UK govt orders scientific review of shale gas
The UK government announced on April 5 it had commissioned the British Geological Survey (BGS) to undertake a scientific review of shale gas, as high energy costs and Russia's war in Ukraine have led to concerns about the country's significant reliance on imported oil and gas.
Prime minister Boris Johnson banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, needed to exploit shale gas, in a pre-election move in late 2019. Critics said the decision closed the door on the development of a potential 37.6 trillion m3 of in-place gas in the Bowland Shale stretching across north England.
"Ministers have always been clear that the exploration of shale gas reserves in England could only proceed if the science shows that it is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby," the government said in a statement. "While shale gas extraction is not the solution to near-term price issues, it is right that all possible energy generation and production methods are kept on the table following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by president Putin's regime."
The BGS has been asked to assess new developments in hydraulic fracturing techniques that might be suitable for use in the UK, and how the resulting seismicity compares with that caused by other forms of underground energy production such as geothermal, coal mining or surface activities such as construction, and what the "safe" threshold for activity is. The BGS will also look at how modelling of shale geologies has improved since the moratorium was imposed, and whether there are sites outside of Lancashire where the risk of seismic activity is lower.
Lancashire is where Cuadrilla Resources' New Preston Road shale gas site is located. The operator was ordered to cement over the site's two active shale wells earlier this year, but regulators at the end of March withdrew that order, instead stating the wells should be only temporarily plugged until the end of June 2023. Cuadrilla has said that in the meantime, the wells' production potential should be reassessed.
A report on shale gas based on the BGS's findings is expected to be released before the end of June.
A number of members of the ruling Conservative party have spoken out against the ban on hydraulic fracturing.