Recent information obtained in research by the Heriot-Watt University has indicated that fracking will not provide as much fuel as initially thought.
Professor John Underhill, Heriot-Watt’s chief scientist who headed up the research found that fracking might have been effective had it taken place 55 million years earlier. According to Underhill a range of factors including the tilt of the UK as well as the arrangement of various subterranean geological layers mean that fuel deposits are not as accessible as they once were. According to Underhill, they have been split into various smaller pockets and thus makes them near impossible to access. They are, according to him, like a “shattered pane of glass”.
“These areas have been lifted up, buckled and depressurised, which has rendered them cooler than the optimal temperatures for oil and gas production,” he told the Guardian.
“The resultant complexity means these are not good places for hydrocarbons.”
Chemical and oil giant Ineos expressed its gratitude that there was research being undertaken by a Scottish University. They did however doubt the findings, claiming that the there were inadequate amounts of data to draw a meaningful conclusion, and more sampling needed to be carried out. Operations director Tom Pickering drew attention to the fact that the UK now imports over 50% of its gas as it stopped becoming self-sufficient relatively recently.
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the institution who is representing the shale gas industry agreed that further tests and sampling were going to be needed. The chief executive Ken Kronin said:
“The industry is currently in the process of seismic surveying, core drilling and flow testing in various parts of the country to determine a number of questions including the extent of the geology and whether gas will flow commercially.
“This process is an industry standard around the world. It is too early to make any firm predictions, but with imported gas predicted to rise to 80% [of UK gas consumption] by 2035, it is important that we get on and complete this work,” he added.
Fracking has long been the source of controversy since it began decades ago. Many opponents of the idea have cited various environmental hazards associated with it, including water contamination, as well as releasing dangerous chemicals into the air. Advocates of fracking have claimed that is has made the United States self-sufficient in regard to gas, and with rising prices, this will become a more and more powerful argument.
The geology of the UK is very different to that of the United States however, which has large amounts of easily extractible gas deposits. These generally take the form of the large underground lakes, and their location as well as their reasonably high temperature make them suitable for oil and gas extraction.
Although the findings of Underhill will no doubt somewhat hinder the progress of fracking in the UK it is unlikely to derail it. With government backing it will no doubt continue to go ahead. Underhill is by no means the only academic to doubt the credentials of Fracking, with Quentin Fisher, professor of petroleum at the University of Leeds sharing his sentiments.
“Prof Underhill is quite correct to highlight the great uncertainties that exist regarding the likely productivity of shale in the UK and is correct that the geology in the UK tends to be structurally more complex than in the US. Many of us involved in this debate have regularly highlighted the large uncertainties that exist,” Fisher said.