Shale Gas

Supplementary Memorandum submitted by British Geological Survey (SG 03A) in answer to Q57

Q57 Dr Lee: Geologically, is there a concern? Are we sure about where the aquifers are for sure, 100%? Are we sure? Without wanting to suggest for a second that it necessarily contaminates water, my point is the level of uncertainty that I am trying to get down to from a geological perspective.

There is massive uncertainty. We don’t know anything about the variability of gas contents and permeability of our UK shales, so all the estimates on the DECC website are based on US data. I am certain there will be a new round of UK onshore licensing. I expect this to be very popular with companies. Therefore it is likely that within about 5 years we could have test wells in large areas of the country. Given the relative new techniques required this may be slower for some operators. If production cannot be achieved there will be no more exploration until something changes (probably a new technological breakthrough). I am using the model of past conventional and coalbed methane exploration here. In particular I mentioned the success of coalbed methane in US and its relative failure in the UK and Europe (so far) as a pessimistic comparison.

There is also a theoretical possibility of shale gas production from offshore. The current economics rule this out as a stand-alone exploration strategy.

The Geological Society’s graph (in paragraph 15 of their written submission) is very revealing. Shale gas is our last chance at fossil fuels. If we begin exploiting those resources (as we are in some parts of the world) in the top right part of the graph without carbon sequestration we will be seriously overstepping the environmental threshold and with ever-increasing energy input.

February 2011