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« After the shale rush | Main | Renewables industry moves to amend Energy Bill »


It looks as though we are going to finally get a look at the British Geological Survey's report on shale gas resources later today. The media seem to have got their hands on a press release and there are some big numbers being touted around:

UK shale gas resources may be far greater than previously thought, a report for the government says.

The British Geological Survey was asked to estimate how much gas is trapped in rocks beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire.

It said there could be 1,300 trillion cubic feet at one site alone, but it is unclear how much could be extracted.

With UK demand at slightly less than 3 tcf per annum, that looks like very good news, but of course the figure of 1300tcf (assuming the reports are correct) is not what will ultimately be extractable. There's an interesting exchange of views about these figures on Twitter, with Greenpeace's Damian Kahya (an ex-BBC journo) saying that we should be using a figure of 4% and the BBC saying 10%. Nick Grealy notes that the average in the USA is 18%, and one has to recognise that this incorporates all the older wells, in which relatively primitive fraccing approaches were used. Cuadrilla have said that 15-20% will ultimately prove to be a conservative estimate, as the technology improves, and numbers as high as 40% have been mooted by industry insiders.

I'm not sure this will even make a difference though. If there really is 1300tcf at one site alone, the amount of gas in place in the whole country must be so huge as to make the recoverable percentage somewhat irrelevant.

[Updated - the 40% figure covers good parts of the shale - the bits you decide to exploit. Some parts of the shale will be so unsuitable for exploitation they will not be touched at all.]

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Reader Comments (111)

Even at 1%, of 1300 that's 4 years supply. Good to have!

4% would keep us going until 2030. And 18% until 2090.

?How many Wh is 3 Tcf equivalent to? How many windmills for how long? Would be good to have the sums to hand. Anybody?

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Doesn't matter because apparently fracking is uneconomic.


Jun 27, 2013 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

"Doesn't matter because apparently fracking is uneconomic."

Could we see that statement supported by some evidence. There seem to be a lot wells operating satisfactorily in USA.

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Hampshire

Anything can be made uneconomic by the imposition of suitable costs

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Was this estimate delayed until after the Chancellor's statement?
The reason for the large scale cuts in expenditure announced yesterday was due to the rebound from recession failing to materialize. Growth increases revenue and reduces some expenditure. Previous deficit reduction forecasts, both by Alistair Darling and George Osborne had assumed much higher growth levels.
If shale gas goes ahead, Osborne might be able to announce just before the election that "things ain't as bad a we thought, due to the projected energy boom."

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

@ Nicholas Hallam "Anything can be made uneconomic by the imposition of suitable costs".

And will be if the likes of Oxburgh have any say in it.

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

With some of the more advanced techniques in development, you can probably get more than 50% out: robotic drill heads that bore in an outward spiral from the central core to increase the area of the access channels, using liquid nitrogen instead of current fracking liquids to increase expansion effects and also reduce the amount of cleaning needed for turning wet gas into dry gas; improvements in 3-D and 4-D imaging to better map where and how to drill (including the use of supercomputers); returning to older fracking sites to re-frack them, and of course methods and tools that we haven't even considered yet. Basically, just knowing what is down there makes it possible to plan to get it out at varying prices.

Fracking is only uneconomic compared to natural oil wells. There's just different pricing points based on what it is going to cost to get it out of where it is trapped in the ground.

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Opie

On the Today programme this a.m. (close to the finish) they had an FOE guy on talking about it, and how it was all bad news. He actually said at one point that, "of course the geology of the UK shale is very different from that in the U.S. where they have been successfully fracking", trying to imply that it would make it *harder* to frack.

Fortunately, he was followed by someone from Cuadrilla who explained that it made things easier, and meant that most of the shale could be fracked from a relatively small area.

The piece was, I thought, relatively balanced.

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Crook

I know where there is a redundant supercomputer

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Loads of money out there for all those rich landowners. Just think. You could have gas frac wells below and windmills above! Loadsa money! Lavverly jabberly!

Jun 27, 2013 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh.


Hydrocarbons are a source of much more than just energy.

Jun 27, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

There was much talk about water contamination on the Today programme. You'd think this was now understood after all the years of fracing that we've had in the US (and elsewhere). But those claiming that the UK will be more difficult to frac than the US should note that in most areas of the UK people take their water from mains supplies from surface lakes, not boreholes and dip wells. There are some areas where we use aquifers for water supplies but surely we could avoid those in early exploration within the UK?

Jun 27, 2013 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Actually, for most shale gas in the UK, the shale column is so thick that drilling technology and 3D seismic are not going to have much effect on the economics. Nor, I suspect, are complex well trajectories. The key is exposure of rock surface area to the well bore - ie opening up fractures to allow the flow of gas to the well.

Most of the big thick shale sequences at thermal maturity are in the north of England, I wouldn't presume to extrapolate those BGS in place figures to the whole of the UK. In the southern/eastern half of England is the Jurassic age Lias shale, but not at gas maturity. Most of the potential resource is in the Bowland shale in the north, and its very thick and there is a lot of it.

Regarding recovery factors and the in-place estimates of 1300 tcf, those numbers are very much "back of the envelope", obtained by multiplying a reasonable estimate of the volume of rock by the possible gas volume within that rock. The BGS are as competent as anybody at this sort of guestimate, but it is still a rough and ready number. The recovery factor is the precentage gas produced divided by the estimate of what's in place, so another guestimate. From what I know of shale gas the recovery factors being discussed are reasonable, from a few percent to maybe tens of percent. What will actually matter is the volume of gas a group of wells can deliver on a steady basis and what the workover cost and time will be (when a rig has to move back on to the well site and enter the well).

For those who are curious, I produce in-place hydrocarbon volume estimates in the oil industry for a living, usually quoted as STOIIP (stock tank oil initially in place) or GIIP (gas initially in place). In terms of magnitudes, a 1 Tcf field is a large gas field and there a now unlikley to be any conventional discoveries of that size in the UK. In the North Sea and East Irish Sea these days companies are chasing small tie backs which are measured in tens of bcf - as little as 30 - 60 bcf is commercial for a single well target in conventional gas resources, where recovery factors can be as high as 70 - 80% (depending on depth/pressure).

Jun 27, 2013 at 11:38 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Who actually owns the gas?

Jun 27, 2013 at 11:45 AM | Registered Commentersteve ta

"Who actually owns the gas?"

I expect that piece of law is being hastily re-written right now...

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:00 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

All gas, oil and mineral rights in the UK are owned by the state and licensed to interested parties for exploration and production.

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist


Did I hear on Today that our generating 'cushion' had been miscalculated by DECC and was now below 4%? I may have dreamt it, of course - I do doze off sometimes when the presenters are waffling...

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:06 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Sorry about quadruple post - I seem to be getting a lot of errors from posting this morning, and erros directly from squarespace.

Bish could you please delete 3 out of 4 of the quadruple postings above...
[Done. BH]

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:08 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

For a broadcaster usually keen to explain incomprehensible figures in terms of London buses, Olympic swimming pools and football pitches, the BBC Today programme this a.m. was an anomaly. I didn't hear any comparison of how much shale gas might be recoverable at a conservative estimated extraction rate compared to the UK's annual consumption. Seems they don't want the good news to be understood by us plebs.

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJon Dee

thinking scientist...twitchy fingers?

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Anything can be made uneconomic by the imposition of suitable costs

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Actually it will be unsuitable cost if FOE and WWF have their way.

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Caudrilla's 15-20% seems most credible on current experience.

However I would caution against saying what the limits will "ultimately" be. We are in the early stages of a new industry - the 1890s we could only extract a small amount of what we now know to have been in these oil wells. I suspect that ultimately it will become technologically possible to extract close to 100% though by then we will have a glut of power from everything from hydrates to solar power satellites and won't bother.

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

By coincidence Ofgem thinks the lights will go out.

"Ofgem warns danger of power shortages has increased"

Could it be that someone has timed both stories to appear at the same time ?

If so, well played.

Jun 27, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

Aside from the fantastic news that shale gas provisions are plentiful, it is a little depressing that a BBC journo becomes an official alarmist activiist, as opposed to an unofficial one. Which would lend suspicion to what his actual agenda was when he was at the beeb. Which reminds me, what is Richard Black up to these days?

And the answer is he is involved in the "Global ocean Commission" which appears to be a Bilderburg-esque group that has taken it upon itself to explore and fund ocean alarmism. The first meeting of the Commission will be held in March this year in Cape Town, South Africa, and final recommendations will be presented to the U.N. in 2014


Jun 27, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

Adding to thinkingscientist's comment ("In terms of magnitudes, a 1 Tcf field is a large gas field"), it was also understood until quite recently that to make a $2 billion gas liquefaction plant economic, you needed 6 to 8 tcf of producible gas. This tended to mean you were a country rather than a company, because hardly any gas companies are sitting on potential production on that scale. The only ones that are tend to be wholly state-owned E & P enterprises, exceptions that by their nature reinforce the point.

The BGS numbers, to put this in perspective, suggest that there is enough extractable gas in one UK formation to fund 40 typical liquefaction plants. This is more than the total number in the world today.

The ecofascists must be absolutely livid about this, and we can expect to see their biggest and best lies and scams wheeled out to ruin it all. I would think the process of buying up legislators must be well in hand.

Jun 27, 2013 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Neil Craig says "I suspect that ultimately it will become technologically possible to extract close to 100% though by then we will have a glut of power from everything from hydrates to solar power satellites and won't bother."

I don't agree that recovery rates will ever get that high as shales have naturally very low permeability, but I do agree that in time we will have a glut of power becuase we will have moved onto other energy sources. As Sheik Yamani, the Saudi oil minister from the 1970's, said ''The Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.''

Jun 27, 2013 at 1:27 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

@FarleyR Thanks for the news of that particular irritant alarmist going nautical and piscatorial. Good riddance.

Hopefully they will start fracking ASAP before the vested interests have to much time to start the dirty tricks. After all windmillers and conventional gas companies would hate it if fracking cheap gas was to whip away their currently overflowing troughs.

Jun 27, 2013 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered Commentertckev

Where's Vangel (or whatever his name is) to tell us how the shale companies in the USA are all only operating because they're fiddling the books?


Jun 27, 2013 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Neil H,

My comment was a tongue in cheek reference to Vangel and Entropics almost Pavlovian response to anything shale related.



Jun 27, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Since a fracking head is quite small, could they hide it inside one of these monstrosities?

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Somewhere between 4% and 40%?
I say 100%, if it's there it will be extracted eventually.

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Justice4Rinka "to make a $2 billion gas liquefaction plant economic, you needed 6 to 8 tcf of producible gas."

I don't think shale gas will go to LNG exports. More likely to local, small scale, small footprint power generation plants such as Knapton.

Small AIM listed companies such as Viking UK Gas and Third Energy are already active in drilling for shale gas potential and are already involved in small gas fuelled power generating stations such as at Knapton in Yorkshire, based on aero-derivative gas turbine engines, a plant which can be used to generate electricity that can provide power for up to 40,000 homes if run at capacity.

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

John Silver: Even mining wouldn't get you 100% recovery. To get 100% recover you have to:

a) have a pore/fracture pathway from every position in space in the shale to a well somewhere. This is impossible.
b) assume 100% of the gas can be moved. This is also impossible.

In a conventional reservoir which has much higher permeability due to its natural high porosity,total gas recovery factors are typically 60 - 80%, depending on pressure and aquifer support (that's the brin aquifer at depth in all porous rocks,not the freshwater aquifer we migt get drinking water from in the shallow part of the earth).

Given that shales are largely impermeable (they form the seal to most reservoirs), we have to fracture them to get gas out. You would have to contact the entire shale volume with fractures connected to a well in order to get high recoveries. That is simply not possible in practice.

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Alan Reed @10.56 AM. Are you referring to the £600 million redundant computer at the Met. Office ?

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan D Cater

Anyone with any sense should be dancing in the streets.

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterSwiss Bob

The issue with shale gas is not reserves, they are clearly very large. The issue always with gas is deliverability. You need to be able to supply at a steady rate. Because flow rates per well are quite low for shale gas (although likely to be better in the uk owing to the large thickness of the Bowland Shale, and hence potential large contact surface area after fraccing), you need quite a lot of wells to ensure a steady supply under contract.

In the US, with thinner shale intervals, you need more technology and horizontal drilling. In the UK, with thick shale intervals, this will probably not be so important.

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:52 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

thinking scientist: Thanks very much for all the useful information. Have you thought of pulling all the information together and producing an article (perhaps a layman's guide) for our host to post?

Jun 27, 2013 at 3:25 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Since a fracking head is quite small, could they hide it inside one of these monstrosities?

Jun 27, 2013 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk


Brilliant! If we start the rumor that inside every wind turbine tower is a fracking gas head, they'll be stopped in no time...

Jun 27, 2013 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

No doubt the report was delayed to coincide with the Chancellor`s spending statement yesterday. It will/already has upset the green lobby and those expecting to live on taxpayer subsidies for the next twenty five years. We can expect much more alarmism about fracking from these quarters. I wonder if the counter-alarmism about the imminence of the lights going out is a counter ploy by someone? This is a devious thought but politics is a devious business.

The Chancellor`s predicament is that although there is much talk about "cuts", overall government expenditure is still going up by eye watering amounts. Government revenues derived from shale gas exploitation offers politicians with their heads screwed on a Get Out Of Jail Free card when it comes to getting the public finances back into some sort of order and respectability over the next ten to twenty years. But it is equally possible that they will screw it up again, just as they did with North sea oil.

Jun 27, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

This may do for Miliband what North Sea Oil did for Thatcher - allow him to keep his rash promises to the electorate at no cost. Except these are not promises of lower taxes, but of lower CO2 emissions, about which the voter cares not a jot.

Justice4Rinka make a $2 billion gas liquefaction plant economic, you needed 6 to 8 tcf of producible gas. This tended to mean you were a country rather than a company, because hardly any gas companies are sitting on potential production on that scale.
An excellent argument for nationalised energy utilities, methinks.

Jun 27, 2013 at 3:40 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Did politicians screw up with North Sea oil? I thought Thatcher used the revenues (plus a rise in VAT) to finance a cut in income tax, thus skewing income distribution towards the rich. Plus the resulting rise in the value of sterling made large swathes of British industry uncompetitive, forcing people out of boring old manufacturing jobs into jobs on the checkout at Tescos and putting pressure on the trade unions to moderate their demands - a reasonable strategy, from a Tory point of view.
It was the Tory equivalent of Labour hanging every tenth stockbroker from a lamppost, and it didn’t work. Only the Falklands saved her.

Jun 27, 2013 at 3:50 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers


"the counter-alarmism about the imminence of the lights going out"

Is it alarmism if it's likely? Alarming, I grant you...

Jun 27, 2013 at 5:10 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


thus skewing income distribution towards the rich.

would this be why the post-tax gini coefficient in the UK was lower under Thatcher than it is now, suggesting lower inequality of income?

Jun 27, 2013 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

An excellent argument for nationalised energy utilities, methinks.

LNG plants tend to be built in countries that have a lot of gas but a small population, hence a low demand for gas. Algeria, Qatar, that sort of place; typically, some semi-feudal kleptocracy where everything belongs by default to some sheikh.

They then ship the results to countries with a large population, a large demand for gas but insufficient local production.

If such countries also had large gas reserves, they'd probably consume them rather than export them.

The prospect of a hundred years' gas supply under the ground does raise some interesting possibilities. You can make very nice diesel and jet out of gas via pyrolysis; you can use it to make syngas to provide extra hydrogen to improve the quality of conventional refinery yields; and you can use it to make plastics, acrylic fibre, etc.

Jun 27, 2013 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Re: Justice4Rinka

> You can make very nice diesel and jet out of gas ...

Thanks for the opportunity to quote my favourite magazine of all time....

From the Meccano Magazine December 1962 edition: Synthetic Petrol - Spirit Of The Future?

For years, geologists have been warning that petroleum reserves were in danger of being exhausted. The answer to the problem has now been found. Scientific wizardry is producing motor fuel in quantity from natural gas...

Jun 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Slightly off topic, and forgive me if someone has already posted. One of the most rare birds to visit the UK has just been murdered by a wind turbine watched by assorted twitchers. Truly a shame for the bird; but Dellers will have a field day.

Jun 27, 2013 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBryan.Berlin

It now looks like the prediction I made here on BH about 18 months ago (much to the amusement of his majesty and of others) that the UK had at least 3000 tcf of Shale was an underestimate, Damn!
Cuadrilla stated quite some time ago that recoverable gas would be 40% rising to 60% with technology.
All this information has been available for a long time to those who were willing to go and look which is what makes government energy policy such a tragedy, we could have been out of recession over a year ago.

Jun 27, 2013 at 6:03 PM | Registered CommenterDung

The BGS report is good news for gas suppliers. The problem now is to overcome three obstacles.

1) The planning process.
2) The poor public image of shale gas extraction.
3) The economics.

There's a considerable diversity of opinion on this. It will be interesting to see what the UK shale gas industry looks like in ten years time.

Jun 27, 2013 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man


You have interpreted the facts incorrectly mate. Because our shale deposits are so thick; there will not need to be a lot of wells to sustain the rate of flow. One well head will allow a large area to be fracked and at many different levels so effectively there will be many wells supplying the one well head.

Jun 27, 2013 at 6:16 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung: You are correct up to a point. Having a thick shale interval means potentially being able to frac multiple zones in a well, however that will increase the completion costs of a well and the effectiveness of the frac depends on the packers and sealing of the intervals of the well during fraccing. However, it does mean that wells can be approximately vertical or only slightly deviated, rather than having to put in place a lot of horizontal well drilling to get sufficient length in the well and so ensure production. Flow rates are still going to be relatively low, you need to have sufficent wells producing to cover for whatever downtime you need for workovers, and the decline rates are likely to be significant.

Some of these wells are going to need to be quite deep, that will increase drilling costs too.

Also, without any field knowledge, knowing which zones are likely to be the best to frac will still be an unknown until experience is gained in this area. I have seen some of the log interpretations imported from the US and applied to UK wirleline log data and they may not be the most appropriate for our geological enviroment, so again there will be a learning curve here too. If you don't know which zones to frac, the early completions may be disappointing until the best strategy/geological knowledge are learnt.

Jun 27, 2013 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

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