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.”
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.
“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”.
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.