The US has recently experienced a shale gas boom, using a fracking process to extract the gas from wells and significantly reducing the country’s energy prices as a result. Now, countries across the world are hoping to emulate this success.
The UK in particular is attracting attention after it recently lifted its 2011 ban on fracking, introduced new regulations and cleared the way for drilling to recommence.
The UK’s fracking ban came into place following two tremors near Blackpool, where drilling was taking place. Fracking works by pumping sand, water and chemicals into a well at high pressure to push the gas out of the rock. Unfortunately, pumping water in at such high pressure may run the risk of causing earthquakes. There are also concerns that water in the ground could be polluted by the chemicals used.
The UK Department for Energy and Climate Change has introduced new requirements for drilling. Companies must now review information regarding seismic risks and the existence of faults in the area, provide a plan for mitigating such risks and ensure that seismic monitoring is in place.
With these new regulations, the excitement about fracking in the UK is once again rising. Exxon Mobil is reportedly showing interest in the UK’s shale gas resources and Prime Minister David Cameron has also jumped on the bandwagon, speaking of a “gas revolution.”
Cuadrilla, the company behind the drilling near Blackpool in 2011 and has now resumed drilling and says it has discovered 200 trillion cubic feet of gas in place within the Bowland shale in Lancashire.
“If even a fraction of this could be extracted at a commercial rate then this could have a positive effect on the UK’s energy mix,” says Cuadrilla’s CEO Francis Egan. “There is no faster route to controlling escalating energy bills and improving the UK’s competitiveness than developing and producing our own home grown supplies of natural gas. Right now we are importing most of the gas we use in the UK. Professionally managed and properly regulated, natural gas from UK shale is safe, plentiful, creates jobs, generates tax revenues and helps maintain our balance of payments.”
However, there are signs that the expected boom may not be quite as easy as anticipated. Consultancy Wood Mackenzie recently commented that the volume of gas available is unpredictable and it is therefore ‘premature’ to make estimates. Meanwhile, energy giant BP is holding back, pointing out that the UK does not have a well-established infrastructure in place, whereas the US had a good set up in terms of onshore drilling rigs. The UK industry is undoubtedly still in the early stages and may remain so for some time.
The US’ success has sparked interest in fracking not only in the UK but worldwide. In Australia, Santos and Beach Head are jointly already producing gas from a shale well, and AWE is looking at wells in the Perth Basin. China is also seeing organisations bid for licences to explore for shale gas.