Britain is sitting on shale gas deposits that could supply the UK for 25 years, suggests an independent report that ramps up previous estimates for the controversial energy source.
New figures published on Thursday by the British Geological Survey indicated that the amount of shale resources, mainly sitting under the north of England, will trigger a new dash for gas. BGS published a long-awaited report that suggested an area stretching from Lancashire to Yorkshire and down to Lincolnshire could hold at least 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas. This compared with the drastically more modest figure of less than 5tn cubic feet produced only three years ago, but covered a far smaller area – the Bowland region in north-west England.
The energy minister, Michael Fallon, said it would be “irresponsible” not to take advantage of a resource that has transformed the US and could provide energy security, if not cheap prices, for Britain.
He promised favourable tax “treatment” similar to the kind that had built up the North Sea oil industry and said there would be planning – but also safety – regulations to match. “This is the day that Britain gets serious about shale gas … [which] represents an exciting new potential energy resource for the UK and could play an important part in our energy mix.”
Professor Peter Styles, professor of applied and environmental geophysics at Keele University, said the find could supply the UK for decades. “We still need to extract it and that is the next trick, but if we only get 10% that will be around 25 years of UK gas supply and by then we need to have worked out how we are going to power the UK in the long term,” he said.
Professor Mike Stephenson, head of energy at the BGS, insisted that the earlier figure had been just a “back of the envelope” projection and admitted he was excited by the scale of the latest assessment. He dismissed suggestions that there had been pressure by the government to come up with a large number, saying: “We were not leant on.” However, he admitted it was still impossible to know exactly how much of the shale gas could be extracted.
Shale gas is extracted by pumping high quantities of chemicals, water and sand into dense shale rock formations in order to release gas that is then pumped to the surface. Already blamed for causing earthquakes near Blackpool, the industry has been criticised by environmental campaigners.
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