UK fracking may produce less fuel than claimed

17th August 2017 | Commercial Energy

Fracking for oil and gas in the UK may produce much less fuel – and profits – than has been mooted, according to research based on seismic imaging of the country’s underlying geology.

Most of the areas in which deposits of onshore “unconventional” gas and oil are likely to be found were affected by tectonic activity along the Atlantic plate about 55m years ago.

Owing to the tile of the UK and folding of underground geological layers, the fossil fuel deposits have been dispersed into small pockets and subjected to other forces that make them less suitable for shale gas and oil production, according to Prof John Underhill, of Heriot-Watt University.

“These areas have been lifted up, buckled and depressurised, which has rendered them cooler than the optimal temperatures for oil and gas production,” he said. “The resultant complexity means these are not good places for hydrocarbons.”

Underfill said that in optimistic assessments of the UK’s shale gas capability, “the geology has been forgotten, but the geology is fundamental.”

The British Geological Survey found in 2013 that there were likely to be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas buried beneath the ground, but said nothing about how much of it might be accessible. Underhill argues the amount in suitable areas may be much less. “My challenge is: does the geology stack up?”

The UK’s geology is very different to that of the large and easily accessible shale gas deposits in the US. Those resemble large underground lakes and are found in the undisturbed continental interior. Their location and relatively high temperature make them suitable for oil and gas generation.

The body representing the UK’s shale gas industry, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), said more exploration was needed. Ken Cronin, chief executive, 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.”

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