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UK Government report reveals likely practical effects of shale gas development

23 December 2013

A Government-commissioned report on the future of shale gas in the UK has revealed that much of the country will be considered for exploratory drilling. The Strategic Environmental Assessment for Further Onshore Oil & Gas Licensing, commissioned from the AMEC Group, reveals that over half of the country is currently under consideration for shale gas development.

Most of England is included, with the exception of the extreme South-West, parts of East Anglia and the East Midlands, and Cumbria. Scotland’s Central Belt and much of South Wales will also be up for licensing.

Amec says a maximum of 20,000km2 is likely to be occupied for unconventional oil and gas exploration, although only 360 hectares across this huge area will be directly affected, working from an assumption of a maximum of 120 well pads (at up to 24 wells per pad) being developed at a maximum area of 3 hectares per pad.

The report says these pads could produce some 0.12 to 0.24 trillion m3 of gas, more than twice the 0.1 trillion m3 of gas consumed in the UK each year.

Amec estimates up to 32,000 new jobs being created if the most optimistic development scenario comes about.

Other issues covered include the effect of shale gas development on the country’s water resources with the most optimistic development scenario envisaging consumption of 9 million m3 annually, less than 1% of total UK water consumption, although this could be much higher if exploratory fracking and testing operations are included.

Under the most optimistic development scenario, up to 108 million m3 of wastewater would require treatment as a result of exploration, testing and production - approximately 3% of the UK’s total annual wastewater.

Likely new shale gas licensing areas in blue - AMEC
Likely new shale gas licensing areas in blue - AMEC

UK Water, which represents the water companies, has given a guarded welcome to shale gas development in the country, and the British Geological Survey has rejected claims by some environmentalists that hydraulic fracturing activities in shale formations poses an unacceptable seismic risk. Many of the initial objections to the development of this resource have been overcome, but some barriers remain.

In mid-December, for example, the Local Government Association, which represents the country’s councils, said that financial benefits to local communities must be 10 times the amount envisaged under initial government plans if planning consent is to be given.

The prospect of much-improved energy security for the country, tens of thousands of new jobs and lower-cost energy and feedstocks for industry are the best news the UK economy has had in a long time. It is now essential that all the stakeholders get together to resolve the final outstanding issues standing in the way of the rapid development of this vital resource.

Alan Franck, Editor, Hazardex

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