UK fracking potential lower than current estimates, new study suggests

Posted on Tuesday 8th June 2021

Pivotal research by the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Engineering and the British Geological Survey (BGS) has determined the capacity of UK shale resources is potentially lower than previously thought. The previous estimate from 20131 suggests that UK shale could potentially provide up to 50 years’ worth of current gas demand. However, the new research has found that there is significantly lower available resource, corresponding to less than 10 years’ supply at current demand. 

This study by Whitelaw et al., which was a PhDfellowship and involves BGS staff working with academic and industrial partners, further enhances our understanding of the shale gas potential of UK onshore basins. These data are of value for companies in helping them optimise their shale gas extraction technology and exploration. 

Professor Colin Snape of the University of Nottingham led the study and commented, "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."

Dr Christopher Vane, Head of Organic Geochemistry at the British Geological Survey said, "This cutting edge science shows that shales within the Bowland Formation could potentially 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."

With no published production data for the UK or detailed characterisation of the Bowland shale, the initial 2013 estimates were based on a desk top study, using data from USA shales, estimating the shale gas resource as opposed to the actual reserve. This meant key differences in the composition of the shales in the UK compared to the USA could not be taken into account at the time. The new estimates are derived from actual UK shales, using gas generation absorption data, which is further supported by field data. 

The study “Shale gas reserve evaluation by laboratory pyrolysis and gas holding capacity consistent with field data” has been published in one of the most highly regarded scientific journals, Nature Communications. 

The development of this technique stems from a research project that began more than 10 years ago at the University of Nottingham, and the application of the technique in shale gas resource evaluation started 5 years ago in a study by the University of Nottingham and BGS into shale gas generation at the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry. This led to the development of a new high pressure water technique that simulates oil and gas generation in shale gas reservoirs. The facilities and expertise at the University of Nottingham and Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at BGS allowed the technique to be developed further and applied to shale gas over a three year research fellowship alongside and a four year PhD study funded by BGS which culminated in the discovery of being able to measure and estimate shale resource.

Story credits

  1. Andrews, I. J. The Carboniferous Bowland Shale: Geology and resource estimate (British Geological Survey for DECC, London, 2013).

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