Exploratory drilling, fracking and production could be underway at the same time across multiple wells on several pads in a shale gas field, a company suggested today.
IGas, which has shale gas licences mainly in the east midlands and north west England, described how construction crews would build pads across the area, followed by drilling rigs and fracking teams.
Ross Glover, IGas’s development director, told a seminar in London, the strategy envisaged four pads with 10 wells on each pad.
“The drilling rig sets the pace of the entire operation and we carry on and we move from pad to pad to pad and execute this pilot development.”
It would, he said, make shale gas development more efficient, lower costs and increase drilling times.
“We’ve seen this through drilling Tinker Lane and Springs Road.
“The acceleration in drilling pace has been remarkable. The cost savings have been very, very welcome.”
Mr Glover said the approach “de-risked” the resource.
“Once we’re on to the 7th, 8th 9th well we’re becoming better and better at exploiting that resource. The risk is being lowered. And importantly we’ve got learnings so the cost of the 10th well will be significantly cheaper and much quicker than the first well drilled. And it will be significantly more productive.”
But he said the strategy depended on planning applications getting approval at around the same time.
“The key with all of this is that this schedule needs to be executed back-to-back. So your planning application or series of planning applications would need to have been given consent at the same or similar times because the only way we can get the scale and learnings is by doing things back-to-back.”
He said IGas liked the idea of applying the nationally significant infrastructure regime, known as NSIP, to all phases of shale gas development, from exploration, through appraisal, to production.
Under NSIP, decisions on major projects are made by a government minister after a public hearing chaired by a planning inspector. The government consulted last year on applying NSIP to major shale gas production schemes. It has not yet published its decision.
Mr Glover said:
“The key for us is that NSIP would give us scale. We could go in with an NSIP programme – a project of scale, for example, four well pads across a geographic area.
“We would see an NSIP planning application taking us through from exploration through appraisal through into pilot development and that early stage production.”
NSIP would also give the company a fixed timescale, unlike the standard planning system, which, he said, had a very unpredictable timeline.
“A fixed timescale and the scale of an NSIP project would encourage investment, both into the development and into the supply chain.”
“Be careful what you wish for”
Another speaker at the seminar suggested the NSIP regime may not be a panacea for shale gas.
Andrew Mullaney, head of planning at Lancashire County Council, described NSIP as inflexible, long and time-consuming.
He said problems could arise when operators wanted to apply for variations to their permission.
“We know from shale gas in Lancashire and indeed in other parts of the country that because this is exploration by its very nature things do change.
“Inevitably that will mean that you [operators] will want to change your original proposals and in turn that means you will want to change the planning conditions.”
He said if the changes were issues such as different night-time noise limits or HGV movements there would need to be a new hearing.
“They will probably require the designation of a new planning inspector so be careful what you wish for. Unless you’ve been involved in day to day logistics of NSIP. I don’t believe it offers a panacea that some people in the industry believe it brings.”
Mr Mullaney also said NSIP would devalue the system of local plans:
“What is the point of a mineral planning authority planning in the long-term for regional, local and national provision if these things are parachuted in with very little control or say from the local plan-making process.”
- Mr Glover and Mr Mullaney were speaking at the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum keynote seminar on Unconventional oil and gas market in the UK – planning changes, environmental regulation and tackling the scale-up challenges
Reporting from this event was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers