Countryside would be “littered with fracking wells” to replace half UK gas imports – new research

180204 PNR FrackFreeCreators - Knitting Nanas of Lancashire

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, 4 February 2018. Photo: Frack Free Creatives Knitting Nanas of Lancashire

One well would have to be drilled and fracked every day for 15 years to produce enough gas to replace half future UK gas imports, according to new study for Friends of the Earth.

The organisation says analysis by Cardiff Business School concluded that about 6,100 medium productivity wells would be needed to cut gas imports by 50% from 2021-2035.

This figure is significantly higher than that predicted a year ago in a study commissioned by the onshore industry.

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Rose Dickinson, said:

“This would mean an industrialisation of our countryside at a rate that nobody has yet fully appreciated and would put many more communities in the firing line of this dirty and unwanted industry.”

Cuadrilla has said it expects to frack two horizontal wells at its site at Preston New Lancashire in the second half of the year. Third Energy is still waiting for approval to frack at Kirby Misperton and doesn’t expect the process to begin before the autumn. Both sites have prompted protests by opponents of fracking. There has also been opposition to plans for new shale gas sites in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and south Yorkshire.

Last week, ministers repeated their view that shale gas would contribute to UK energy security and reduce dependence on imports (DrillOrDrop report).

But Friends of the Earth said today that fracking could significantly reduce imports only if “England’s countryside was littered with fracking wells”. The organisation said:

“We need to know what the scale actually looks like, and it’s not looking good for our countryside.”

PNR 180217 Ros Wills 1

Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road,  21 March 2018. Photo: Ros Wills

The Cardiff figures

The report’s author, Professor Calvin Jones, used data from the National Grid, which predicted that gas imports would total 695 billion cubic meters for 2021-2035.

To calculate the land needed to replace half the imports, he assumed six wells per pad and a pad size of 3.5ha.

In the central scenario with mid-point well productivity he assumed an estimated ultimate recovery, the amount of potentially recoverable gas from a well, of 0.057 billion cubic metre.

To produce the volume of half the predicted imports, he concluded this would need 6,100 wells across 1,000 pads, covering more than 3,500 hectares. This implies the construction of one shale gas pad roughly every five days over 15 years and one well drilled a day, he said.

The most optimistic well productivity, of 0.085 billion cubic metre, would require 4,090 wells and 680 pads, covering 2,380 ha, the study concluded.

But if the gas produced per well was at the lower end of the range of possibilities, at 0.021 billion cubic metre, the number of wells needed would rise to 16,500. Professor Jones said.

“This equates to drilling and fracking three new wells every day”.

The number of pads needed would rise to more than 2,700, covering an area of over 9,600 hectares.

Professor Jones said UK gas production was likely to be lower and investment and production costs higher than in the US. This is because the US shale geology is easier to exploit and the US has a mature and mobile shale production industry, he said.

He added:

“On current trends there is no evidence that fracked gas can be brought to market at sufficiently low cost, and sufficiently great volume to make any significant profit, or to make any difference to the UK energy security position.”

“Thousands of wells peppered across the landscape”

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said:

“The fracking industry has always been clear that fracked gas would replace what’s currently imported, but what wasn’t clear was the scale of land take that would involve. The many thousands of wells that would be needed, peppered across our precious landscapes, would cause harm to the English countryside on an industrial scale.

“With technologies now enabling us to effectively harvest renewable energy sources, this is where our efforts, time and money should be invested. The English countryside we know and love is the breathing space for us all. It must not become an industrial testing ground for a fracking industry that has no environmental, economic or social licence.”

Rose Dickinson, of Friends of the Earth, added:

“England is increasingly isolated in desperately chasing fracking when it has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“When somewhere is threatened with fracking, opposition is immediate and sustained. It’s time the government banned it and put efforts behind real solutions to supplying energy because fracking won’t help fix climate change. Fracking is unneeded, unwanted and will industrialise our countryside That’s why so many people have come together to keep fracking at bay over the last 7 years”.

Industry figures


Still from industry animation, January 2017. Source: UK Onshore Oil and Gas

The Cardiff predictions contrast markedly with those in a report published in January last year by the onshore oil and gas industry organisation, UKOOG (DrillOrDrop report).

Its study, Developing Shale Gas and Maintaining the Beauty of the British Countryside, predicted 7-11 pads in a 10km licence, with 10 wells on each pad.

At the time, UKOOG’s chief executive, Ken Cronin, said:

“We estimate that approximately 400 well pads developed across the UK between 2020 and 2035”.

DrillOrDrop has invited UKOOG to comment on today’s study.  Mr Cronin said:

“This is a poor quality report, which uses data for well productivity which is years out of date and far lower than the current US average to arrive at artificially high numbers of wells.  Average production from each well in the US is now nearly twice the level of even the report’s optimistic scenario.  We have publicly set out how 4,000 laterals drilled over the next two decades would reduce the UK’s gas imports by half, and we see no evidence in this report to refute that.”

Updated 25/4/2018 to correct feet to metres in productivity measurements and to the difference between the number of wells predicted by the industry.

34 replies »

  1. In reference to Mr Cronins poor quality comment I see he fails to state the large volumes of toxic chemicals that are used in the US to maximise production.

    The UK industry regularly promotes the fact that they would not be using these large volumes of dangerous additives.

    So how does the UK industry expect high outputs?

    If that could be achieved with just sand and water and a thimbleful of friction reducer do explain why the US has got it wrong and spends billions on unnecessary chemicals.

    As we are limiting seismic activity to 0.5 magnitude that will limit the hydraulic pressure, reduce fracture growth, and restrict gas flow.

    And lest we forget we are not exactly world leaders in hydraulic fracturing of shale. Far from it.

    Let the BGS explain


    UK gas wells will not perform as well as US wells due to our higher environmental standards and lack of technical ability.

    The lower end of the range of possibilities sounds extremely optimistic.

    If it needs 2700 pads and 2 out of 9 planning applications are refused I think we can say that the industry is never going to get established or become profitable.

    • Quite right John. The High Volume categorization is simply worked around by playing a numbers game, by fracking a well in multiple stages. Thats a standard modern practice anyway as it extends the productive life of each borehole. Decline curves from the output of each frack dictate that the majority of recoverable gas (per frack) is gone after the first 12-18 months.

      • ps… the volumes end up as great if not greater per borehole (when totalled). And dont believe anyone who suggests that the frack fluid is no worse than super-dilute domestic product. Its injected in slugs, not mixed with all the water first.

  2. 2700 large football pitch sized pads when producing gas (showing only a small wellhead Christmas tree), is an insignificant area of the total area of Lancashire & Yorkshire and would not be noticeable.The main article is scaremongering & the photographs included give the impression that each pad would contain all the fracking gear. 2700 pads would have a less visual impact than the modern farm buildings being built today, or the many wind turbines littering the countryside.

  3. Total speculation.

    Absolutely no evidence for what will be produced from each site-yet. When it suits the Nimbys, they just as often state no gas will be produced from sites because the geology is “wrong”!

    Then, more speculation in terms of proportion of gas requirement that would come from UK fracking. I missed the bit of legislation that dictated that.

    This is the sort of nonsense that would preclude the UK from growing sugar beet, because of the land mass required to replace “freely available” imported sugar, the “adverse impacts” upon UK transport links, the increase in air and water pollution, the change to the ecology in vast areas of the country, and removal of farm land from other cropping!

    The bigger question, is who is this sort of stuff aimed at?

    • Isn’t the entire UK onshore gas industry “sheer speculation”? Certainly nothing to show for it but a series of deserted and operationally sterilised exploration pads, invaded countryside, vast amounts of opposition, outpourings of expletive rhetoric to fool the unwary investor, and a government that is back peddling (Back PEDLing) as fast as their little reverse gears can carry them out of the increasingly stinky political mercaptan smell of “no confidence” as feasibly possible?

      It seems to be perfectly aimed, judging by the anti anti irate angry responses?

      Bullseye! Nothing hurts like the truth does it?

    • Martin Collyer The difference is changing crops for any reason would not mean the land, water aquifers and the air around any farms would be poisoned for years/generations to come by chemicals left behind from the change of use…. Check out their own statistics, 6% of wells will leak from outset and over 30 years ALL would !!! The Hydrochloric and Hydrofluoric acid used in the operations actually eats through the steel/concrete housing, They openly admit at very best they can only retrieve 60% of the input slurry so 40% will be left in the ground including if they use waste water to reinjected the proportion of chemicals has to be added again so it ends up being far more concentrated. What part of this do you not understand that we do not want our countryside devastated by this temporary quick fix ?

  4. I stopped reading after the first sentence when it said Friends of the Earth. Absolutely no credibility to it. nonsense.

    • “Friends of the Earth”, the clue is in the name gregorpeeny? Maybe every protector contribution should be preceded by the words “Friends of the Earth” from now on?

      I assume the anti antis will precede their comments with:

      “Enemies of the Earth? Then we can stop reading them?


      But then of course they would never have read this would they? Dear dear, how sad, never mind?

      Those industry blacked out fracked up blinkers must be getting so massive now they are In danger of developing their own gravitational field?

      Maybe eventually they will all collapse into their self generated Frack Hole?

      Can’t happen soon enough for me?

    • Greg. Agree. It is funny how the antis interpret the report. If it is Greenpeace or FoE they say it is gospel. If it is industry report they say it is rubbish biased and fanciful with financial vested interests.

    • Gregoryyy, Friends of the Earth did not carry out the research, it was Professor Calvin Jones of the Cardiff Business School (University of Cardiff)

  5. Actually it’s worse than this if you apply the decline curves and assume a steady development scenario of 60+ pads a year between 2021 and 2035 (even the IoD only dared suggest 10) you do eventually get to 6000 wells, which with the “optimistic” EUR of 3 bcf gives you about 18 TCF in total

    In this scenario you only manage to achieve that 50% of forecast annual import figure (~0.875 tcf) in the last 2 years (you are ramping up to it in a fairly linear fashion over the 14 year period ) and then it sharply declines again unless you are able to keep that development process (and associated investment) going.

    Given that the economic viabilty of UK fracking seem likely to rest on multi level multi lateral development, I doubt we’ll ever actually see this scenario come to reality. So instead we are left asking the question, can we really expect them to be able to drill those 6000 wells at say 40 wells a pad on 150 pads and consistently achieve average EURs in excess of 2015 results all but one of the US shale plays (see https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/oilgas.pdf). That too seems unlikely to me, but I’m sure Peeny or Martin will be able to provide some evidence which supports their ability to do this. (And even if they can it still seems questionable whether they can do so at an economic rate.)

    Martin there is no legislation regarding the 50% import figure – it just places the shale is the answer to all our problems guff into a context.

  6. Predictable knee-jerk responses from the pro frackers along the following priorities: 1/ don’t read the report because it probably won’t support your needed for confirmation bias, 2/ (if read) ignore the fact that it cross references other major studies and the latest commercial data from successful fracking operations elsewhere – mainly the USA 3/ certainly don’t mention it’s disclosed methodology in case anyone sees it as credible.

    Shunning the fact that these figures give the most optimistic scenario, perhaps the pros would like to run with more pessimistic figures? ie where many more wells are needed to achieve the same outcomes. I suspect what they really want is the absolutely most optimistic scenario as mentioned by Mr Cronin above which appears to assume the entirety of UK shale formations will be like those ideal Permian basin strata found in the best US shale plays (and rarely anywhere else). Mr Cronin broke Martin’s rule of not basing speculation on anything found in the States… oops.

    Never mind, there’s Gasman’s lovely image of a little ‘christmas tree’ remaining wherever there’s a well pad. No mention of the storms of activity – for up to thirteen years of drilling, flaring, venting huge amounts of trucking, water extraction and waste water disposal per site – to get to that end point.

    • One only has to look at Canada, Australia, the US to see the reality in scale of the unconventional gas industry.

      • Maybe in your dreams Gasman, Where talking 10 or more wells per pad and how many frack(stages) each? 20-30? Trucking and storage of the miles of casings and shafts, holding/disposal systems, main trunk pipes to compressor and condenser stations, cross-country networking of all the produced gas, haulage of the waist, days to a week or more of flaring per frack i.e 10 x 20 or 30. You must know that it doesn’t all get done at once. It would happen in fits and starts over years. And they’re talking about multiple depths of wells. Gas output declines quickly per well so once started it effectively doesn’t stop … many return drillings, fracking and refracking.

  7. That was enlightening!

    I think refracktion and PhilipP that I have always stated that the success of UK fracking for gas, in terms of output and economics, will not be determined until significant test fracking has been completed in UK. I know the antis fall back upon speculation on a regular basis, but I have always stated we will not know until we have done the tests-which is why I support the tests. It is not an unusual stance. According to the infamous survey there are two thirds of those surveyed who are unlikely to believe further speculation. So, if the antis want to continue on a failed pathway, fine.

    So, again my question. Who are such “reports” aimed at? Obviously there are some on DOD who will mop up such speculation, and indeed, fabrication, but IMHO the wider public have not, and will not be swayed, and might even find such attempts demeans their intelligence and will react negatively.

    Keep bashing your heads against the wall. The Green bottles will then continue to fall-but you will blame an earth tremor!

    • Martyn, why is this report “speculation”? It is based upon figures taken from the National Grid and US production. It has been carried out by Cardiff University.

      You say you support the tests, so do you support what comes after the tests? And do you honestly believe the industry will agree to be curtailed if they obtain successful flow tests? Having invested millions in the exploratory phase they will clearly want to progress to production but the industry is not economically viable unless it operates on a vast scale, which again is fact.

      You ask who is this report aimed at, I would say it is to inform the public about the reality of what an unconventional gas industry is.

      With the sharp decline in gas flow that you get from shale in order to sustain commercially viable quantities of gas, it is necessary to continually drill, frack and re frack, which again is fact.

    • comprehension would be aided considerably Martin if you didn’t tie yourself in knots while attempting to make a statement.

  8. Of course a definitive answer is only available post facto Martin. That is a little logical quibble the industry uses to try to get its foot in the door as we can all see.

    I do like the concluding statement of the report here though (although you’ll hate it Martin and it will send Peeny into spasm) :

    “on current trends there is no evidence that fracked gas can be brought to market at sufficiently low cost, and sufficiently great volume to make any significant profit, or to make any difference to the UK energy security position(let alone the UK gas price). In the absence of significant change to contextual factors, the UK onshore gas reserves will remain purely of geological interest .”

  9. It is speculation KatT because there is NO data from UK on shore gas fracking. The antis recognise this, on occasion, when they vary between there is no shale gas that will be economic to extract in UK through to thousands of sites marching across the UK countryside! It will not be both-I suspect it may be somewhere in between. But, the antis will continue to make the two extreme cases based upon no UK data. That is speculation.

    How many sites are possible are not known, so to talk about vast scales is worse than speculation.

    Speculation and fabrication merely excites the easily excitable (as can be seen by the comments from the antis on this subject), it does not inform the public about realities. Realities have yet to be determined. I know you lost 10% of the antis in the last survey but they have seen all this nonsense before.

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