Chapter 4: Shale gas in the UK |
52. There is nothing new about producing
hydrocarbons from the United Kingdom's extensive shale deposits,
as the history of the 19th century Scottish shale oil industry
shows. It petered out in the 1950s because it could no longer
compete in the market. There was no commercial interest in shale
gas or oil because there was no technology to exploit it effectively.
The picture was transformed by the shale gas revolution in the
US and its spectacular success in producing abundant, cheap shale
gas and oil by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The
US experience rekindled interest in the economic potential of
shale in the UK.
Differences between the US and
53. Shale gas development in the
UK is likely in some ways to be similar to the US experience:
for example concerns on environmental impact. There are also many
differences of geography, experience, supply chain, regulation
and public attitudes between the two countries.
54. Professor MacKay, Chief
Scientific Adviser, DECC, told us "you can fit the entire
United Kingdom in the Marcellus shale area in the USA alone."
Professor Richard Davies told us however, "the [UK]
much thicker than US shales, so perhaps we will
see that some of the UK wells produce more gas than the ones in
the United States."
55. In June 2013, the US Energy
Information Administration (EIA) estimated the US's technically
recoverable shale gas resources as 665 trillion cubic feet (tcf).
It also quoted an alternative estimate by Advanced Resources International
(ARI), an energy consultancy, of 1,161 tcf.
(The EIA explain that technically recoverable resources represent
the volumes which could be produced with current technology, irrespective
of prices or production costs).
56. There is only one current figure
for the UK's shale resource, the British Geological Survey's (BGS)
central estimate of 1300tcf gas in the ground in the Bowland shale
studies may add to it. There are not yet estimates of how much
might be technically recoverable. Although the UK's shale resource
may be smaller than in the US, it is nevertheless likely to be
substantial, especially if thicker shale deposits in the UK produce
more gas from a given area.
57. Mr Wright told us that
in the US, fracking was accepted even in densely populated areas:
"fracturing in densely populated urban areas and remote wilderness
areas was not problematic". He recalled "fracturing
over a dozen wells in Beverly Hills and nearby Los Angeles."
In the narrow confines of the UK, there is more public concern
and resistance. Mr Atherton said that in the UK, "It
is the local issues that are holding it up and the fear that the
We consider public acceptability of fracking in the UK more fully
from paragraph 77 below.
58. The UK is a major offshore oil
and gas producer in the North Sea. Wytch Farm in Dorset is Western
Europe's largest onshore oilfield and has produced successfully
for decades in an area of outstanding natural beauty without arousing
controversy. The US nevertheless has far more experience of onshore
oil and gas exploration and production. According to Bloomberg
"the vast majority of high-horsepower rigs and pressure pumping
systems needed to frack are in North America."
Professor Muller said, "The UK and China has this enormous
advantage that that you can now build on our
15 years of
horizontal drilling, multi-stage fracking in the US."
Mr Andrew Austin, CEO of IGas Energy, did not see any barrier
to the successful development of the necessary supply chain, "if
we can give them the confidence from early results we will get
the supply chain to follow."
59. The regulatory framework in
the US and the UK is radically different. Professor Muller
told us that in the US, "there are no national regulations
on fracking. There are state regulations".
In the UK, by contrast, there is national regulation by several
Government departments and agencies as well as local authority
planning controls. We heard evidence that the UK's regulation
is more rigorous than that of the US. But, Wytch Farm apart, the
UK's system has not been tested by widespread onshore exploration
and production. In the UK the EU dimension to regulation could
cause more uncertainty and complication. We examine the UK's regulatory
framework in Chapter 8 below.
Ownership of petroleum rights
and permissions to drill
60. In the US landowners own subsurface
mineral rights. Operators therefore have to negotiate permission
from the landowner to drill for and extract petroleum. Mr Peter
Hughes of Peter Hughes Energy Advisory told us "Individuals
and landowners are incentivised not to stand in the way of this
because they own mineral rights. A lot of people in the US have
made an awful lot of money by virtue of owning land under which
there was considerable shale gas."
Mr Wright said "it helps enormously that [US] landowners
own those royalty rights".
None of our witnesses cited recalcitrance on the part of US landowners
as an obstacle to exploitation of shale gas and oil. The speed
and scale of the industry's development in the US suggests that
any opposition by landowners has been limited.
61. In the UK, the owner of the
surface of land is also the owner of the strata beneath it, including
any minerals present unless common law or statute has vested ownership
of these in someone else.
Parliament, however, granted ownership of all subterranean petroleum
to the Crown in 1934.
Operators are therefore required to obtain a licence from the
Government to search for and produce gas and oil.
The Supreme Court recently held in Star Energy v Bocardo that
an operator would be committing a trespass unless he had also
received permission from the landowner to drill underneath his
land. Rt Hon Owen
Paterson MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, told
us "Coal seams run under land owned by a whole range of landowners
I do not see why we cannot, with a bit of wit and good
will, come to a similar arrangement for shale."
62. We would expect that an operator
in the UK would normally secure a landowner's permission to drill
under his land in return for a payment, as in the US. If a landowner
in the UK refuses permission to drill underneath his land, operators
can acquire rights compulsorily using a rarely used procedure
in the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966. This requires
the operator to apply to the responsible Minister for a referral
to the High Court which will assess the claim and if granted,
determine compensation for the landowner. The Supreme Court in
Star Energy v Bocardo determined that such compensation
would be nominal as drilling deep beneath land would not be regarded
"as an interference with any actual existing right or as
involving any loss of amenity value or at any rate not such an
interference as required more than essentially nominal compensation."
The landowner in Star Energy v Bocardo was awarded £1000.
63. In October 2013, Greenpeace
launched a campaign to encourage landowners close to possible
drilling sites to state explicitly that they would not allow hydraulic
fracturing under their land.
They called this a "legal block": without permission,
"fracking companies would be acting unlawfully if they were
to drill under your home."
Operators could, however, use the procedure described above compulsorily
to obtain rights (with nominal compensation), though after delay
and costs incurred while permissions were sought from the High
64. In April 2014 it was reported
that the Government might put forward in the Queen's Speech changes
to the law of trespass to allow operators to exploit gas reserves
under privately-owned land even if the owners object.
We recommend that the Government should amend relevant
legislation to ensure that subsurface drilling for oil and gas
can go ahead without undue delay or cost. This change should ensure
that the fact that UK landowners do not own petroleum rights makes
little difference to the speed of shale gas and oil development;
in practice, it may even make subsurface drilling under third
party land easier in the UK than it is in the US.
The UK's shale resource
65. Terms used include:
· resource, or total resource,
or gas-in-place (GIP) refer to the volume of gas trapped in shale
rock; the British Geological Survey uses this measure;
· technically recoverable resources
are the estimated volume of gas that can be extracted; US agencies
use this measure;
· reserves are the part of
the resource deemed to be commercially ( or economically) recoverable;
this is the measure of most interest to industry.
66. DECC has commissioned studies
by the British Geological Survey (BGS) of shale deposits in "prospective"
areas (those thought most likely to contain shale gas and oil
resources). Studies by the BGS of the Bowland-Hodder shale, roughly
the area between Nottingham and Scarborough in the east and Wrexham
and Lancaster in the west, were published in 2010 and in July
2013. The BGS's
central estimate is of 1300tcf gas in place. Professor Mike
Stephenson told us:
"there are parts of Britain where
there is no point in [carrying out a survey] because there is
simply no shale. There are other areas where it is worth a look:
is being done at the moment
is to look at the central lowlands of Scotland after that
it is sensible to concentrate in the areas that have the most
The Scottish Government last year launched
a consultation document on planning policy.
It has convened an Independent Expert Scientific Panel on unconventional
oil and gas to provide a base for further policy development.
Figure 9 shows the principal shale-bearing areas of the UK being
assessed by the BGS. As this report went to print, it was expected
that BGS and DECC would soon publish a report on the shale gas
and oil resource in the Weald basin.
The UK's Principal Shale-Bearing
Source: DECC, February 2014
|This map shows the three areas where the BGS has undertaken studies on behalf of DECC to estimate the shale gas resource:
· Bowland-Hoddercompleted, report published July 2013
· Weald Basinpublication expected shortly
· Midland Valley of Scotlandin progress
67. The UK may also have substantial
resources of shale gas offshore. Mr Richard Sarsfield-Hall
of Poyry told us that "there is a great potential offshore
that has not really been investigated."
Mr Figueira said that "the costs of offshore shale development
are of an order of magnitude significantly above those onshore.
That has generally been the reason why we have not pursued that
as a priority."
It was however reported in February 2014 that DECC had awarded
licences for exploration in the Irish Sea to Nebula Resources.
Dr Chris Cornelius of Nebula was reported as believing that
a considerable quantity of gas was in place: "Is any of that
exploitable? That's the billion dollar question and we won't know
that for many years."
68. There may also be some scope
to exploit offshore shale gas by horizontal drilling from the
shore. Professor Alan Riley of City University said "we
may be able to do inshore drilling from the shore outwards quite
69. Professor Riley said "we
just do not know the scale of the resource base."
Mr John Williams of Poyry said "Until there is more
the jury is out."
BGS estimates for the Weald and central Scotland, not yet known,
are likely to add to the 1300tcf estimated for Bowland, as might
offshore gas resources. The Weald may also have natural gas liquids
or shale oil. Ms Toni Harvey (DECC) told us that "The experience
from America is that every shale play is different and that it
varies dramatically from basin to basin".
The Weald was "likely to be mostly [shale oil] liquids."
Meanwhile initial studies of UK rocks by geologists at Imperial
College have produced encouraging results. According to a report
in the New Scientist, "A study of 200 samples from
shale rock formations throughout England suggest that they contain
as much oil and gas per cubic metre as rocks under the North Sea
Project leader Alastair Fraser from Imperial College is quoted
as saying, "The onshore shales are rich enough in organic
material and have the right petrology for hydraulic fracturing."
Economically recoverable reserves
70. With estimates of the UK's shale
gas resource still incomplete, and little or no exploratory drilling
and appraisal yet undertaken, there are no well-grounded assessments
of economically recoverable reserves of shale gas. Most guesses
seem to take as their starting point the central BGS resource
estimate of 1300tcf in the Bowland basin and extrapolate drawing
on experience in the US. A widely held assumption is that about
10%, or 130tcf, or more, of the Bowland resource might be economically
recoverable, equivalent to between 40 and 50 years of UK gas consumption.
Mr Philip Lambert of Lambert Energy Advisory said "[if]
you take 10% recovery, that is 130tcf
so we are talking
that could be as big as the North Sea."
Mr Wright was more upbeat: "My guess would be 10% to
20%, but it could be much higher."
Estimates from the North Sea and other oil and gas provinces have
typically grown once production is underway. If 130tcf were economically
recoverable, there would be a substantial impact on the UK's energy
71. Only exploratory drilling can
tell what the recoverable reserves really are. The Minister for
Energy said "we know that there is a lot more of it down
there than we thought, but we do not know whether it can be extracted
to the same volume and at the same cost as it has been extracted
in the States. That is why we need to get on and encourage the
industry to drill."
72. Once a drilling programme has
taken place, operators would need to carry out detailed appraisal
to test costs. Mr Atherton said
"Where we need to get to
is the position where we know it is commercial. If we can bring
[shale gas] to market at about $8 per MMBtu, it is a very commercially
viable industry. If it is going to take $15 to bring it to market,
then it is not viable until the world gas price goes to $20. So
let us find out whether we can bring it to market at $8 or $15."
73. On the available evidence,
there may well be potential for economic development of shale
gas in the UK. Estimates of the UK's total onshore shale gas resource
are however still incomplete and it is impossible to tell how
much of the resource can be economically recovered until exploratory
wells are drilled and appraised. It is vital that we get on with
74. Permits and planning permission
must be granted before exploration or production can take place.
Mr Atherton said "they have to drill 20 to 30 wells
just to know what the producibility of the Bowland and other UK
shale formations are. On the current timetable that is likely
to take a very long time; we are into 2020/2025."
He added: "From an engineering and finance perspective, that
can be done within three years very straightforwardly. What is
stopping it is due process and political will".
Mr Fallon said "the next stage
is the drilling
some 20 to 40 exploratory wells over the next couple
we have been doing everything we can to encourage
it." Mr Figueira
said the industry "would certainly expect production to start
before the end of the decade, but to be at scale in the early
evidence we heard suggests that large-scale production of onshore
shale gas in the UK is unlikely before the next decade unless
effective and immediate action is taken to bring forward exploration
The snail's pace of exploration
75. Ministers are keen for exploration
to go ahead. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us "we
want to see exploratory drilling, and my hope is that commercial
drilling will follow."
The Minister for Energy said "I shall certainly do everything
I can to step up the pace of exploration."
But the pace is still slow. Mr Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla,
said "We do need to start. From 2008 to probably the end
of this year, we will have drilled a grand total of three wells
in the Bowland shale and partially fractured one. I would not
call that an accelerated exploration programme."
Dr Tony Grayling of the Environment Agency told us that "since
the Government gave permission for hydraulic fracturing in principle
to resume [in December 2012], we
have not yet received
any permit applications to undertake hydraulic fracturing."
The delays seem mainly due to uncertainties over regulatory requirements,
which we examine more fully in Chapter 8.
76. Despite Ministerial encouragement
and eagerness on the part of the industry to get on with exploratory
drilling, progress on the ground has been at a snail's pace while
industry and officials come to grips with a dauntingly complex
regulatory regime for onshore shale gas and oil.
77. We deal with public concerns
about the possible environmental impact of hydraulic fracking
in Chapter 7.
78. Onshore shale gas cannot be
developed in the UK without public acceptance. At the national
level, the available evidence, which is slender, seems to suggest
that public attitudes are not clear-cut. The DECC's latest attitudes
survey, published in January 2014, found 27% of respondents in
favour of shale gas extraction, 21% against and 48% neither supporting
A survey by the University of Nottingham, also in January 2014,
found 26.7% in favour (39.5% in July 2013).
Taken together, they seem to suggest that most people nationally
have yet to take a firm view on shale development.
79. Public acceptance at local level
is essential if shale is to be exploited. Mr Wright said
that "very key to [shale gas] development, is getting communities
on your side."
But there is some local hostility to onshore drilling in areas
affected. Ms Tina Rothery of Residents' Action on Fylde Fracking
(RAFF) said "we do not want this in anyone's backyard."
Opponents of Cuadrilla's activities in Balcombe are deeply hostile
to local drilling.
Mr Austin of iGas said "the barriers
are getting local acceptance where we are trying to drill
it is the inability to manage that that would rule out
any particular area."
80. The industry recognises it has
ground to make up and needs to engage local opinion. It announced
in June 2013 that each operator would create a "community
benefit mechanism" based on a one percent share of revenue
from each production well.
In January 2014 the UK Onshore Operators' Group (UKOOG) announced
a pilot scheme at selected shale gas exploration sites. Once planning
consent is granted and exploratory drilling operations begin,
each pilot exploration site will have £100,000 made available
for the benefit of the local community.
The Government supports these industry initiatives. The Minister
for Energy wrote in the Sun on Sunday that they could "amount
to £10 million for an average-sized "pad" development."
81. The Local Government Association
(LGA), welcoming the Prime Minister's announcement of a shale-related
rates concession to local authorities (paragraph 91 below),
called for more detail on how "the community benefits package
will be strengthened to fairly remunerate those who will be most
It added: "Given the significant tax breaks proposed to drive
forward the development of shale gas and the impact drilling will
have on local communities, these areas should not be short-changed
by fracking schemes. One per cent of gross revenues distributed
locally is not good enough".
The LGA also called for the community benefits of fracking to
"be enshrined in law."
82. Mr Wright told us that
if he were a developer (he has no plans) he "would probably
offer 2% of gross revenues to the surface owners of the land because
they would immediately become my partners".
The Secretary of State for the Environment said
"I think that the potential of
1% of revenues could be an absolutely enormous sum that compares
favourably with the regime pertaining in other countries
I admire the [Local Government Association's] bargaining technique
[1%] will potentially be welcomed in quite remote rural
areas where there are not many great wealth creation opportunities
once it gets started, it will be very widely welcomed."
83. The Minister for Energy also
welcomed the industry's offer of community benefit schemes:
"£100,000 for a fractured
well will go some way towards compensating the very immediate
local residents from some of the disruption involved over the
period of the actual fracturing before the gas starts to flow.
One per cent of the revenues per well-site could amount to
between £5 and £10 million
a formidable sum of
money which could be used for the benefit not simply of local
residents but of the slightly wider community around the well-head."
The Minister was "not so sure that
these two parts of the offer should go to any of the councils
for a reduction in their bills
it may be that they would
want the £100,000 devoted to a particular facility. So far
as the £10million is concerned
I would rather see
it go either to some community or to a local charitable foundation
that is working in the area and not see it sucked into the local
government finance system."
84. Ministers did not express support
for the LGA's proposal to enshrine community benefit schemes in
legislation. The Secretary of State for the Environment spoke
instead of "a legally binding commercial transaction."
85. Areas where fracking takes place
will benefit through investment and the creation of jobs. Those
adversely affected by development may be compensated under existing
planning legislation and through community benefit schemes but
local councils should be reimbursed for the full cost of infrastructure
repairs that may prove necessary such as damage to roads.
86. We welcome the industry's
introduction of community benefit schemes for localities where
drilling for shale gas is to take place. We also welcome the Government's
support for the industry's schemes, which should be given the
chance to prove themselves. We consider that the industry, as
well as the Government, will also need to present the case for
shale development more effectively to local communities, including
clarity of plans and meticulous compliance with regulation as
well as local economic benefits.
87. Local incentives, however substantial
and well-targeted, will not avail if public concerns about perceived
dangers to health and environment from fracking (addressed in
Chapter 7) are not assuaged. Witnesses recognised that these concerns
need to be taken seriously and that government and industry
should make every effort to offer reassurance. Mr Egan said
"the protests [at Balcombe] were not against what was actually
happening; they were about what people were concerned might happen."
Mr Wright said "The public has every right to know what
we are doing, why it works and how it works."
Mr Hughes said "The issue of course
The biggest challenge we face at the moment as an industry
is reassuring the people and winning hearts and minds."
88. Some opponents are not open
to reassurance that well-regulated fracking should pose low environmental
risks. Asked if anything could be done to satisfy his concerns,
Mr Roberts of Residents Against Fylde Fracking (RAFF) replied,
"I do not believe so, no
we are backing the wrong
He thought that "This is entirely the wrong industry to be
backing. We need now to be backing the renewable sector."
Mr Molho of WWF-UK told us that "Our organisations [WWF,
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth] are opposed to the development
of shale gas in the UK, mainly on grounds relating to climate
Mr Egan said that "decarbonisation
is at the
root of a lot of the NGO position."
We discuss shale gas and climate change in Chapter 6.
89. Other opponents seem more concerned
about local disturbance in the form of increased traffic and visually
intrusive installations. We heard evidence that this disturbance
would usually be temporary while drilling and related works took
place. Mr Wright told us that "There definitely would
be a noticeable impact. Drilling rigs are 200 feet tall".
But once production is under way, as Sir David King, Special
Representative for Climate Change, Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
told us, "When the fracking is done, what is left in the
ground is something like a metre and a half high
visual impairment arising from these wells is pretty minimal."
Mr Wright said that "you do not see wells that are producing."
90. At the national level, there
is little hard evidence of public opinion on shale gas development
and what there is shows mixed results. There is some strident
local opposition to fracking. There is a chicken-and-egg aspect
to public acceptability: the most convincing argument for onshore
shale gas development in the UK would be a successful working
91. The Government are publicly
committed to developing shale gas in the UK. The Prime Minister
said in January "We're going all out for shale."
He also announced that local councils would be able to keep 100%
of business rates from shale gas, instead of 50%.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us "I am a huge supporter
of shale gas".
In his 2013 Autumn Statement he announced a new fiscal regime
for the onshore oil and gas sector.
He had earlier said he wanted to make the new tax regime "the
most generous for shale in the world".
92. The new tax regime and rates
concessions to local authorities will doubtless be welcome to
the industry. But it is probably not a key factor since investment
decisions are likely to turn on expected costs and volumes. Nor
has tax been the main obstacle to development of onshore shale
gas in the UK. Viscount (Matt) Ridley said "a tax break is
less important than the planning system in holding this back."
Other witnesses agreed.
93. Industry witnesses argued that
the Government should do more to encourage public acceptance of
shale gas exploration. Mr Lambert said "It should not
be really left just to the companies. It is almost a national
issue, trying to find out what we have got."
Mr Atherton said that "Cuadrilla is a small company
They are not equipped to take on the legions of environmental
protesters. The state has to step in at some point and say "No,
this is definitely in the public interest, and we are going to
do it." Mr Tom
Crotty of INEOS agreed: "there is an enhanced role for Government
in getting the imperative explained in the public domain."
94. The Chancellor of the Exchequer
assured us that "there is a determined effort at the top
of the Government to sell the benefits of this not just to the
nation but to the local communities involved."
But the Government are less assertive in countering the perceived
environmental risks of fracking which have stalled progress on
exploration for shale gas. The Secretary of State for the Environment
told us that "opponents
have done a good job in alarming
the public. We have to counter that, but it cannot just be done
by the Government."
The Minister for Energy said "Ministers are not always believed
when they go out and say that things are absolutely safe."
If, however, Ministers are unwilling to say that the technology
is safe, the public will understandably suspect that this is because
it is not safe.
95. We welcome the Prime Minister's
and Chancellor's commitment to development of shale gas in the
UK. We also welcome Government support for the industry's community
benefit schemes and the tax and rates measures the Government
have announced to encourage development. But industry's investment
decisions will turn mainly on estimated costs and production volumes.
These cannot be assessed without exploratory drilling and appraisal,
which are being delayed by regulatory constraints and vocal opposition
from some groups. The Government must be much more forceful in
their public advocacy of the economic benefits of well-regulated
shale development. They must also explicitly address the safety
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