GMB trade union calls on Scot-Govt to ‘get fracking’ and give go-ahead for exploratory onshore gas and oil wells

The gas workers union GMB has called for Scot-government to give the go-ahead to more exploratory wells for shale gas so that an informed, facts- and evidence-based debate can take place after an energy academic warned that the potential for fracking in the UK had been “hyped”.

The GMB call comes after Professor John Underhill from Heriot-Watt University said the government would be wise to formulate a ‘Plan B to fracking for future gas supplies’.

Official estimates from the British Geological Survey (BGS) indicate large potential gas reserve.

But Prof Underhill said his unpublished research on the influence of tectonic plates on the UK suggested that the shale formations have been lifted, warped and cooled by tectonic action, making shale gas production much less likely.

Cuadrilla have started fracking operations to recover shale gas in norther England but the Scot-Govt imposed a moratorium on onshore oil and gas exploration in January 2015.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary said: “Rather than speculating how big shale gas reserves might be, the sensible course of action is for government to give the go-ahead to sufficient exploratory wells to establish exactly how much gas is there and allow the country to have an informed debate.

“With 85% of UK homes heated by gas, and around half of our electricity produced from gas fired plants, the question is not whether we need gas for decades to come but rather where that gas will come from.

“Britain is already importing hydraulically fracked shale gas from the US and the attraction of our own cheap gas to heat homes and power our industries is obvious.

“Rather than importing ever increasing quantities of foreign gas, many of it from regimes with appalling human rights records, government should stop dragging its feet and authorise the necessary exploratory wells to allow an informed public debate, with the facts, about this potential energy self-sufficiency.”

Michael Bradshaw of Warwick Business School, is Professor of Global Energy, and researches shale gas in the UK. He commented:

“To date we only have ‘gas-in-place’ estimates from the British Geological Survey that suggest there is a substantial amount of gas in the rocks of the Bowland-Hodder formation across Northern England and a much more modest resource across the Midland Valley of Scotland.

“Those estimates came with a huge health warning that actual reserves estimates could not be made until there had been sufficient exploration and that even then the economics of production would be difficult to assess. 

“Even if they are drilled and gas flows, it is by no means certain that the cost of production will make the resources commercially viable. The world is on the brink of a glut of natural gas that could last well into the 2020s and it may prove much cheaper to import the gas we need.

“Whether the ‘rocks will work’, as the industry puts it, is fundamental to whether there will be commercial shale gas production in the UK.

“The present danger facing the nascent shale gas industry in the UK today is that they are struggling to drill the wells necessary to determine if there is a commercial prospect. Today, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is essentially banned in Wales and Northern Ireland as the devolved Governments have determined to block planning permission and in Scotland drilling is suspended whilst the Scottish Government undertakes an extensive public consultation.

Prof. Michael Bradshaw
Prof. Michael Bradshaw

“It is currently swamped with responses, but is expected to reach a decision this autumn. One senses that they <SNP-led Scot-Govt> are likely to conclude that the size of the prize is not worth the public upset.

“Thus, it is only in England that companies can seek permission to explore and drill for unconventional oil and gas.

“The industry still maintains that by operating 400 well pads it could create around 64,000 jobs and reduce future import dependence by half. But, the reality is that it is currently facing multiple ‘above ground’ challenges trying to drill the wells that could prove Professor Underhill wrong in his prediction that the geology will disappoint.”

Meanwhile, the UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the onshore oil and gas trade association, has welcomed the first Community Benefit Fund payment announced today by Cuadrilla.

The £100,000 payment was made to the Community Benefit Fund, which will be managed by The Community Foundation for Lancashire, who will now consult with the local community on which types of issues or projects the funds should be spent.

Current estimates show that for the first 400 commercial sites, communities would receive approximately £800 million directly and local authorities would receive more than this through business rates.

Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, said: “These 400 sites will reduce the growing and worrying import dependency in the UK by over 50 per cent and create as well as sustain many thousands of highly-skilled jobs.

UKOOG’s recent paper, “Developing shale gas and maintaining the beauty of the British countryside (http://www.ukoog.org.uk/images/ukoog/pdfs/Developing_Shale_Gas_and_Maintaining_the_Beauty_of_the_British_Countryside.pdf)showed that 400 commercial sites would be sufficient to reduce the UK’s gas import dependency by 50% over the next 20 years. 

18 Aug 2017

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