Shale Gas - Energy and Climate Change Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  Shale gas is an "unconventional" fossil fuel, which means that additional procedures are required to extract it beyond regular drilling. Many such unconventional sources of oil and gas were formerly too difficult (or uneconomic) to extract until recent advances in drilling technology. A combination of directional drilling and a process called hydraulic fracturing have made accessible large amounts of natural gas locked up in the tight pores of shale formations at depths of 2 km or more. Recent successes in the United States have driven prospecting across Europe. In 2010, Cuadrilla Resources Holdings Limited ("Cuadrilla") began drilling near Blackpool in the Bowland Shale (which runs from Preston to the Irish Sea).

2.  Current estimates from the British Geological Society suggest that the UK's current shale gas resources are equivalent to approximately 1.5 years of current gas consumption or 15 years of the UK's current LNG (liquefied natural gas) imports.[1] More recent figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimate that the UK has technically recoverable shale gas resources equivalent to 5.6 years' worth of consumption or 56 years' worth of LNG imports.[2] The EIA report estimates that shale gas adds 40% to the world's technically recoverable natural gas resources, mostly in China and the US.[3]

3.   We launched our inquiry on 24 November 2010. We received 24 submissions of written evidence, for which we were grateful.[4] We held four oral evidence sessions during our inquiry. A full list of witnesses can be found at the end of this Report.[5] We would like to express our thanks to all those who contributed to our evidence-gathering. As part of our work on this inquiry we visited the site of Cuadrilla's UK exploration activities near Blackpool (the only shale gas operator in the UK) and also travelled to Washington DC and Fort Worth, Texas to meet state and national legislators, environmental activists and companies involved in shale gas exploration and production.[6] We are extremely grateful to those who took the time to meet us and provide us with first-hand knowledge of the opportunities and challenges facing both those who extract shale gas and those who regulate and monitor extraction activity.

4.  In this Report we consider the prospects for shale gas in the UK, the risks and hazards associated with shale gas, and the potential carbon footprint of large-scale shale gas extraction. We also consider the implications for the UK of large-scale shale gas production around the world. The report continues with an analysis of the prospects for shale gas in both the UK and abroad and the likelihood of rapid depletion of reserves. Chapter Four examines the policy implications for the Government of the establishment of a shale gas industry in the UK, and the regulatory challenges to be faced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and its agencies. Chapter Five analyses the environmental risks associated with shale gas, including water and air contamination. Finally, in Chapter Six we consider the potential carbon footprint of shale gas and the implications of this for the UK's emissions and climate change targets.

1   See Box 1 p 13 Back

2   US EIA, World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions outside the US, April 2011, p 3 Back

3   US EIA, World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions outside the US, April 2011, p 4 Back

4   List of written evidence, p 76 Back

5   Witnesses, p 75 Back

6   See Annex 1: Note of the visit to the USA Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 23 May 2011