British Geological Survey warns on the dangers of confusing shale gas resources with reserves
- 27 Jun 2013, 16:30
- Robin Webster
The north of England has a shale gas resource of
1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf), according to a long-awaited
analysis by the British Geological Survey (BGS). But BGS says it
may not be possible to get any more shale gas out of the ground
than it assumed in an estimate two years ago.
The assessment was released today in a Department for
Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
report, on the day energy minister
Michael Fallon hailed as "the day that Britain gets serious about
shale". Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the
estimate "confirms the huge potential that shale
gas has for the UK".
But where is all this gas, how does it compare to
other countries, and how much will it be possible to use?
Where is it?
The BGS estimate covers the Bowland shale found in
the north of England, in Lancashire and east of the
The shale rock in this area is found at two different
depths. The green represents the distribution of the upper layer of
rock, the orange the lower layer and the purple the area where both
are found - it the North York moors for example.
How big is it?
According to DECC, the UK
consumes about 3 tcf of gas a year - so
a figure of 1300 tcf is clearly pretty significant. To provide some
comparison, figures calculated from the US
Energy Information Administration
suggest that France has a shale gas resource of 2335 tcf.
At today's press conference, BGS's Professor Mike
Stephenson was at pains to emphasise the new number refers to
the shale gas resource - the total amount of gas that is there -
rather than the amount of gas it might be possible to get out,
known as reserves or recoverable resource.
BGS highlighted a number of different factors
affecting the difference between resource and reserves:
The difference between the two figures is determined
by a wide variety of factors - including environmental constraints,
government regulation, infrastructure and political attitudes
towards the technology as well as the technical difficulties of
actually getting the shale gas out of the ground.
Converting resources to
Stephenson was reluctant to be drawn on what BGS's
new figure for the shale gas resource in the north of England might
mean for the country's ability to extract shale gas - arguing that
it is very difficult to make a reasoned assumption when such a lot
of issues affect the calculation and before
test wells have been drilled in the UK.
Energy Information Administration
recently estimated that it might be technically possible to extract
four per cent of the UK's shale gas
resource. But the EIA's assessment didn't take economic, social or
political factors into accont.
In 2011, BGS
estimated that the north of England
yield 4.7tcf of the gas - a figure
that's about 250 times smaller than today's estimate. Stephenson
described the figure today as "back of a fag packet" - but also
told Carbon Brief it's "not unreasonable" to conclude that it could
A lot of shale gas
Michael Fallon said today that it would be
"irresponsible" for the country to ignore the opportunity shale gas
represents - and that the new fuel has the potential to generate
tax revenues and community benefits as well as energy
It's clear that the fuel will form a part of the UK's
energy mix, and that the country could access to quite a
significant resource. Despite the release of today's figure,
exactly how big that will be remains something of an unknown