A Panorama Special on the failure of science and maths teaching in our schools?

Well that’s what it felt like watching tonight’s effort by the BBC to address the government’s abject failure to create any meaningful and coherent energy policy. The government’s chief adviser appears totally unaware that shale gas is methane which can leak from wells causing climate change, and we saw the Andrew Austen, CEO of Igas, demonstrating that either he doesn’t really care what he says on TV to the expectant masses or he spent his maths lessons flicking ink pellets at the swots who were learning to count.

At approximately 23:50 minutes in we heard him say “100 sites across the country of this kind of size, with 10 wells on each could supply half of the gas that the country requires.”


Now presumably Mr Austen knows that UK gas demand is about 3.1 trillion cubic feet (tcf) a year, so half that would be 1.55 tcf a year.

The IOD report “Getting Shale Gas Working”, which was sponsored by his competitors, Cuadrilla, suggests that over the entire 30 year productive life of a well the average estimated ultimate recovery (EUR), based on figures from the USA shale plays, would be 3.2 bcf a well. The highest average EUR, in the Haynesville shale was 5.6 bcf.

This means that the average annual recovery rate per well would be about 0.11 bcf. 1,000 wells like that would produce a yearly average of 106.7 bcf over 30 years. Half UK gas consumption would be 1,550 bcf, or about 15 times what me might reasonably expect from Mr Austen’s 1,000 wells. How could he get this so wrong? He does work in the industry after all. Maybe he sees it all lasting a lot less than 30 years then? Lets’ see shall we?

Now, to be fair to Mr iGas, we know that one of the problems with shale gas extraction is that each well’s productivity does decline sharply after the first two years, so let’s say they all frack like mad things and also that 4 of that rather optimistic 5.6 bcf a well (about 70%) gets extracted in the first 5 years giving 0.8 bcf per well each year on average for 5 years. What then?

We’d STILL only have annual production of 800 bcf – a little over half of the figure Mr Austen boasted he could deliver – and it’s all over in 5 years. Yes – that’s right – there would be nothing worth talking about coming up from those wells for the rest of their productive life.

So to make good on his boast Mr Austen would need to be able to drill 1,000 wells in 2 and a half years. They would need to have EURs at 5.6 bcf – amongst the highest in the world, and he would need to be able to extract 70% of all the extractable gas in that two years. By performing this Herculean task he would indeed be able to meet half of the UK’s gas demand for 2.5 years, but after that we’d get less than 2% of annual demand met by his wells on average for the remaining 27.5 years, as they would be depleted to such an extent that they’d have no significant impact. That sounds like something of a flash in the pan – not the bridge fuel we hear so much about, and certainly not the sustainable economic stimulus we keep being told fracking will deliver.

So, to conclude, Mr Austen’s shale gas revolution either isn’t going to last long or he really has no understanding of the figures he happily brays about on prime time TV.

Now, we do need a sensible debate on shale gas, but when the CEO of a drilling company is given air time to present stuff like this without any criticism or even any questioning from the programme makers, we can see that we are never going to get one. Sad but true. Come on BBC – up your game a bit please!

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