Wednesday 10 July 2013

An authoritative statement on shale gas

Last month BGS, working with DECC, released the estimates of the shale gas resource in Northern England. This estimate is based on a thorough compilation of all that we know about the subsurface geology of the region. It incorporates geological, geophysical data, thermal models and estimates of the total organic content of the rocks. It shows that there is a large potential resource of gas in the region, although the true reserve value will depend on how much gas can be extracted from the rocks. This is the concept of resource vs reserve which BGS explains on its shale gas web pages.

There are also environmental effects of extracting the gas and these must be considered before extraction and monitored closely during the process. In general, these can be minimised through tight regulation and good engineering practices within the companies.

There has been a palpable shift in media coverage following the announcement. The fact that BGS, an independent and trusted body, has confirmed the high estimates previously touted by some companies, has meant that the public may be beginning to see the economic arguments for such an industry, in particular in areas where the extractive industry has driven the economy in the past. There is still uncertainty over some of the environmental effects of extraction, and BGS will continue to develop research in these areas..

Authoritative statements are backed up by reliable data and good scientific arguments; the results announced have already challenged paradigms on shale gas in the UK. Nonetheless, BGS will be required to undertake continued evaluation and research experiments on shale gas in the UK as the industry develops. In 10 years’ time we must be able to look back and identify key benchmark results that BGS has produced for the industry and the public - we have the first results and have gained a lot of credit for the careful work and we must now see a continued flow of credible science outputs.

Well done to BGS and DECC staff.


  1. Speaking as an oilfield geologist, I doubt that this is going to actually calm anything down at all. I'm perfectly content that the various environmental hazards of shale gas extraction can be managed by regulation and active oversight (as a man on the rigsite, I'd expect to be part of that oversight). I know that myself and my colleagues in the oil companes and service companies aren't monsters intent on despoiling the countryside ; but the work of people like (whoever produced "Gasland") is going to demonise us nonetheless.
    About the only thing that I can realistically see to mitigate this misrpresentation would be care in the planning and execution of wells to employ people on site who actually live in the area. For example, my home town (near outcrops of Kimmeridge Clay, with potential for shale gas) includes several mud engineers and drillers as residents. Finger pointing of the "yoou're going to destroy our land" variety might be substantially blunted by the answer "I live 5 miles down the road ; I'm not going to defacate on my own doorstep!" It might help, but having seen the hysterical ranting, I doubt it will. As is said when talking of creationist idiots, "you cannot reason a person out of a position they did not reach by reasoning" ; the public debate has always been about emotional response to pictures of flaming water taps, not a reasoned response to hazards.
    People will (not "might") accuse me of self-interest. But I've chosen to live in gas-free Aberdeen, not remained on the gas-prone Plains of Englandshire.

  2. Aidan, the idea of employing local people is a sound one, but one which is unlikely to happen during the early days of shale gas exploration, assessment and production.

    I think the main problem is that it is recognised, not by wild-eyed antis, but by, for example the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers, that current oils and gas regulation is NOT appropriate for onshore development. The government rejected the suggestions for necessary improvements that the "royals" made, and rejected too some similar suggestions by the parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee. Indeed, David Cameron said earlier this month that he would not let regulation stand in the way of shale gas development.

    In this situation it is not surprising that people opposed to onshore shale, are convinced not only that onshore regulation is NOT adequate and fit for purpose, but there will be no changes made to make it so.

    It would be a mistake to reject those opposing onshore shale as ignorant of scientific issues and blind because of bias.

    They are very aware, for example, that in assessing the likely reserves recoverable in the Bowland resource there is a wide discrepancy in data from the US, covering lifetime EUR figures which vary from around 1.1 bcf from the USGS through 1.8 from the EIA to the Institute of Directors' 3.14 bcf. This matters very much in the UK because it has an enormous impact on the number of wells which may be needed to exploit proven reserves, and as we are told time and time again our country is not the US. The number of potential wells, and the fact that much of the Bowland shale lies under metropolitan and urban areas, is not one that the politicians wish to address.

    Regarding conversion from resource to reserves we have a similar problem. Cuadrilla say they hope to get 10% out (a figure which BGS has mooted to the E&CC committee) . Wilder figures up to 30% (probably based on an optimistic MIT report) have appeared in the less-informed media. And again from other sources including the EIA, in reality in the US we might be looking at figures around 5.5% or 6.7%.

    The problem is clear. The politicians and industry are over-hyping the prospects, and the antis are intelligent enough to see this. They also know how to lay their hands on evidence to disprove statements like that from Peter Lilley in parliamentary debate last week that over 2 million wells have been fracked in the US. They know how to disprove that there are no ducmented cases of fracking itself, never mind ancilliary operations and well failures, polluting the water supplies. The battle will become long, hard and bitter if the industry and politicians continue to thrust for economic development without regard for truths.

  3. Actually Aidan the public response is rather more down to a reasoned response to the industry's tactics than any hysterical ranting.

    Any demonisation that the industry is siffering is largely self-inflicted. What are local residents to make of "information" leaflets which are censured by the ASA for making claims that are misleading and exaggerated, but which continue to appear on corporate websites and press releases?

    What are we to make of public "consultation" evening where local residents have to explain thing to the shale company's PR representatives rather than vice versa (LOL).

    What are we to make of APPG's packed with shale supporters and funded by interested parties?

    I could go on..

    It makes us ask questions and the more we ask the more we see that we don't like.

    The industry and the government had the opportunity to deal openly and honestly with local communities but they blew it. Now they are desperately trying to pick up the pieces with community bribes and huge PR offensives, supported by a press that will, as for example in The Sun, report an on line poll which showed a majority against Shale Gas as being 70+% in favour.

    People don't like being lied to or mislead. Most of us are quite capable of seeing Gasland for what it is, and to separate the wheat from the chaff in it, just as we can with the risibly entitled Truthland put out by the industry. Don't make the mistake of believing that opponents of the shale gas industry can al be dismissed as idealist zealots who can't approach an argument rationally. We are not. And WE do have to live with these people defecating on our doorstep as you put it.

    We don't need bland assurances like "these can be minimised through tight regulation and good engineering practices within the companies." - in fact we find them insulting - we have seen what happens elsewhere and talking of "minimising" impacts whilst avoiding giving any specific targets simply isn't acceptable when it is your home or your child's schoolthey may be drilling under!

    If this is to go ahead - and whether it should is open to huge debate, then we need proper fit for purpose onshore specific regulations and properly funded regulators. Instead we have"streamlined" regulations and new planning guidelines that strip out local authorities of their powers thus denying us a democratic voice.

    Forgive me if you see this as "hysterical ranting" - as you may realise when it IS on your own doorstep it is easy to become passionate about what is being done to you and our neighbours!

  4. Yes I also think the main problem is that it recognized, not by wild-eyed antis, but by, for example the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers, that current oils and gas regulation is NOT appropriate for onshore development.

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