UK shale reserves could be less than thought – study

190728 Ros Wills

The ‘goose neck’ being reinstalled for fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire, 28 July 2019. Photo: Ros Wills

UK shale gas reserves may be “markedly lower than previously thought”, according to research published today.

A study by Nottingham University and the British Geological Survey (BGS) concludes that, at current demand, shale gas could supply UK needs for less than 10 years.

The research, in Nature Communications, suggests that previous evaluations for the Bowland shale were “a significant over-estimate”. Shale gas reserve evaluation by laboratory pyrolysis and gas holding capacity consistent with field data (pdf)

Work by the BGS in 2013 was used to estimate that domestic shale gas could supply the country for 25-50 years. It helped support the UK government case in favour of fracking.

But the Nottingham researchers said this earlier work was based on US shales and differences in the UK could not be taken into account. The new estimates were derived from actual UK shales, using gas generation absorption and field data, they said.

Today’s study used samples from Cuadrilla’s shale gas well at Grange Hill, near Blackpool, and the Rempstone-1 well in Nottinghamshire. The authors said their data was consistent with other analysis from Cuadrilla and Third Energy.

The study used a new pyrolysis technique to demonstrate the most appropriate laboratory regime to simulate gas generation in geological basins. Pyrolysis is a process which produces chemical and physical changes to materials when exposed to high temperatures.

The process allowed the authors to compare shale gas estimates from laboratory results with measures from recently-reported field data of core samples.

It estimated about 200 trillion cubic feet from the Bowland shale. Assuming an economic recovery rate of 10%, this would produce about 20 trillion cubic feet, or about seven years’ worth of gas at current consumption rates. The 2013 BGS study had a central estimate of about 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas in place.

“Transforms view of shale gas reserves”

Dr Christopher Vane, head of organic geochemistry at Nottingham, said:

“This study transforms our view of UK shale gas reserves. The cutting-edge science shows that shales within the Bowland Formation contain less recoverable gas than previously thought, confirming that the UK’s geology needs to be carefully managed and demonstrating the strategic value of UK core and accompanying organic geochemical information.”

The head of the research team, Professor Colin Snape, director of the Centre of Doctoral Training in Carbon Capture and Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy at Nottingham, said:

“We have made great strides in developing a laboratory test procedure to determine shale gas potential. This can only serve to improve people’s understanding and Government decisions around the future of what role shale gas can make to the UK energy’s demand as we move to being carbon neutral by 2050”.

Professor Mike Stephenson, chief scientist for decarbonisation and resource management at the BGS said:

“This study uses an interesting new scientific technique, sequential high-pressure water
pyrolysis, to estimate shale gas resources in the Bowland Shale Formation. This technique could help us further understand the shale gas potential of UK onshore basins.

“Early indications published today in Nature Communications, suggest that it is possible there is less shale gas resource present than previously thought, however the study considered only a very small number of rock samples from only two locations.

“BGS has continued to study resource estimation in shales over the past 16 years and further studies are still required to further refine estimates of shale gas resources.”

“World class resource”

The shale gas industry has rejected the findings of the Nottingham research. In March 2019, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) increased its production estimates for domestic shale gas by more than 70%. This was based on findings from Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool, and shale drilling in Nottinghamshire.

Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, said today:

“Nottingham in their research have analysed a limited amount of core from one Bowland shale well drilled in 2011, which was subsequently decommissioned without hydraulic fracturing or flow testing. There was no calibration with the US or any interaction with the company that drilled the well.

“The industry is currently in the process of exploration in various parts of the Bowland Shale to test the geology and whether the gas will flow commercially. This involves 3D seismic surveying, core drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flow testing. To date we have made significant advancements in the understanding of the resource potential contained within UK shale, with very encouraging results seen at both Springs Road and Preston New Road which have demonstrated properties in line with world class, US shale plays.

“What we know now is that we have a world class resource which has broadly supported the estimates originally published by the British Geological Survey. Indeed, in terms of potential gas flow indications, the results are at the upper end of our original forecasts. Neither do we agree with the generalisations and assumptions used by the authors of this research regarding the uniformity, nature and quality of the rocks and reservoirs. One of the largest lessons learned from the USA’s shale revolution is that shales are not homogenous and that well location, even within a single basin, can be paramount to the success of the well. It appears that no basin variation factors have been significantly considered in this generalised study.

“All research is useful, but it needs to be understood in context. We remember the comment made many years ago by a senior geologist in the North Sea, who was so convinced that there wasn’t any oil to be found that he promised to drink any that was discovered. Since then, the North Sea has produced over 40 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

“A salutary reminder: the only way to really know the extent of a shale resource is by drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flow testing. We look forward to continuing our work doing just that.”

“Shale is a fail”

A spokesperson for the anti-fracking network, Frack Free United, said:

“The Nottingham research speaks for itself. First Professor Styles tells the Industry that fracking isn’t viable in 50% of licence areas. Then Professor Howarth tells the world that fracking is driving climate change. And now this research calls into question the economic and energy security arguments from UKOOG and co.”

“The Conservative government needs to listen to the peer-reviewed research and realise that shale is a fail.”

Frack Free Lancashire said:

“We note with interest, this latest study which suggests that the Bowland Shale reserves have been greatly overestimated, with less than 10 years of shale gas available.

“This is a huge difference from the original estimates and calls into question the commercial viability of the entire project.

“Do residents really have to suffer the impacts of fracking for something that appears barely worth attempting to extract?”

The paper, Shale gas reserve evaluation by laboratory pyrolysis and gas holding capacity consistent with field data by Patrick Whitelaw and others is published in Nature Communications

Updated 21/8/2019 with quote from Professor Mike Stephenson

69 replies »

  1. “A salutary reminder: the only way to really know the extent of a shale resource is by drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flow testing. We look forward to continuing our work doing just that.”

    • We’ve been hearing the industry saying for some years now that we shouild listen to the science.
      Now that the science disagrees with them they say Don’t listen to the science!

  2. Wow! This report must be painful for the industry as it estimates the Bowland shale has between 85 – 195 tcf of gas in it, so just 8.5 – 19.5 tcf at 10% recoverable.

    At 2.8 tcf a year that is indeed less than 10 years , being between 3 and 7 years, or as we might say, about 5 years.

    Ken Cronin seems to have a full time job trying to refute bad news for his industry these days (with the help of Newgate Communications of course).

    • Refracktion

      It must be of interest to investors. Maybe they can test a few more samples, some from Preston Road and Misson maybe? Ineos could provide a couple once they drill their exploratory wells?

      If all results are the same or similar ( and gas flow remains troubled at Preston Road ), then a smaller industry if any would result.

      Like coal mining, it would fade away ( without protest at the mines ).

    • Defraction: this report is out of date, digging up old core samples from a well drilled in 2011. No possible credibility can be give to this report, you honestly recording its findings as fact?

      The UK industry has only drilled two unconventional onshore shale wells, these core samples are currently being analysed.

      If you don’t know the industry and the science and you believe hearsay then you more of a dafty than anyone else can comprehend! Haha….

      • Eli, do they core samples go off then?

        It’s hilarious how you guys love science until the science says something you don’t love.

        I recall that the eminent debater Ken Wilkinson once wore a T shirt that said “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it“


        • Refracktion – core samples do go off and that’s why the oil and gas industry tries to preserve them but this is often not done for shale because it continues to degas for weeks/months after the core is brought to surface. There’s absolutely nothing odd about people questioning the validity of a study that claims to be able to characterize a massive area based on the analysis of two samples. It’s also the case that there isn’t a single person who has every been able to predict the EUR of a shale play by analysing the properties of the rock.

  3. A study by Nottingham University and the BGS, funny how UKOOG and industry were only too happy to accept the BGS findings when they were more favourable, now they reject them when it doesn’t suit their claims. These repeated rejections by UKOOG are wearing very thin as it continues to sell its vision of shale based upon outdated reports and data. ReFINE concluded in a study a while ago that because of the small, heavily populated country that we are – the limits on surface development would reduce recovery by circa 70%, add to that the UK’s complex geology and warnings over former mining areas and you can see the reality. This industry has been over hyped from day one, when it was claimed the U.K. could emulate the US, which was always a nonsense given the size of the UK’s shale reserves and the difference in the size of each country. Even the government’s own report, the one they were forced to release a part of, confirmed that benefits had been over exaggerated. Given the experience of investors in the US, U.K. shale with far more risk attached cannot look attractive to sensible investors, surely?

    • KatT: “One major factor behind this is that further research into the UK’s geology has been held back by planning. Another is the fall in gas prices that have made exploration harder to justify.”

      Advances in technology that mean fewer drilling sites are required to extract gas could also be responsible for the discrepancy in the figures, according to industry representatives.

      So many if, but and maybes! But without commitment we will never know… frack-on!

  4. Amazing how the antis are so incredibly useless at science they can’t see the obvious flaw in a study that analyses one sample of the Bowland shale and then extrapolates the results to the rest of the UK.

    • Simon: got it in one.
      One cannot analyse a grain of sand and deduce a diamond! Haha…
      hence take a core sample and quantify the size of the bowland shale!

      • But you can take a scientific stab at the amount of gas in place (they have already quantified the size haven’t they?)

        We can see you are really hurting about this


  5. Think it is called desperation, Simon.

    But, not bad for the frackers. It just highlights that there is such little UK data, and what there is, is being extrapolated, speculated and fabricated to silly degrees. The clearest case for real data to be produced that any company could wish for.

    Is that the same experience in the USA KatT that is causing Exxon ($300 billion company) to sell out of the N.Sea and step up production in the Permian, where they already operate more rigs than any other producer? I even think Shirley might be happy with that-the rest of the financial market was!

    Looks as if the straw grasping season is well underway.

    • So Martin you seem to be suggesting that those forecasts of 50 years of gas were rubbish, but the industry has certainly been clutching at that straw for a few years now. Extrapolated, speculated and fabricated to silly degrees eh?

      • Not suggesting that, reaction, but it could be the case. Reality will only emerge as reasonably extensive testing is conducted. I just find it amusing that without that sort of data a dartboard approach is termed research. It seems that “research” these days is a mighty “science”-with text full of might and read as fact!
        But, the antis swing both ways as well (excuse the pun) with some declaring there will be vast numbers of sites industrializing large parts of the country. So, it would appear most are unsure of this area, and thus only one way to get rid of the might and substitute the reality-do the tests. Simples.

        (Just taken a ‘phone call from a relative who informed me their gas central heating fired up this am for the first time. Winter on the way!)

        • Martin, in the nicest possible way anyone that has to use “simples”whilst making a point and add the gas central heating has just fired up has lost the argument 😏

          • KatT, in the nicest possible way, anyone who is sat at their plastic keyboard at 11.16pm making such “profound” statements, and offering an Emoji in place of anything more profound, has far greater problems!

            I happen to believe, and my past experience of research required for product licencing, points me towards the need for a certain construction upon data use. If I had not adhered to that, my products would not have been licenced, and even if they had, would have not sold once competitors pointed out to the ASA they were marketed upon mights and mays that could not be validated in an acceptable way.

            Good job the fracking companies are following/being forced to follow, a much more detailed scientific process. Investment considerations would probably drive them in the same direction even without that.

            But, we are all supposed to have believed a might on the side of a bus, rather than examined the reality of the situation. So, it seems there are some who just look at buses without examining the reality, and they might congregate in certain areas for others to excite.

  6. 50 years supply of fracked gas was always as likely as boasting of Climate Change Reduction Targets for 2050 or even 2030! Everyone concerned with these pronouncements will likely be dead and buried by then.
    Another Ponzi scheme gone to the wall!

    Eli-Goth, written by someone who doesn’t live on the Fylde as usual! Either Industry or Government or Lexington Communications or a combination of all three!

    • so peter why do not want shale production? is it pure nimbyism and selfishness that the rest of the country has to suffer because residents in the fylde don’t want energy security, employment and the benefits of a shale gas bonanza!

        • something you wouldn’t benefit from Defraction! As you’d rather invest you money in corbyns rhetoric?!

              • A nuclear strike is also rather modern and efficient, reaction, but not that environmentally friendly. (Not sure too many nuclear warheads are manufactured via brown coal either, so you may even trump them.) Mind you, depositing your bodily wastes in the Atlantic is not that environmentally friendly, or flying from USA and then attending an XR event in London.

                So, you are in company, but not good company. Just hope you manage not to hold up too many when you visit the surgery, as GPs are now supposed to be “educating” their patients on the damage of the antisocial activity of diesel ownership, and the “costs” to the NHS.

                But, I have a suggestion! Now we have Sir Jim, authorised to complete his purchase of Nice FC, to become Nice Sir Jim, there is another club up for grabs, so you could make a little investment and be rebadged as Bury the Ref!! Works on so many levels.

                (I had a BMW diesel (X3) myself a few years ago. I paid to get rid of it, as it became a rouge after 6k miles, and BMW refused to accept responsibility. It can be done, once you accept you should bite the bullet.)

                Just to add a little snippet, I can understand your reluctance to embrace electric. Seems Tesla cars are not their only product that bursts into flames. Walmart now suing Tesla for solar panels they installed that did the same on 7 Walmart stores!!!

                • A u in the wrong place!

                  Quite appropriate really-a match for the one when walking the walk is being considered.

                  Perhaps I should have added a new keyboard to a hard drive replacement. Mind you, still catching up on my sleep from that little exercise, when it became evident that the only way to access the support service to reconfigure was to utilise the night option. Another example of a might-they might sort it out for you if the telephone line is not constantly engaged during the day.

  7. It’s just pathetic how the industry dismiss every report – and there are more and more of them each month – that don’t fit into their climate destroying agenda and diss the science. Who are you going to believe – the head of PR for the fracking companies, or research scientists from a respected university and the British Geological Society?

      • Burning fossil fuels to extract gas, pumps HGVs etc. Increading low level ozone, flaring, venting, fugitive emissions of methane and the burning of gas. Those climate destroying sources.

    • Two locations and a very small number of samples!
      So not much science been researched then….. as ken cronin reiterated, the only way we will know the full extent of what is in place is by conducting extended research of what is in place, this is currently being done!
      Please wait for the results, and stop trying as is stated earlier the dartboard approach!

      Early indications published today in Nature Communications, suggest that it is possible there is less shale gas resource present than previously thought, however the study considered only A VERY small number of ROCK samples from only TWO locations.

      BGS has continued to study resource estimation in shales over the past 16 years and further studies are still required to further refine estimates of shale gas resources.’

      Like every prospect the finding will be by Cuadrillas Core samples and the many other prospecting companies core samples!

      Those not in research or the industry need not apply!

      • Eli-Goth. Pro shale supporters may claim the samples spoken of in this Report are small and inconclusive.
        However it was stated, “The data we’ve got from the 2 shales we’ve looked at are very consistent. Gas companies Cuadrilla and Third Energy have just published 2 papers in the last year where they have taken core samples and measured the gas that’s evolved and that data is very, very consistent with our own data.”
        Very, very consistent with our own data sounds pretty convincing.

        • Pauline – yet again you show your complete ignorance of science. There is no one in the world who can make accurate estimates of ultimate recovery without drilling and fracking at least 10 wells in the area of interest. The people behind the study in Nottingham have zero experience in the shale gas industry and the technique that they have used has never been proven to give accurate estimates of EUR. It’s also the case that gas explorers have used the same methods for 20 years but have found them to be totally unreliable. This is simply a case of a group of scientists over stating the value of their research so that they can get it into a journal with a high impact factor.

          • Simon it seems that only you know everything about science how very odd that we have all these professors and scientists in prestigious universities and organisations such as the BGS!

            • KatK – from my understanding, the person involved from the BGS was a student at Notingham at the time. The two key people from BGS who have commented on this were John Luddin and Mike Stephenson – one runs BGS and the other is the chief scientist, who both urged great caution and who both have far more knowledge and experience that the then student who did this work. The academics from Nottingham have zero experience in shale gas research.

      • Independent expert opinion from the BGS and Nottingham University as opposed to the vested interests of the industry. It is a no brainer not to take this report seriously and academics and the BGS should resist pressure from industry to feel obliged to speak to Cuadrilla or alter their findings. Independent means just that.

        • KatT – very odd argument – generally when NERC funded project reveals something positive about shale gas you jump up and down and say they are just in the pocket of BEIS. Then when on person from BGS,, who are funded bu NERC, says something negative about shale gas they are suddenly independent. You also seem to be ignore the other opinions from BGS about the work, which are not particularly complimentary towards its conclusions. It also seems that you don’t have a particular propensity to be able to critically appraise the data for yourself. What don’t you understand about the simple fact that one can’t take a single shale sample and extrapolate its properties to the rest of the UK?

          • Simon you don’t know me, and I find your comments extremely patronising, I don’t “jump up and down” about anything. And I am extremely capable to critically appraise data but wonder if you are because when someone resorts to making personal comments it is a pretty good indicator that they have lost the argument. I may be mistaken, and in reality it is irrelevant, but wasn’t there more than one BGS person involved in this study? Either way it is a joint study and that is fact, which clearly you don’t like.

  8. Could someone explain the degrees of confidence and the levels of probability from such a small sample set? (I can offer a clue-you need a pretty high level of replication to produce either, and that replication requires standardisation within the testing.) Hence, the need for multiple data sets. And, how come the published info. seems to have cracked what Cuadrilla are still experimenting with ie. the correct treatment?

    No wonder the antis had difficulty understanding where the ASA were coming from.

    • Cuadrilla and its partners have burnt through at least £60 million in their Lancashire shale gas operations. That was before they started fracking. They have exhausted the funds promised by Centrica who are trying to distance themselves from Spirit energy, a subsidiary of Centrica who are one of the backers of the industry.

      Centrica said: “Spirit Energy 2018 production performance was disappointing relative to our initial expectations and we currently expect 2019 production to be broadly in line with 2018 levels.

      Centrica share prices are bottoming out.

      These new figures showing much lower amounts of gas will obviously make anyone previously interested in long term investment think twice.

      I doubt Centrica will invest another penny more than they are committed to.

  9. One further thought why should we trust what Cuadrilla has to say, not only with their obvious vested interests but also, and please correct me if I’m wrong, haven’t Cuadrilla and UKOOG based all their latest assumptions on just ONE
    sample, a partial frack from PNR? And this was considered sufficient by UKOOG to further inflate estimates? Yet this study is dismissed. And strange how we were all told that there was much more gas on less data and information in the original BGS study but industry never questioned that! It is wrong of Francis Egan to say the people that published this paper should be ashamed. That is disgraceful and perhaps it is more shameful that planning policy on shale gas was found unlawful and Mr Egan and industry not making clear to the public that UK shale gas has higher emissions than European gas imported via pipeline and over hyping the industry.

    • KatK – a well test analysis conducted on a fracked well samples a far larger area than a small sample from a single well – it’s not so difficult to understand is it?

      • KatT Simon. Only a 5% fracked well I seem to recall but the point I’m making is that the original assessment by the BGS was based on less data, less knowledge and older technology than used in this recent study, but industry never baulked at those results because the findings suited their mantra. Indeed the industry has been promoted on those original findings. Now, suddenly the BGS should be ashamed of themselves because industry don’t like the findings. The BGS should not kowtow to industry if it wants to remain credible. And as per my earlier post it isn’t the first study that has warned of far lower recovery rates or warned of dire economic mess that US fracking is in.

    • The paper presents a relatively new pyrolysis technique, with analysis on a couple of small rock samples from Grange Hill-1z and Rempstone-1 wells, being extrapolated to make a statement on the GIIP (gas initially in-place) for the entire Bowland Shale Formation, which extends for more than a few thousand km2, and in places is in excess of 1500m thick.
      KatT your couch observation and telepathy of GIIP of the Bowland shale and BGS’s estimation, you could work for an oil operator with those assumptions, Or just let drillers drill!

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