Digest Index



DECC Licences and More Fracking Figure Fun

19th August 2015

Looking at the map published by DECC yesterday of the licence blocks they have offered, and the blocks that are still under consideration, it is hard to avoid the impression that there is a growing north-south divide in England which may manifest itself in years to come in disquiet, discord, and growing calls for self-government for the north. The DECC map shows a clear intention to frack the Labour main stronghold the north and mainly Tory south. Fracking is anow a major political issue, and whoever wins the Labour leadership fracking must surely figure strongly in the opposition to Cameron's government.

As an interesting aside it is worth looking at a couple of maps (from reddit.com) - coalfields and the results of the 2015 election. There seems a striking correlation. Raising the interesting question if fracking went ahead would the Tories forever lose their constituencies in the North, just as they have lost Scotland?

But politics apart, it is worth looking at the DECC map in a little more detail to see whether there are any crumbs of comfort for those opposed to fracking.

It offers a little further insight into the government's claim that shale could provide 40 years of UK gas. Actually they just updated this to 50 years but only because of a dip in gas usage in the last couple of years due to warmer winters (raising the ironical thought that a localised climate change effect may be cynically used by a government opposed to meeting climate change targets).

This figure is based on the 2013 British Geological Survey which claimed around 1300 trillion cubic feet of gas wlies under the Bowland Shale, and 10% of that could be unlocked. This is a wild guess based on an early Cuadrilla boast. In reality from the US it is doubtful whether recovery of gas in place is much more than half that figure. On US figures a 40 year boast rapidly becomes only 20years.

The problem with the recovery rate is that if you don't drill everywhere - all over the formation area - you have no chance of draining the whole basin, whever amount of gas you can draw out of a reduced drilling area.

This is where the DECC map becomes interesting. Lookong at the map and comparing it with the map of the BGS survey area we find only about 36% of that area is either already under licence included in yesterday's offers, or under further consideration. Doing a little more work and taking out the parts of the BGS survey area which were not shown to be prospectible for shale gas, we still arrive at a very similar figure. It is interesting to note that some of the licences already awarded are not in the shale area according to the BGS. Previous licencing rounds have assumed exploration for conventional oil and gas.

So the point is, the government's boast of how many yearsworth we can get from the Bowland shale is reduced drastically. Even the 36% of the areas under licence or consideration can never be drilled because they are urban in character. They include towns and cities like Blackpool, Southport and Liverpool in the west, through Chester, Preston, Bolton, Blackburn, Manchester, Sheefield and Leeds. These parts of the Bowland Shale will not be tapped even when they are included in licence areas. So our 36% comes down at a rough estimate to under 30% drillable. 40 years has shrunk to 12 years. That would take anything between 15,000 and 34,000 wells drilling over 30 years. Using the recovery figure of 5.5% we quoted two years ago (see British Geological Survey - New Estimates for Bowland Shale Resources June 2013 ) the bad news for the government is that they can expect at best 6 or 7 years supply. (The better news is that would take fewer wells, a maximum of 18,000.) But a reminder - that would still mean every available square inch of the licenced area to be drained. An impossible task. It just will not happen.

Once again we have evidence that the government's claims are just pie in the sky.

Another reminder of the North-South divide - health and mortality