Fracking Threat In The North West

Summary

  • Wide range of fracking threats in North West
  • Both Bowland Shale and various coal seams
  • Cuadrilla have large license in Lancashire
  • Drilled 4 shale gas test wells and fracked one
  • Bogged down in planning at present time
  • IGas holds swath from Manchester to Liverpool
  • Targeting Shale and CBM at Barton Moss well
  • Dart has group of licenses in Cheshire
  • After CBM and Shale (helped by GDF Suez)
  • Aurora Petroleum has licence north of Liverpool
  • Looking for investors to exploit Shale Oil
  • UCG licenses in Liverpool Bay and Dee Estuary
  • Over 20,000 wells threatened across region
  • Government to license more areas next year
  • Peel Holdings looking to be fracking landlord

Fracking Threat To The North West England With Well Numbers Estimated From Company Reserve Numbers (Click To Enlarge)

When fracking and the North West are mentioned together Lancashire usually springs to mind (along with earthquakes), and in particular the areas of the Fylde Peninsular and Ribble Estuary. However the Bowland Shale covers a large part of central England, while the coal seams under much of the of the southern part of the region mean the threat of Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is also present. The region, which also includes the areas of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, and the cities of Manchester and Liverpool, is home to around 7 million people. As well as Cuadrilla’s large licence block in Lancashire the government has already given away extensive areas in the south of the region, including a huge swath between Liverpool and Manchester and large parts of Cheshire.

Areas Within The BGS/DECC Study Where It May Be Possible To Extract Gas From The Upper or Lower Bowland Shale, Or Both (Click To Enlarge)

The most high profile fracking company in the region is Cuadrilla Resources whose licence block in Lancashire is the largest in the country, covering about 460 square miles. While Cuadrilla have drilled 4 shale gas exploration wells, and partially hydraulically fractured one of them (before they triggered those pesky earthquakes), their progress has since ground almost to a halt in the face of stiff opposition. Two years ago Cuadrilla were planning on having completed up to 12 exploration wells and be going into full production by 2013. Instead with 2013 fast coming to a close they are mired in planning issues surrounding plans to fracture their second well. The amount of gas that Cuadrilla are claiming could be extracted from Lancashire would require the drilling of thousands of wells, with the associated pipelines, water contamination, air pollution, health impacts and acceleration of climate change.

Igas Energy are one of the three major fracking companies in the UK (along with Cuadrilla and Dart Energy). To the south west of Manchester, IGas has a number of licence blocks stretching from Salford out through Warrington, where they are already producing small amounts of CBM gas. It would require around 3,600 CBM wells to extract the amount of gas IGas claim could be recovered. Now IGas have also become interested in Shale Gas and plan to drill a well at Barton Moss near Manchester through both the shallower coal seams and the Bowland Shale. An additional 4,000 plus wells might be needed to extract the gas claimed. IGas have been trying to sell the rights to shale gas extraction in their blocks to a larger company (with Exxon as the leading contender).

QGC Lauren Field With Typical Densely Packed Coal Bed Methane Wells Near Tara In Queensland, Australia (Click To Enlarge)

Dart Energy are an Australian fracking company, with licenses all across the UK (including the North West) as a result of its buyouts of Composite and Greenpark Energy. So far they have been focused on CBM, mostly in central Scotland where Dart are trying to go into production in the face massive community opposition. However, like IGas, Dart have now become interested in Shale as well. Dart recently entered into an agreement with French energy giant GDF SUEZ which gives GDF SUEZ a 25 percent share in Dart’s licences in the Bowland Shale in return for money to drill up to 14 exploration wells in the area. Dart has a particularly large block of licences in Cheshire, as well as other parts of the region. It would require around 3,400 CBM and 3,100 Shale Gas Wells to extract the gas that Dart claims.

Aurora Petroleum are a lurking threat to the north of Liverpool with their licence block around Formby. At present they are focused on small scale conventional oil extraction from the Formby Oilfield but the original source of this oil is the deeper Bowland Shale, which is likely to contain mostly oil in this area. Aurora are touting for investors (removed?) to help them fund the exploitation of Shale Oil in their licence block. Shale (or Tight) Oil is what Cuadrilla have been exploring for in Sussex, and has seen thousands of wells drilled in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. As with Shale Gas, Shale Oil requires densely packed horizontal wells which need to be hydraulically fractured. In the Bakken Shale drilling 4 horizontal wells per square mile, fracked in 40 stages along their 9,500 foot length, is now becoming standard. It would require over 500 wells to extract the oil which Aurora claims is in that one licence block.

Fracking Licences Issued To Date (Orange); Areas The Government Wants To Sell Off Next Year (Green); Coal Authority UCG Licences (Red Stars) (Click To Enlarge)

In addition to these onshore petroleum licences (for Shale and CBM) the coal authority has also given away two Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) licences in the North West. A UCG licence in Liverpool Bay has been issued to Australian company Riverside Energy and another to Cluff Natural Resources in the Dee Estuary. UCG involves using similar drilling technology to inject air into coal seams and set them on fire underground, in order to extract synthetic gas. Previous small scale tests of UCG in places like Queensland and Wyoming have resulted in explosions and severe contamination of groundwater with toxic and carcinogenic coal tars. Despite this, 24 UCG licenses have been issued just off the coast of the UK. Cluff are now in the process of applying for the UK’s first onshore UCG licence in the middle of the Warwickshire countryside, and if that is successful it is possible that onshore licences could be granted in the North West.

It should be noted that there are plenty of areas in the North West that have coal and/or shale but have not yet been licensed. That could change all too quickly, since another licencing round is already overdue. The government is hoping to hand out licences for up to two thirds of the country, probably early next year. In addition to the licence holders themselves another type of active player in this process are large landowners looking to profit from this exploitation. In the North West corporate giant Peel Holdings, who own a vast amount of the land in the area, as well as the Manchester Ship Canal and a number of ports and airports, appear to be trying to position themselves as the fracking landlords and are securing land for the exploration and exploitation of coal bed methane (CBM), and probably now shale gas.

See the Northern Gas Gala website for the latest news on iGas activity at Salford.

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