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expert reaction to the news that shale gas reserves in Lancashire and Yorkshire are greater than previously thought

UK shale gas resources may be far greater than previously thought with substantial reserves beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire, a report by the British Geological Survey has found.


Samuela Bassi, Policy Analyst at the Grantham Research Institute in Climate Change and the Environment, and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“These new estimates suggest that the UK may have larger proven reserves of shale gas than previously thought. Last year, the BGS indicated that the UK might have as much as 150 billion cubic metres of recoverable shale gas. Today’s updated figures suggest that the Bowland-Hodder Unit alone in northern England may have between 23.3 and 64.6 trillion cubic metres of shale gas in place, with a central estimate of 37.6 trillion. This compares with an estimate earlier this month by the United States Energy Information Administration that the volume of UK shale gas in place is 17.6 trillion cubic metres. It is very uncertain how much of this will be technically and economically recoverable, and the BGS, understandably, has not yet attempted to make a new prediction. However, the United States Energy Information Administration suggests that only about 4 per cent, or 736 billion cubic metres, of UK shale gas in place may be technically recoverable.

“There appears to be much confusion about the different types of estimates. The amount of gas in place, sometimes called resources, is the entire volume of gas contained in a rock formation, regardless of the ability to extract it. Technically recoverable resources refers to the volume of gas considered to be recoverable using currently available technology. Proven reserves is the volume of technically recoverable resources that are demonstrated to be economically and legally producible under existing economic and operating conditions.

“These higher estimates are good news for the UK, if the shale gas can be extracted safely and economically. It will increase the UK’s energy security and create new jobs. However, these new BGS figures do not indicate that there is enough shale gas to stop the UK being dependent on imports of natural gas, and so fuel prices for households and businesses will not automatically fall.

“In terms of the UK’s climate change targets, more shale gas could also be beneficial if it is used to generate electricity instead of coal, as we pointed out earlier this year in our joint report with Imperial College London. The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.9 per cent between 2011 and 2012, primarily due to a big rise in the amount of coal that was burnt in power stations. Ironically the increase in UK coal use is primarily due to higher exports by the United States as a result of its shale gas boom. Beyond 2030, the UK’s power sector will need to be radically decarbonised, so there will only be widespread use of gas-fired power stations if they are fitted with carbon capture and storage technology.”


Dr Chris Green, Director, G Frac Technologies Ltd, said:

“The UK shale gas is in its infancy, but even with the little data available it was obvious to me that the initial estimates of the resource (gas-in-place) and the potential reserves (recoverable gas) using the commonly applied Barnett shale analogue was inappropriate and I am pleased to see that Professor Stephenson/BGS have revised those numbers up to what I would consider a more realistic indication of the shale gas resource that we have. The potential reserves indications are now so significant that it is important that the UK identify whether and how best to maximise this resource and develop the necessary expertise in a timely, safe and environmentally responsible way. The UK has the appropriate regulatory bodies in place and I feel that if we correctly implement the necessary controls under a single unified approach with access to the right technical expertise, not only could we develop a resource for the nation but we could also start to develop the required specialists, in the necessary numbers, for exporting world-wide.”


Professor Richard Davies, Director of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said:

“Resources are theoretical volumes of gas underground.  Reserves are the volumes that can be brought to the surface economically.  The UK offshore to date has produced approximately 88 trillion cubic feet of gas.  Therefore, if only 10% of the 1,300 trillion cubic feet resource reported by the British Geological Society is recovered, it will be more than has been produced to date from all offshore fields. 

“It’s very obvious that we need to continue to carry out research on the risks associated with the fracking technology so, if the UK does have gas that can be produced economically, we know as much as possible about how to do this safely and with the minimum environmental impact.”


Professor Jim Watson, Research Director, UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), said:

“Today’s BGS report adds some welcome detail to previous estimates of the UK’s potential shale gas resources. As the report states, the amount of shale gas in the UK remains highly uncertain. Large resource figures such as those reported by BGS do not necessarily mean that shale gas will have a big impact on UK energy supplies. It remains to be seen whether it will make economic sense to develop these resources – and how much can be extracted cost effectively. Even if significant shale gas production develops in the UK, this would need to be compatible with stringent environmental regulations and climate targets. My view is that UK shale production is unlikely to have the dramatic impact on gas prices that has occurred in the United States.”


Professor Robert Mair FREng FRS, Chair of the working group for the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report ‘Shale gas extraction in the UK’, and Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Cambridge, said:

“These new estimates are significantly higher than previous figures released by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and add to a growing picture of the extent of a possible shale gas industry in the UK. Yesterday, George Osborne said that he wants to ‘put Britain at the forefront of exploiting shale gas’ and no doubt will be encouraged by these new estimates. However, the BGS’ figures only refer to the volume of gas contained in the Bowland Shale. It will be some years before enough wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured (‘fracked’) to allow a rigorous estimate of how much shale gas can be extracted commercially.

“Only one shale gas well has been fracked in the UK compared to the many thousands in the USA. The health, safety and environmental risks of the UK’s exploratory activities can be managed effectively as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced though regulation. However, attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up. Co-ordination of the numerous bodies with regulatory responsibilities for shale gas must be maintained, and regulatory capacity may need to be increased should a shale gas industry develop nationwide. If we are going to exploit shale gas in the UK the Government needs to make sure that people can be confident that it will be done safely, whatever the eventual scale of the industry.”


Professor Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Sedimentary Geology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Shale gas reserves may have the potential to be more than expected.  But the difficulty is – how much can be extracted commercially?  Nobody knows.  UK environmental rules are set to be much stronger than those in the USA.  There is now certain evidence that a very few boreholes have leaked gas into a water supply in the US, even though the great majority of boreholes have not. And Europe does not have the huge numbers of drilling rigs needed to drill, and keep on drilling boreholes at the rate needed to make shale gas a significant impact on UK gas supply.  Even though shale gas is lower carbon than coal, it’s certainly not zero carbon. Burning all of this gas needs to be fitted with carbon capture, or the UK will break its carbon budget for 2030. Shale gas production will happen, slowly, but it’s very unwise to bet the nation’s survival on that.”


Professor Peter Styles, Professor of Applied and Environmental Geophysics, Keele University, said:

“I have spent the last two years and given >30 talks in 9 countries mainly about the issues to do with seismicity, but also explaining that the Bowland Shale (in the north of England) is three times as thick as the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, and with very good total organic content.  It is therefore not surprising that the estimates of shale gas in place are very, very large. It may be that Cuadrilla’s early estimates, which were poo-pooed by all and sundry, were conservative. We still need to extract it and that is the next trick, but if we only get 10% (very unlikely) that will be c 25 years of UK gas supply and by then we need to have worked out how we are going to power the UK (and the rest of the world!) in the long-term.”

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