Fracking Scotland: Shale Report Signals Third Threat

Summary

  • New BGS shale oil and gas report released
  • Focused on Midland Valley in central Scotland
  • Outlines third fracking threat to the region
  • On top of the coal based threats: CBM/UCG
  • Suggests around 14 months of shale gas
  • As well as around 5 months of shale oil
  • Combined with 5 months Coal Bed Methane
  • Extraction would require over 7,000 wells
  • Stretches from Glasgow through Edinburgh
  • Underground Coal Gasification also a threat
  • 5 UCG licences already sold in Firth of Forth
  • More than 1 billion tons of coal targeted
  • Extraction would require over 4,000 wells
  • Is third BGS report in run up to licensing round
  • Where 60% of UK could be sold to the frackers
  • Across UK report threaten over 50,000 wells
  • Communities getting organised to resist threat

Areas Identified In Central Scotland Where It May Be Possible To Extract Shale Gas (Outlined In Red) In The British Geological Survey Report (Click To Enlarge)

The Britsh Geological Survey (BGS) has just released a report on the potential for shale oil and gas extraction in Scotland, specifically the Midland Valley in Central Scotland. Up until now the fracking threat in Scotland has been mainly from two coal based extraction methods: Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and Underground Coal Gasification (UCG). CBM exploration has so far centred around Airth in the Midland Valley and Canonbie on the border with England, while UCG licensing has been just offshore in the Firth of Forth from Kincardine down to Largo Bay, as well as the Solway Firth.

Areas Identified In Central Scotland Where It May Be Possible To Extract Shale Oil (Outlined In Blue) In The British Geological Survey Report (Click To Enlarge)

Now the BGS report has put some numbers on the potential threat to Scotland from the third fracking method threating the UK, shale oil and gas. As with previous such reports these numbers are just oil or gas-in-place, rather what can be actually extracted. The report suggests there is 80.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or which 3.2 tcf might be extracted for a typical 4 percent recovery factor (but could be a lot less). This would require drilling 3200 wells in the Midland Valley to extract about 14 months of UK gas consumption. The threatened areas are some of the most populous in Scotland, including parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Dart Energy Has Already Drilled A Number Of Coal Bed Methane Test Wells Near Airth In The Midland Valley With The Threat Of Hundreds More To Come (Click To Enlarge)

In addition to shale gas, the report also claims there is around 6.0 billion barrels of shale oil in the Midland Valley, of which 240 million barrels might be extractable (assuming 4 percent). This would require drilling around 1,900 wells, in order to obtain about 5 months of UK oil consumption. This is on top of the estimated 1.1 tcf (PDF – page 22) of extractable Coal Bed Methane, which might require around 2,200 wells. Combined Scotland is looking at the threat of over 7,000 wells, and associated pipelines, compressor stations etc., coating the Midland Valley at densities of up to 8 wells per square mile, to extract a few months of oil and gas.

However, this is still not the full extent of the threat to central Scotland due to the UCG licences in the Firth of Forth. Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) which involves setting fire to coal seams underground in order to extract gas is probably the most frightening threat to the UK. The highly toxic and unstable process has resulted in a string of explosions and contamination incidents in the small scale tests that have been carried out across the globe so far. In particular all 3 recent trials carried out in Australia over the last decade (Carbon Energy, Cougar Energy, Linc Energy) have resulted in the companies being prosecuted for water contamination incidents.

Communities Across Scotland Are Getting Organised To Resist The Fracking Threat (Click To Enlarge)

With 5 UCG licences sold already in the Firth of Forth, the area is the most at risk from UCG extraction, after the Northumberland coast where company Five Quarter is threatening to start drilling this year. Just the 3 UCG licences stretching across the Firth of Forth from Kirkcaldy to Musselburgh are claimed to contain 1 billion tons of coal, which would require around 4,000 UCG wells to extract. Dart Energy is already dumping benzene laced produced water into the Firth from its CBM test wells near Airth, but this is nothing compared to the toxic nightmare the Firth could be facing. UCG licensing is also threatening to move onshore after an application in the middle of the Warwickshire countryside.

With the completion of this third shale report (after the Bowland Shale and Weald Jurassic Shale) the total claimed in-place resources for the UK are 1,409 trillion cubic feet of shale gas and 10.4 billion barrels of shale oil. With typical recovery factors this might require in excess of 50,000 wells to extract. These reports have been released in the run up to the next onshore licencing round, intended to sell off up to 60 percent of the UK to fracking companies, and like most sales brochures should be treated with a degree of scepticism. The bottom line though, for Scotland as elsewhere, is that fracking produces small amounts of energy with massive ecological costs. Communities across Scotland are waking up to this threat and getting organised to resist.

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