The UK’s shale gas revolution has begun, but it might fizzle out almost immediately, a leading geologist has told New Scientist.
Last week, extraction company Cuadrilla announced that it had begun drilling at a site in Lancashire. Cuadrilla hopes to use hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – to extract gas from shale rocks buried deep underground. The same technique has proved an enormous success in the US: in 2016, about 60 per cent of the country’s natural gas production came from shale.
The hope has been that the UK could start a similar shale gas revolution, helping the country to be less dependent on imported natural gas. The current government supports this idea, even though its own Climate Change Committee has said that industrial-scale fracking is likely to emit too many greenhouse gases and thus contribute to climate change.
However, this may all be academic. Geologist John Underhill at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, says the UK’s wannabe frackers are 55 million years too late.
Underhill has found that the island of Britain was lifted and tilted around 55 million years ago – around the time the Atlantic Ocean first opened – in many places by more than a kilometer. This means much of the UK’s shale may be too cold to host significant amounts of gas. That’s because, to hold the gas, rocks need to be 80°C or more, which can only happen if they are buried at 2 to 3 kilometers, he told New Scientist.
What’s more, the tilting of the island means that the UK’s rocks are structured in a complex way. “Because they’ve been uplifted, they have been cooled, depressured and deformed,” says Underhill. “Faults and folds have been created.” That means the UK’s rocks will be harder to drill through than those in the US, which is relatively simple.
This doesn’t mean the search for shale gas in the UK is pointless. “There’s a possibility that shale gas might work [to] a local extent,” says Underhill. But he says the idea that it could work on “an industrial scale”, enough to reduce the UK’s dependence on imports, is highly questionable.
Read more at New Scientist