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Report confirms huge oil reserves in southern England, but little gas

23 May 2014

A British Geological Survey (BGS) study of southern England published on May 23 estimates that there are 4.4 billions of barrels of shale oil under the counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. In comparison, 45 billion barrels of oil have been extracted from the North Sea over the past 40 years.

Much of southern England's shale oil potential is situated under the Weald
Much of southern England's shale oil potential is situated under the Weald

The BGS report concluded that there was "no significant Jurassic shale gas potential in the Weald Basin".

Last year, a BGS study covering the Bowland-Hodder shales under 11 counties in the north of England estimated there could be 40 trillion cubic metres of gas in the ground which would be recovered using hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’.

Fracking involves drilling a vertical well typically more than a mile deep, and then drilling out horizontally for more than a mile. Large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are then pumped down the well to fracture the rocks and extract oil or gas trapped within them.

The report did not provide any estimates as to how much of the oil will be recoverable.

Andrew Austin, chief executive of the onshore energy company IGAS, told the BBC it had long been known that southern England had extensive resources.

He said: "We've known that there's a big potential for oil and gas explorations across the country but particularly in terms of oil in the Weald Basin which is the area that stretches roughly from Winchester across towards Gatwick, up to the M25 and down to the coast at Chichester.

"There's been a long history of oil and gas exploration in this area. We as a company produce oil and gas from around 20 sites across that area. Around 40 million barrels have been recovered from that area to date."

The Daily Telegraph said that the Government was also preparing to publish controversial plans to change the laws of trespass to give energy companies an automatic right to frack beneath homes and private land – even if owners object.

Unlike in some other European countries such as France, in the UK, ministers are keen to encourage fracking which they hope will spark an energy revolution to drive down household energy bills, as has happened in the USA.

The government is also hoping to overcome resistance to shale exploration and development by increasing compensation to communities close to fracking operations. Since anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in West Sussex last summer, support for shale oil and gas extraction has slumped to under 50% in the UK. Those polled say they are worried about water pollution and earthquakes, but experts say the biggest local impact is more likely to be on traffic and noise.

The UN's climate panel said gas (implicitly from fracking) could be a bridge to a low-carbon future - if it substitutes for coal and if accidental methane releases are stopped.

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