shale and conventional gas in Somerset:
“I am not going to give up until we see gas being produced from the areas we’ve been working on for many, many years.
“I’ve always had a good feeling because the geology in Somerset is very similar to the geology in South Wales, which in turn is very similar to the big gas producing areas in the US.
“We know quite a lot about the geology in Somerset and we feel that it can produce gas and we feel that it can change the economy of Somerset around totally.”
Opponents of fracking in the region said this morning that local people would say “a resounding no” to drilling by South Western Energy.
Focus on Somerset
66-year-old Mr Williams said his company had “got more experience than most in the UK”, based on 20 years of hydrocarbon exploration in South Wales.
But with a moratorium on fracking in Wales, he appears to be focusing on his nine petroleum and exploration licences blocks between Clevedon and Minehead on the Somerset coast. The main target of the blocks, granted by the Oil and Gas Authority last year, is shale gas.
Mr Williams told the BBC’s James Craig:
“We need to spend at least another year I think on desk-top studies. We will then need to go through the permitting process, which means gaining planning permission, and all the environmental permissions we’ll need before we can drill.
“We need land rights, obviously, we need to come to an agreement with the landowner. That’s going to take over a year. It is likely to be two years, I would say, from now, just over, before we are looking at drilling an exploration well.”
South Western Energy is one of 17 companies of which Gerwyn Williams, a former coal mining engineer, is currently a director. It was formed in 2012, has one other director and, apart from Mr Williams, one other member of staff.
His companies gave up four exploration licences for coal bed methane in east Kent last year and another in the Mendips. In September this year, Mr Williams announced he would not be taking up four licence blocks offered in last year’s 14th round in the Forest of Dean and Wiltshire (grey blocks on map above). DrillOrDrop report
In the BBC interview, Mr Williams said South Western Energy could fund exploration in Somerset:
“If we couldn’t do it, we wouldn’t have the licences because one of the tests you had to prove or pass with the government before they will let you have the licence is the financial capability. So that answers itself, I think.”
He predicted an exploration well would cost £400,000 and confirmed that the company would have its own rig – unlike many licence operators.
Mr Williams hinted that South Western Energy would look at conventional gas exploration first and frack later:
“The easiest thing, I suppose, as a producer, is to go along and drill for conventional gas in Somerset. It’s likely to be the Devonian measures, the old red sandstone, which is a prolific producer in the Appalachians in the USA. And then once you’ve won that gas, we’ll look at setting up a small modular power station somewhere and generate electricity rather than sending the gas direct in the early days.”
He said there was shale gas in the Silurian and Ordovician strata in Somerset.
“We will look to see what targets there are and then we will decide what to do.”
On developments in the county, he said:
“We don’t see Somerset being a big gas producer and a big electricity generating producer for ever and a day. We’ve got coal stations closing, we’ve got old oil stations more or less gone, nuclear, particularly in Somerset, is coming on line but that’s going to take quite a number of years. In the meantime, we are going to have gaps in generating capacity that have got to be filled.”
Asked how he addressed concerns in Somerset about fracking, Mr Williams said:
“Well firstly the industry is proved to be safe. By the time we are ready to do anything, other bigger companies will have drilled in the north of England and there will be far, far more information available. So I think that’s the position in terms of fracking itself. If we ever do frack in Somerset.”
He urged people opposed to fracking to “take a broader view”
“As far as the people who are objecting are concerned I think they need to take a broader view. We’re not saying that hydrocarbon production, oil or gas, is the be all and end all for energy security in the future for the UK. But what we would say is that if you look at wind, if you look at solar and if you look at tidal, none of those can ever be a base producer.”
Louise Somerset Williams, of Frack Free Somerset, told the BBC:
“I think people in Somerset are fully aware of the impacts of climate change. We’ve had the floods. I think that there is strong opposition. Frack Free Somerset have been running for five years. The local groups are currently recruiting members, holding meetings, they are active on Facebook.
“I very much doubt that the people of Somerset will say yes. I think we will say a resounding no to South Western Energy drilling in our beautiful county.”
Rachel Stevens, of Frack Free Quantocks, Exmoor and Sedgemoor, said:
“In terms of the fracking process there’s a huge wealth of evidence now in terms of the negative outcome from fracking. Our friends in America and in Australia have lots of research from their experience. In terms of contaminating water supplies, if we are fracking on Exmoor or the Quantocks, that is going to have an impact on the Somerset Levels. Water travels great distances so you can’t just frack in one place in an isolated fashion and not expect it to impact on another.”