New BGS Shale Gas Estimates

The British Geological Survey‘s much awaited, and much speculated upon, report on shale gas resources has finally been released, covering the Bowland Shale in central England.

BGS are at pains to point out that this is a gas-in-place estimate of resources, not economically recoverable reserves – which has led to so much confusion in the past by both politicians and the media. The numbers are large and range from 822 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 2281 tcf with a central value of 1329 tcf (that is 23.3 trillion cubic metres (tcm) 37.6 tcm and 64.6 tcm – for the metrically minded). In their next breath BGS point out that:

“This large volume of gas has been identified in the shales beneath central Britain, but not enough is yet known to estimate a recovery factor, nor to estimate potential reserves (how much gas may be ultimately produced)”.

and conclude:

“Only with further shale gas exploration drilling and testing over an extended period, and optimization of the extraction process, will it be possible to determine whether this identified shale gas prospectivity can be exploited commercially – and how significant a contribution it could make to the future UK energy mix”.

So, there is lots of gas (and hot air in the media) but we are not actually much the wiser. Can it be that the politicians and journalists haven’t read what the report actually says?

Setting the very considerable local environmental concerns on one side for a moment, the elephant in the shale gas room is global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Limiting global warming to manageable levels is a tremendously challenging task both nationally and globally. Even excluding unconventional gas there are far more known fossil fuel resources in the world than we could ever responsibly (or legally) burn. DECC are also producing a study on the potential greenhouse gas impacts of shale gas but this report is never mentioned. It seems like a rather significant omission in the unconventional gas policy debate. When will this report be released?

Unconventional gas, including shale gas and coalbed methane, is a massive distraction from the real issue of decarbonising our energy sector and economy. Unconventional gas is not a credible transition fuel (it is a filthy fossil fuel which produces 500g CO2 per kWh of electricity generated and anyway there is not sufficient time to develop it), nor will it be cheap, nor will it provide energy or climate security.

Michael Fallon, the responsible minister, has said that “Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and it would be irresponsible not to encourage its exploration”.  Many may think that is irresponsible for the government to ignore its independent, evidence-based, statutory advisor on climate change, the Committee on Climate Change, whose view it is that “decarbonisation of the power sector should be plan A – the dash for gas plan Z”. Plan A is also regarded as the cheaper and more secure option in the medium term. Just a few days ago the CCC warned that the UK may fail to meet its emissions targets in the 2020s.

MPs from both main parties are currently calling for a Commons Debate on shale gas before the summer Parliamentary recess. What is your MP calling for?

Of course in Somerset we are preoccupied with coalbed methane which is another kettle-of-fish and which is almost never mentioned by politicians, the media or in technical reports.