In parliament >> Fracking all over the UK?

8th October 2013

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  • Energy ,
  • Generation



Alan Whitehead, MP, discusses why fracking for shale gas will not become a major UK industry

We’ve had a summer of fracking. Or rather, a summer of non-fracking as Cuadrilla, the company behind the test drilling in Sussex, has struggled to maintain any work in the face of determined protests. I do not believe that drilling and fracking is inherently unsafe and should therefore never be countenanced – though the huge amounts of water needed for fracking may well give us pause for thought in areas of the country already suffering considerable water stress.

What I am concerned about is what the fracking policy might look like. It’s remarkable that unconventional gas does not seem to feature in any energy policy, strategy or forward energy mix projections. We appear to be rushing in without clear thought. Do we want to pull out of the ground, for the good of the country, the 6%–10% of shale gas deposits that are likely to be recoverable? Or do we want to pursue a more modest strategy and replace the UK’s dwindling North Sea supplies?

In asking these questions we also need to consider, based on what we know from the US, just what that means in terms of wells. Unlike North Sea production, shale gas wells deplete very quickly. They need to be re-fracked or redrilled, and each one produces only a fraction of the lifetime output of a conventional gas well.

If we want to extract all the shale gas easily available, we would have to drill and redrill around 100,000 wells across the country over 50 years. If we wanted just to replace existing gas supplies with 10% shale gas, perhaps 18,000 wells would be worked over the same period. Fracking wells are, of course, drilled in batches – with six on a “pad” the size of two football pitches – but even so, several thousand such pads would have to be concentrated across North West England, Sussex and Hampshire, where the best shale gas seams are, and I don’t think that is going to happen.


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