England steps on the (shale) gas with new £30m test drill programme, while Scotland stagnates

BGS Bowland Basin shale map
BGS Bowland Basin shale map

The British Geological Survey (BGS) is to work in partnership with the UK shale energy sector to assess the results of a series of new test drills from the ‘Bowland Basin’ – which lies under the greater Manchester and Lancashire area.

The BGS has a £30 million budget for new test drills and is increasingly focusing its shale survey work in England since the Scottish Government announced a moratorium on shale gas exploration local planning applications in January 2015.

The BGS is setting up an industry consortium with the UK shale energy sector, which is due to hold its first meeting on 22 October ‘to engage with public and industry’

Robert Gatliff, Director of Energy at BGS, told the UK Shale Energy Conference: “We need a lot more drilling to distinguish the scale of recoverable reserves from the ‘raw’ resources.

“The industry is more likely to be attracted to the Bowland Basin.”

Tom Greatrex, the former Labour MP for Cambuslang and shadow energy spokesman, commented: “The shale industry is winning the battle of scientific and safety evidence, but it is still failing the public acceptability test.

“Circumstances have made it very difficult to make fracking progress in Scotland. The Scotland Bill presently passing through the Commons and Lords at Westminster will shortly give the Scotland government powers presently held by DECC to issue shale oil and gas exploration licences.

“But given the very clear anti-fracking pressures within the SNP, the shale gas energy industry has been long-grassed until after the May 2016 Holyrood election.”

A claim by Patrick Harvie, MSP, the joint leader of the Scottish Green Party, that Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Energy Minister was ‘on the point of resigning’ when he announced the Scottish Government moratorium on shale gas exploration licence applications was later denied by a government spokesman.

Meanwhile in England, the UK government’s plan to fast-track shale gas planning applications through a new, dedicated planning process has brought into sharp relief the need for reliable data to inform the decision-making processes with regard to the granting or refusing of permits.

With a second group of 132 further blocks to be announced later this year, there is clearly a keen government and industry interest in assessing the potential of this unconventional hydrocarbon. 

The BGS is taking a central role in shale gas research in the UK and also across Europe by:

  • Undertaking a baseline groundwater survey of methane concentrations and other relevant chemical indicators in groundwaters across Great Britain;
  • Evaluating the spatial relationship between different potential shale gas source rocks and the principal aquifers in England and Wales;
  • Researching the induced seismicity that may be related to fracking; studies of the organic content and the organic make-up of the shales to improve the understanding of how much shale gas they might produce and how the gas is stored within the rocks;
  • Understanding the distribution and correlation of shale and how the shale layers behave in response to depositional and tectonic controls, and  
  • Giving advice and guidance for Government in trying to understand the amount of gas that may be both in place and possibly recoverable within the shales in the UK.

See also:


The UK Shale Energy Conference 2015 was organised by the Scottish Energy Association and Scottish Energy News.

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