We may be a small country but there are around 65 million of us and we all use energy. Fracking for natural gas from shale rock is a way to produce this energy.
Natural gas accounts for around 80% of the UK’s domestic and business heating needs1, with 83% of homes heated by this energy resource in 2013.2 According to Dr James Verdon, geophysicist at Bristol University:“The British Geological Survey has said that there is approximately 1,300tcf (trillion cubic feet) of gas in the Bowland Shale and, if 10 percent of this was found to be technically and economically extracted, this would correspond to about 40 years of the UK’s current gas consumption.”
Many people believe that the primary advantage of producing natural gas from shale is that it means we will be less reliant on other countries for our energy. Just 11 years ago (in 2003), the UK was actually a net exporter of gas. However, we are now importing more than we are exporting, which means we have to rely on other countries for our gas needs. The Department of Energy and Climate Change suggests that the UK will be importing nearly 70% of the gas we use by 2025, assuming we do not develop shale gas.3 John Williams, Senior Principal at Pöyry, a global consulting and engineering firm, told us that because the UK will still have a demand for gas in the future that if this gas is produced from shale then the requirements for imports will be reduced. He said “this will have beneficial economic impacts in terms of balance of trade, job creation and increased GDP”.
The other big advantage of shale gas is that it is considerably cleaner than coal. Burning gas for energy produces about half as much CO2 as burning coal. At present we get 40% of our electricity in this country from burning coal and we need to reduce this figure considerably in order to meet targets to reduce our impact on the environment. Although renewable sources of energy are, of course cleaner than fossil fuels, they are currently expensive so even green campaigners such as Stephen Tindale support shale gas extraction as a way of helping this country make the transition to renewable energy. We should also remember that we will need a reliable energy source at times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. According to DECC, as we use less coal in the next 10-15 years for electricity generation, gas will help fill the gap alongside renewable and nuclear electricity, which will help the UK reduce carbon emissions.4
Supporters of shale gas exploration also cite the number of jobs that would be created if shale gas extraction were allowed to take place on a large scale in the UK as well as the tax revenues that would be paid to the Government by shale gas operators.
It is also important to note that whilst the UK could be considered a small country, by land mass, shale gas development will require very little space. The Institute of Directors’ scenario is for 1,000 vertical wells, each with four horizontal sections (i.e. 4,000 horizontal wells), to be5 drilled from 100 above-ground well pads, each one around 2 hectares in size. Similarly, a study by Ricardo-AEA Technology found that anywhere between 580 and 12,500 wells could be drilled between 2015 and 2035 depending on shale resources – again, the number of above-ground well pads would be an order of magnitude lower.6
With regards to space on the land, it is only these above-ground vertical wells that will be visible, and only temporarily so. These vertical wells are drilled from what is known as the well pad, which take up about the same amount of space as two football fields. Whilst the well pad will remain for the period of production, the drilling rig can be dismantled once the gas is successfully flowing.
Once the site has finished producing natural gas or oil it is then decommissioned in order to return the site to its original condition. This involves removing all of the surface equipment and making sure that the wells are safely cemented and capped. Typically, this process takes around six months to a year.