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. Cuadrilla won’t like this report, it won’t get the investors champing at the bit! Wouldn’t touch it with a barge poll. I look forward to investors wasting a lot of money on a deplorable industry! Archaic, outdated, primitive, dirty, mmmm, what more could you want?

    • Where there is muck, there is money LAPM! Or, perhaps we should decline to produce energy from waste?

      I suspect Cuadrilla will have little interest in the report, other than to use it to show how such could be produced without liaison with themselves, who hold the majority of the data to produce such a report. Those who have been excited to invest in Cuadrilla will see the wood for the trees, or a pole for a poll.

  2. OGA stated that UK North Sea gas reserves (1P) end 2018 were 7Tcf. Another 13Tcf estimated at 2P (50% probability).

    New Bowland shale number is 200Tcf in place. Recovery of 10% = reserves of 20Tcf – same as proven plus probable number for North Sea.

    So we have enough gas onshore in shale and offshore North Sea to last for around 20 years. Then we are 100% reliant on imports. Or we can forget shale and import 100% in 10 years.

    As all forecasts (excluding EOI and Greenpeas and Green Party) are showing we need gas for another 30 years it would seem prudent to at least test the Bowland shale for economic viability. And I don’t mean John Powney’s nimby “economic viability” or Statoil’s etc.

    Of course shale could be higher or lower than the new estimates. The shale is not homogeneous and there are variations in porosity and permeability in line with changes in sand / shale content etc. Although it must be assumed that Cuadrilla are testing the sweet spots. But perhaps not? And it may well be uneconomic but we don’t know yet.

    OGA link:

    Click to access oga_reserves__resources_report_2019_jk.pdf

    • I should have added that “or PNRAG aka Prof Smythe” may also be right and Cuadrilla / OGA / BGS / Centrica / EA incorrect about the geology although I am not sure what this would actually mean?

    • Not looking good at all for long term investment by the big players.

      Hearing Cuadrilla stating that the UK gets nearly half it’s gas from Russia should make any would be investors question exactly how much experience and knowledge Cuadrilla actually have.

      Meanwhile the sensible reports keep coming in,

      “In 2017, our research revealed that the UK’s geology is unlikely to be suitable for hydraulic fracturing because the uplift and faulted structure of the basins are detrimental to its ultimate recovery”

      “Since we first released our findings and warned about the impact that geological structure has on shale gas reserves, we have conducted a further two years of detailed subsurface research which have only served to underline the geological challenges faced are far greater than estimated.”

      • “The resultant uplift has also led to the shale gas targets being depressured and highly deformed by folds and faults that cause the shales to be offset and broken up into compartments. This has created pathways that have allowed some of the oil and gas to escape.”

        Check the pore pressure in the two wells John. If the gas has depressurised and or migrated the pore pressure will be normal or less (=/ normal which means there is little or no depressurisation and still plenty of gas in place. Not sure why they mention oil?

        The test results and subsequent data review will shed light on this.

        The compartmentalisation is not new, this is why horizontal wells are drilled.

        The Bowland Shale in the well I drilled in Lancashire in 1987 had plenty of gas and pressure – but we were not looking for it then. Caused a few drilling probles with so much gas in the mud system.

  3. Quentin Fisher, professor of petroleum engineering, at the University of Leeds:

    “The only way to provide accurate estimates of how much gas is likely to be produced is to drill, hydraulically fracture and test many wells, which is exactly the intention of companies holding gas licences in the UK.”

    Perhaps the majority of the people in the UK still hold according to that view, if the Tracker Survey is to be believed?

    I find that many people do not become over excited and will await the sort of reality Quentin Fisher outlines. Time will tell. Meanwhile, those that are prone to premature excitement will continue to be prematurely excited, with many trying to utilise that.

    Ever thus.

    (And, no, I am not an investor, because the reality is that I am not prone to that premature excitement.)

  4. Not to worry.

    The gov is going to review the HS2 project. Ideally it will be canned.

    £30 billion to start with, now £60 Billion with £90 billion in sight.

    Better to spend it on tidal power ( as the embankment will last more than 90 years ), investment in rail projects which are cheaper and more beneficial to all the country, not just London and Manchester ( the mayor of Manchester was saying ‘northerners’ will be upset if canned, but northerners are really happy it seems if it os canned ), plus other stuff maybe.

    Just need to swallow the 7 Billion already spent plus a couple to pay everyone off.

  5. Last time I was in Norway they had a similar dilemma, hewes62. They were looking at a high speed rail link south to north at huge expense, due to tunnelling and distance, but that was not the problem.

    Why not?

    Because they had a load of dosh sloshing around for infrastructure from a certain Sovereign Wealth Fund generated from oil and gas taxation!

    Looks like a fast track in UK to fund another fast track.

    I shall have to suggest that to Boris on his next ‘phone in! LOL

  6. ps. Queen Nic could start the fund off with taxation from the extra 110 Bilfinger jobs announced for Scotland to service INEOS.

    I am sure the Nice (now authorised) Sir Jim would not object.

  7. ‘The oil and gas authority’, their vested interest is evident in their name!
    Their Government remit is to maximise recovery of (onshore) fossil fuels and income therefrom.
    Their impartiality is therefore non-existent.

    • Peter K

      Good point.

      However, this would apply to all such departments and or organisations in terms of their remit?

      So no organisation, for or against fossil fuel use can be impartial.

      I am not sure their impartiality would be non existent, more on a sliding scale.

      Maybe we would hope that they are as objective as they can be, while trying to ensure they carry out the terms of their remit or objectives.

      Plus … how come your e.mail address had popped up, I thought these were not to appear on here? [Email of previous contributor removed. Thanks for drawing our attention to this]

  8. Interesting how some spend their nights! Must all be done with beeswax lighting, otherwise one might wonder about the unnecessary consumption of generated energy, and another case of talking the talk without walking the walk.

    Strange really. The data is recorded and would be freely available come the morning.

    Looks as if the UK could do with an extra energy source if UN advice is going to be ignored.

    • I am sure those of us who are not fracking cheerleaders on DoD are happy to leave the “gaslighting” to you and your ilk, Martine.

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