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