It’s quite hard to overstate the sheer idiocy of the claims made by UK shale gas’s most ardent promoters.
They’ve been in a state of pantie-twisting excitement ever since the British Geological Survey came out with its highly questionable estimate of 1,300 trillion cubic feet of frackable gas ‘neath the ageless hills of the North.
The big claim is that just 10% of that resource would be enough to maintain Britain’s gas consumption at current rates for 40 years.
They don’t say how many wells would be needed – probably because they’ve not thought about it.
Well, according to the US Geological Survey (which is like the British one, only bigger and with actual hands-on experience of shale gas fields), the average fracked gas well in Marcellus Shale yields 0.8 billion cubic feet of gas over its lifetime.
One of the marvellous tricks you can do with Google Chrome is type “130 trillion divided by 0.8 billion” into the omnibox and get the answer without needing to check you’ve entered all the right noughts.
It even spells out the result: “one hundred sixty-two thousand five hundred.”
So IF there’s 1,300 trillion bcf of gas up there, and IF they can get 10% of it, and IF the production rates are as ‘good’ as the US average, the North West can look forward to around 160,000 separate doses of fracking to get it all out.
If all the gas was under Lancashire, that’d be 60 wells per square kilometre, assuming they opened up every inch of the county not already under roads or buildings. For comparison, rig density in real-world fracking in the US is more like three wells per sq km (or 80 acres per rig).
Even if the volumes that bubble up in gasmen’s pipe dreams really are there in Britain, it’s clear that there’s physically no way to get out more than a tiny fraction of them. Not even if they turn the North West into the world’s biggest pincushion.
As for the economics of shale gas, they don’t add up either. At least, not for anyone except the City and a few big landowners like the Church of England. But that’s another story for another day.