Shale gas will not solve Britain’s energy problems
Oct 1st 2011 | from the print edition
HAS Britain hit the jackpot in Blackpool? On September 21st Cuadrilla Resources, the first firm to drill for shale gas in the country, estimated that 200 trillion cubic feet of gas lie in an area near the seaside town in northwest England—nearly 40 times previous projections of all of Britain’s shale resources and, in theory, four times as much gas as is still recoverable from the North Sea, according to Oil & Gas UK, a lobby group. Cuadrilla hopes to drill 400 wells in Lancashire in the next decade.
There are obvious reasons to celebrate the prospective hoard. Britain faces an energy shortfall: half of its coal-fired power stations and all but one nuclear facility are due to shut by 2023; imports have increased as North Sea reserves run out. New local supplies should also cut prices: gas plants can be relatively small, cheap and easy to build.
Cuadrilla thinks gas will start flowing by 2014. Alas, the finds will not solve Britain’s energy problems. Mike Stephenson of the British Geological Survey is sceptical that accurate predictions can be made from Cuadrilla’s two drill points. Even if the numbers are right, recovery rates may be only 10-20%. And mining such seams is controversial. Shale traps gas more tightly than other rock. To extract it, the shale is blasted with huge volumes of fresh water at high pressure, a practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. France and two American states have halted fracking because of fears that chemicals used may pollute water sources.