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Chinese whispers

Last week, Dan Byles MP asked energy minister John Hayes about shale gas - his question was very specific and received a reasonable response.

Dan Byles: To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what recent estimate he has made of the potential size of domestic UK shale gas reserves; and if he will make a statement. [123150]

Mr Hayes: A British Geological Survey study in 2010 estimated that if UK shales were similar to those in the USA they could yield some 150 billion cubic metres of gas, equivalent to roughly two years of UK demand.

This prompted the following tweet from Zac Goldsmith

Shale: if UK levels are similar to US, if we get it all & with no planning probs: that = just 2yrs of UK demand (Govt)

Which was instantly taken up by Roger Harrabin:

Belatedly, via , the relatively meagre reality of UK shale gas deposits.

Now there was me thinking that we had lots of shale gas deposits. Worth checking out, wouldn't you think?

In fact John Hayes alluded to the possibility that there is a lot more gas out there in the rest of his answer:

The BGS has been undertaking more detailed work which also takes into account last year's drilling results of Cuadrilla in Lancashire. BGS expect to be able to publish revised estimates of the resource, that is, the amount of gas in the rocks, towards the end of the year.

However, little drilling has taken place and commercial potential of shale gas has not been quantified , so it is not yet possible to make a reliable estimate of recoverable reserves, that is, the amount of gas which might be economically producible from the resource.

So, as you see, the 2 years' supply figure predates Cuadrilla's recent drilling in Lancashire. The latest figures for onshore amount to 60-70 years' supply at current demand levels, with several hundred years' worth offshore. Now, of course, not all of that will be economic to extract, but even if only ten percent is worth the effort, it's hard to see how it's credible to characterise the UK's gas resources as "meagre". And as technology develops, that characterisation will look even worse.

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Reader Comments (76)

"Horrorbin" has not given up on cheerleading for AGW and Green energy, whilst taking every opportunity to dis gas, has he?

Impartial? The man is a simply a propaganda outlet.

Oct 24, 2012 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Everyone is partial, Don. Even Montford.

Oct 24, 2012 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterLuis Dias


I agree, but Harrabin is a public servant and should do better than this.

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

A public broadcaster must be impartial. That also goes for all its figureheads and all communications emanating from them.

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Stienstra


Great minds...

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:19 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

bish -

where u wrote -

"So, as you see, the 3 years' supply figure", did u mean to write "2 years"?

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Thanks. Fixed.

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:30 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

The only possible justification for having most broadcasting state owned is that the state owned broadcaster is punctillious about keeping to the duty, writen in its charter, that its coverage be "balanced"

I don't think anybody can honestly claim that the BBC even makes any attempt to be balanced in its environmental coverage (or its coverage of whoever the government wants to bomb next, or of the atrocities carried out by our hirelings in Kosovo, Libya etc, or the "world recession", or the EU or party politics or much else).

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

O/T - Hey BH you quit your day job to blog full time?

Oct 24, 2012 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

There's another nice recent example of chinese whispers relating to the Antarctic ice melt paper discussed here a couple of days ago.
The abstract of the paper said that the melt was equivalent to a sea level rise of 0.2mm/year.

This was reported in the text of an article by Ben Cubby (who seems to be an Australian variant of Roger H) as "less than a millimetre per year".
The headline of the article became "190m tonnes of ice a day has sea rising 1mm a year", an exaggeration by a factor of 5 from the original paper. This claim was widely copied and retweeted. Barry and I complained to Cubby about this and he has now changed the headline to the marginally less misleading "less than 1mm a year". How much less, readers will never know unless they seek out the original paper.

Oct 24, 2012 at 11:17 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

The trouble with privileged ideologues like Goldsmith is that they would rather be right and have their fellow man condemned to poverty than be wrong and see others prosper. Very unattractive.

Oct 24, 2012 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Ben Cubby from The Herald.
I have given up correcting his stories and quotes.
Perhaps he needs a "fact checker" like Alan Jones...

Oct 24, 2012 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDrapetomania

Barry Woods has been battling with Ben Cubby all morning. Heads and brick walls come to mind...


Oct 24, 2012 at 11:48 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Over at No Hot Air Nick Grealy has been flagging up an imminent reassessment of UK resources.... dramatically upwards. One source which works closely with government indicated an increase of 20 - 40 times the current figure.

Oct 24, 2012 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

Don't get me started on the Biased Broadcasting Corporation's stance on environmental matters.
A few weeks ago David Shukman, their 'Environment' Correspondent, broadcast a piece about the 'astonishing speed' with which Arctic sea ice was melting - the implication of course, being that 'We're all DOOMED' due to global warming.
Strange, therefore, that he has not broadcast another piece showing the 'amazing speed' with which the sea ice is re-freezing (source: the same satellite graphs as used in the original piece).
Furthermore, a couple of years ago was the programme about the school which had got the parents to pay for a wind turbine to - of course - 'Reduce the school's carbon footprint'. No follow-up article, surprisingly. when the turbine (provided, ironically, by an outfit called Proven Technology) failed, and all the thousands invested by the parents was lost.
Perhaps its time 'Panorama' did a feature about the lunacy of 'renewables', and the BBC's investments and pension funds linked to these...
Oh, well - I can wish, can't I..?

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Re: Neil
> I don't think anybody can honestly claim that the BBC even makes any attempt to be balanced in its environmental coverage

And there is a perfect example on their Science and Environment front page.

The main headline is "Big oil pushed to cut gas flaring". Why use the term "Big Oil" which is generally used as a pejorative by environmental groups? What's wrong with using a headline such as "Oil firms pushed to cut gas flaring"?

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Barry/Paul -
Ben Cubby's article omits the facts that the new Antarctic paper produces an estimate of melting rate which is about half of the previous "authoritative" study (Velicogna 2009) and acceleration about one-sixth of Velicogna's. The last paragraph mentions acceleration in a way which seems intent on raising anxiety, rather than pointing out that acceleration estimate is far lower then the prior one. It quotes the study's author: "'The melt in some key areas is sped up between 2006 and 2010, when the study ended. So it shows that sea level rise can be expected to change quite sharply if the melt rate continues to increase, on top of what's already happening." The study's estimate of mass loss acceleration, -4.4 Gt yr-2, is equivalent to a sea level rise of about 0.01 mm yr-2. It may be "sharp" in that extrapolation yields a doubled rate in around 15 years, but still not threatening in any way: at that acceleration, it would take over 60 years for the Antarctic contribution to sea level rise to reach 1 mm/yr, which is only 4 inches per century. Granted, the uncertainty in the estimate is large, but Cubby leaves his readers with a decidedly more pessimistic picture than the study actually paints.

Apologies for continuing the off-topic. Back to shale, please.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:14 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

I have a fundamental (slightly off-topic but firmly related) question.
Why, with our economic well-being becoming steadily more dependent on a reliable, 24/7 mains electricity supply, that those in government are seemingly prepared to play fast and loose with the means of generating that supply..?
If we've got significant shale gas reserves, why the hell aren't we exploiting them..?

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Shale gas, displacing 38% efficient coal power stations in 60% efficient CCGTs reduces CO2 released into the atmosphere by 2/3rds. This is with or ithout windmills because these save no CO2 in a fossil powered grid.

Use that same methane in domestic fuel cells and you use 40% less methane for a given heat + electrical power demand. Use the electricity to power heat pumps and it can be 60%.

The only way to meet the EU's CO2 target is shale gas.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

The trouble is that the evidence suggests that outside of the core areas of the best formations the production of shale gas is not economic. The American 'boom' has come from easy access to cheap loans, not profitable operations. The average shale gas well is not economic and no operation that I am aware of is self financing. Instead of talking up the 'potential' it might make sense to look at the empirical evidence that is provided to us in the 10-K filings with the SEC and on the conference calls where operations are being discussed. The filings show that the typical shale gas company is cash flow negative even after years of operations. They also show alarming increases in the amount of debt being taken on by the shale companies as they try to stay in business while they sell their product at below the cost of production. And the conference calls are full of statements about financing gaps and asset sales.

What gets to me is the irony that has the people who reject government claims about AGW falling all over themselves to perpetuate the myth of economic shale gas. When it comes to fossil fuels the production of tight gas and oil in shale is a desperate measure that supports the argument of the peak oil proponents. The best approach is to ignore shale formations and to concentrate on finding gas in areas that should have plenty of conventional reserves. Unfortunately, those are in the OPEC nations that did not drill deep enough because they had no markets for any gas that they would find. It is time for those drills to begin turning and the infrastructure that is needed to transport the gas to be built.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterVangel

The only reason some shale gas operations are uneconomic is because prices fell so rapidly.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM


I suggest you read:-

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Zac Goldsmish

Some little super rich boy
Never done a proper days work in his life
Telling us pleb how to live our life.
Now trying to redeem for the sins of his late Father
Asset Stripping and helping his friend escape justice allegedly.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

"The average shale gas well is not economic and no operation that I am aware of is self financing."

In America where the market has been 'flooded'.

What if it was being sold into a British market with gas prices at current levels and output was carefully regulated?

Aside from cheaper gas, if it guarantees the UK's supply for even 20 years it sounds like a good idea.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial


This is your best post yet on Shale gas ^.^
I will not risk flouting your "Rule of Repetition" by repeating my claim that we have at least 1,000 trillion cubic feet of onshore shale gas, ups!
After 2 years we are STILL waiting for permission to drill which is why the only reliable figures come from Cuadrilla. Why on earth wait for the British Geological Survey to ask Cuadrilla what they have got? All the details of the Cuadrilla resources are freely available on the Internet.
I am really pleased Dan Byles has asked this question because I have been filling him with shale info for 2 years. However look at the exact wording of his question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what recent estimate he has made of the potential size of domestic UK shale gas reserves

A intelligent estimate involves extrapolation of known facts, the answer by Hayes contained few facts and no extrapolation. Hayes also said "if UK shales were similar to those in the USA" but if our Bowland shale deposits are typical then our shale resource is nothing like the USA, it is hugely superior!
Bish the only way your "latest figures" (April 2012) could be anywhere near correct would be if the Bowland shale deposit started and ended at the borders of the Cuadrilla licence area (200 trillion cubic feet). We already know that the Bowland deposit extends North, East, West and South of the Cuadrilla area, this means that other licences granted close to Cuadrilla could have the same or even better quality reserves than Cuadrilla.
Unlike Hayes, look at the real facts; the shale rock under Cuadrilla is 6 times thicker (and thus more productive per square mile) than the best US deposit and over 100 times thicker than other famous plays like Marcellus. Should we get 4 more successful licence areas near Cuadrilla then Lancashire alone could give us 1,000 trillion cubic feet of shale gas.
The only facts known about the rest of the UK are that there are shale rocks under very large areas but because of the government's ban we do not know how thick or even whether they contain oil as well as gas. However any reasonable person must assume that we have a truly great resource here in the UK.

Exploration and exploitation could have started 2 years ago had the Liberal Democrats not been part of government. Thousands of jobs, cheaper energy for industry and the public, a boost to our trade balance and a chance for the UK to grow faster than our competitors have all been lost because of Clegg, Huhne and Davey.

Are you perhaps from the planet Vangellis? You are certainly not on this planet.

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Registered CommenterDung

An interesting comparison between the Greens and the Mediaeval Monasteries.

Both movements were/are parasitic because they produce(d) nothing.

Where's our Henry VIIIth?

Oct 24, 2012 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Don't you worry about Cubby. Any day now - once my lovely mate Gina Rinehart has bought up Fairfax Media Group for a knock-down price - I expect to be appointed Environment Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald. Young Ben Cubby I have promised to retain on the payroll but on three conditions 1) he showers regularly 2) he no longer wears his Greenpeace t shirt to work 3) he makes sure that the flat whites he brings me every few hours in his new role as my teaboy/factotum are always served piping hot.

Oct 24, 2012 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Delingpole

Vangel presents genuine facts about the US gas market and then proceeds to interpret them in completely the wrong way.
The current price of gas in the US is uneconomical and indeed companies are struggling but this does not mean shale gas is uneconomical there in anything but the short term. The problem has been that the size of US shale deposits has exceeded all expectations, so much so that the US has been unable to adjust its economy fast enough. Gas fired power stations are being built, long distance hauliers are changing their vehicles to run on gas and chains of gas service stations are being built. Industries that needed gas had moved abroad but are now returning. However the biggest problem is that the USA can not export its gas.

The expectation in the USA was that it would always need to import gas and so many Liquid Petroleum Gas facilities were built at ports. These facilities were built to regasify LNG, they are expensive and time consuming to build. Suddenly the USA has no use for these facilities and indeed they need to build new plants that liquify gas so that they can export it. The first of these facilities will come online in 2015 and at that point gas prices will rise above break even.
Two years ago break even was estimated to be $6 - $7 per unit (too lazy to go look it up again) but with new technology it is probably now $4 - $5 which is still very very cheap.

Oct 24, 2012 at 2:25 PM | Registered CommenterDung


In America where the market has been 'flooded'.

What if it was being sold into a British market with gas prices at current levels and output was carefully regulated?

You mean so that it doesn't move the price?... ☺

Oct 24, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

You need to read up on your mediaeval history, my friend.
There was nothing parasitic about the monasteries. Without them there would have been precious little learning, nothing in the way of books prior to Gutenberg, and not much in the way of medicine either.
Added to that they were self-sufficient and a source of both employment and charity.
Don't knock them.

Loved yesterday's blog. Keep it up, mate.

Oct 24, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"not yet possible to make a reliable estimate of recoverable reserves"

The other day I read that the US oil reserves are "incalculable".
No one knows how much energy there is, just that there is a ludicrous lot of it.

Oct 24, 2012 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Albert Stienstra "A public broadcaster must be impartial. That also goes for all its figureheads and all communications emanating from them."

No, they must be impartial across the range of broadcasting. In contrast the BBC have the approach that
... only scientists can speak on science
... only politicians can speak on politics
... only doctors can speak on health
... only (university professors on) teachers have any voice about education
... only vets can speak about animals

In other words,
... only the social elite (which usually means from the SE of English who went to Oxbridge/Cambridge and know someone at the BBC) are allowed to have any say on anything.

Oct 24, 2012 at 3:36 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

"Why on earth wait for the British Geological Survey to ask Cuadrilla what they have got? "

... because the BGS are the social elite?

Oct 24, 2012 at 3:40 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

@ Mike Jackson

Where AlecM's analogy is correct, however, is in the fact that although Galileo completely debunked a central tenet of organised religion, religion didn't go away and is still around.

Darwin had the same experience.

There will still be ecofascists and priests in five hundred years' time. For environmentalists, the Enlightenment is always something that happens to other people.

Oct 24, 2012 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Mike Haseler:

... only scientists can speak on science
... only politicians can speak on politics
... only doctors can speak on health
... only (university professors on) teachers have any voice about education
... only vets can speak about animals

So let's have accountants discussing science and physicists talking about health. Or would you prefer plumbers discussing science and road sweepers on health? Is that non-elitest enough for you?

The trouble with this approach is that the producers and journalists at the BBC (or ITN, CNN etc) are, in general, not qualified in the areas on which they report. They might have no idea whether the people they interview are visionaries or are cranks and so they need a means of sorting the sense from the nonsense. They rely on qualifications, reputation, position. How else can they operate?

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

I assume you're talking about North Sea gas being carefully regulated. Easier to achieve in the UK than OPEC (who manage it quite well all things considered) as there are not many alternative suppliers.

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Mike Haseler,
I think you forgot the words "BBC approved" or perhaps "greenpeace approved" in all your categories.

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Another question of the BGS might be why they were so wrong last time round and of the government why they are asking the BGS again?

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat


"our economic well-being becoming steadily more dependent on a reliable, 24/7 mains electricity supply"

I'm not sure our masters have grasped just how dependent that is. A really sharp cold snap (possibly very soon) coincident with a bit of maintenance at a major power station (preferably coal) might bring them round, although they will inevitably blame anyone but themselves.

JD :-)

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:36 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

At Battle of Ideas Stephen Bull from Statoil said the reason Shale has took off in America is because of Individual Mineral rights.
People dont just own their land they own everything under their Land.

Hence JR and Sue Ellen Ewing ,The Beverly Hillbillies ,Bruce Willis drilling holes in Asteroids and John Wayne and Jim Hutton going around putting out Oil Well fires.

And of course finally Matt Damon Going around all these Hicksville one horse Mid western towns buying up Shale Drilling Rights from all the Redneck Locals.

Imagine If we had Indivdual Mineral Rights in the UK
Tescos would not be selling Solar Panels.Instead they would be selling Portable Test Drilling Rigs.Everyone would be looking for Shale Gas under their Back Gardens.

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Did anyone see the item on the BBC's One Show last night about the use of smart meters to cut electricity usage. If an electrical appliance is such as a fridge is connection to the mains with a special type of plug in a house using a smart meter then it would be possible for the people running the grid to turn off your fridge without you knowing it. Moreover it would not matter since it would only be for a short while and the fridge door, being closed, would stop the temperature in the fridge from rising significantly.

Someone (I don't recall her name) claimed that the use of such plugs in connection with smart meters would be a "win win" situation. It would be good for the national economy since reducing electricity consumption is more cost effective than building new power stations, it would be good for the householder because their electricity bills would be reduced (if you don't use electricity then you don't pay for it - who'd have thunk it?) and finally it would be good for the planet because greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced. Should't that be a "win win win" situation?

I suppose the speaker could have added that there would be no need for any nasty tracking with all the risks of earthquakes, taps bursting into flame etc. A "win win win win" situation for the greenies.

Oct 24, 2012 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Some thing else Stephen Bull said.They are piping out Gas from under the Runway at Dallas Airport.
Suppose there was Gas under Heathrow Gatwick Standstead,Luton Manchester also.
If we had Individual Mineral Rights in the UK.then the British Airports Authority could pay for their own 3rd Runway at Heathrow.

Question is has anyone drilled a hole to see if any Gas pops up.

Oct 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid


Technical illiteracy of the greens knows no bounds: the fridge has a mind of its own (the thermostat) and will start up immediately the supply resumes when it will have the compressor running full-time until the desired temperature is restored.

A better idea would be to shut down television transmitters :)

Oct 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Roy s comment at 4.52p.m. Oct 24, 2012 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered

Roy, there was a very interesting article about this about 2 weeks ago on EU site by Richard North. The date was 26/09/2012 and you may be able to locate it by searching on this blog with this: Energy:EcoGrid EU-big green brother

This covers an experiment alrerady underway in Denmark.

Or you might try this!


Good luck

Oct 24, 2012 at 5:23 PM | Registered Commenterpeterwalsh

Since the Greens want to stop shale gas because of their belief in dangerous CO2-AGW, I think it's on topic to search for the origin of that claim. It's based on the idea that the 33 K warming of the planet is a GHG effect. It appears to be the 1981 GISS paper by Hansen et. al. [ search for 1981_Hansen_etal.pdf ] who assert without any reference that it's all lapse rate; 6 km @ 5.5 k/km.

6 km is the presumed height to the -18 °C isotherm; I and others judge it's about 4.5 km and the real GHE is ~9 K. The models assume all the 33 K is from the GHG blanket, ludicrous. We've been had.

Oct 24, 2012 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Oct 24, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Mike Jackson:
Good point. I would add to that the fact that a large number of the abbeys had water mills to not only grind cereals but to full cloth, saw wood, drive trip hammers in forges etc. See Jean Gimpel:

Oct 24, 2012 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

Even the equivalent of two years supply of gas is not meagre. Imagine the headlines if new reserves of oil were found in the North Sea equivalent to two years of demand.
Consistent with much of climate science (such as Mann's Hockey Stick) we get a slanted view of part of the story, based on old data.

Oct 24, 2012 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

Do you have any references re the -18 °C isotherm this is something I've not encountered before, a bit of background is now required.


Oct 24, 2012 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

BGS have a vested interest in Shale UK not working, they have already signed a long term deal to buy US Shale gas at fixed prices, picked in a sea tanker and transported to the UK in liquid form. Shale UK gas available in volume would make that deal uneconomic.

Oct 24, 2012 at 7:20 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

I suggest you read:-

I did. Nowhere in that piece do we get evidence that shale operations are self financing. The fact that better drill rigs and better crews can reduce the time it takes to drill a well matters but not by as much as you think because the total costs of drilling are still too expensive to justify the capital investment. The simple fact is that when you add up all of the costs that you have to incur to produce shale gas over the lifetime of a well and subtract them from the revenues that you get from selling the gas you wind up with a net loss for all but a small percentage of wells in the core areas of the better formations.

The bottom line is empirical evidence. Shale gas producers are not self financing when they move outside of the small core areas where drilling makes a lot of sense. This is why the 10-K filings show growing debt levels, dilution of existing shareholders, and negative cash flows. Note that if we assume EURs that are much higher than what the production data indicates is reasonable we can report profits but that such reported profits cannot do anything about the funding gaps that have to be closed by asset sales, new share issues, or adding more debt to bad looking balance sheets. The way I see it we have another massive bubble yet most people choose to ignore it just as they ignored the tech and housing bubbles before and are ignoring the sovereign debt bubble today.

Oct 24, 2012 at 7:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterVangel

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