“UK fracking will only be a ‘cottage industry’ and North Sea ‘even more doubtful’ “ Citigroup.
“Fracking in the UK is a very high commercial risk, as the geology is wrong, and almost all of the oil or gas has leaked away millions of years ago. Analyses of the shales recovered while drilling for fracking in Lancashire showed the wrong type of shale and no oil or gas present.”
Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com
Fracking will not ease the UK’s energy crisis or bring down heating bills, but will imperil climate targets, scientists and economists have said, after the prime minister, Liz Truss, made lifting the ban on fracking one of the central planks of her energy strategy.
The technology used for hydraulic fracturing of shale rocks, and the difficulty of extracting gas from the UK’s shale deposits, have not changed markedly in the decade since fracking was first tried in the UK, according to scientists.
While the soaring price of gas might make fracking seem a more attractive proposition, in fact the difficulty of tearing up the UK’s countryside in pursuit of relatively small and hard-to-reach deposits means it remains very doubtful it could ever be profitable.
Jim Watson, professor of energy policy at University College London, said: “There is huge uncertainty about the economic viability of fracking, and it may take a long time to produce relatively small amounts of gas.”
Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Fracking in the UK is a very high commercial risk, as the geology is wrong, and almost all of the oil or gas has leaked away millions of years ago. Analyses of the shales recovered while drilling for fracking in Lancashire showed the wrong type of shale and no oil or gas present.”
Even if shale gas could be produced here at the scale needed, it would not make a dent in fuel bills. That is because the gas price is set by international markets, so any gas produced would be sold to the highest bidder and vast amounts would be needed to make any change to the gas price.
Kwasi Kwarteng, now chancellor of the exchequer, acknowledged this in the early stages of the Ukraine crisis, when he was business secretary. He tweeted in late February: “Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”
One company, Ineos, the chemical business founded by the billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, who recently expressed an interest in bidding for Manchester United football club, responded eagerly to Truss’s announcement, however. Tom Crotty, director of Ineos, said: “We are renewing our offer to the government to drill a shale gas test well in the UK. We believe we can prove we can do it safely and without harm to the environment.”
He said: “Shale has helped transform the energy landscape and local communities in the US. The US is well protected against the energy crisis as it is making the most of its natural resources. It can do the same here in the UK. We have promised to invest the first 6% of the value of the gas back into local communities.”
The complex engineering needed to drill horizontal wells through which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals can be blasted against dense shale rock to release microscopic bubbles of methane, which can then be captured in pipes, was perfected in the US about two decades ago. Since then, fracking has brought about a revolution in US oil and gas production, used across vast tracts of land from Texas to Pennsylvania.
But US geology has been more favourable to fracking than the deposits likely to be found in the UK, and it is a less densely populated country with far fewer, or poorly enforced, environmental protections in some states.
Early estimates suggested there could be sizable shale deposits in the UK, but most are likely to be inaccessible and reaching the shale requires constantly expanding drilling infrastructure. Richard Davies, petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, said: “Wells drilled in the US produce modest volumes of gas. Therefore you need hundreds drilled each year to make a dent on our reliance on imported gas.”
Expectations of a shale gas boom in the UK flared up briefly in the early 2010s, when the startup Cuadrilla began operations at a site in Lancashire, but they had largely subsided even before the government announced a moratorium on drilling in 2019, after a series of seismic shocks and health and safety concerns. All the problems that stymied shale gas fracking in the early 2010s are still there.
Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at UCL, said: “There was huge hype about fracking a decade ago, but over the subsequent decade it delivered almost nothing across Europe. It’s one thing to lift a ban on fracking, and quite another to get industry to invest at scale, particularly in a resource which is likely to be slow, contentious and limited.”