More Numberwang


In yesterday’s Sunday Express an open letter from a number of the usual suspects (Brexity types turned climate change mitigation avoiders) like Tim Martin and Lance Forman claims:

The United Kingdom has enough natural gas to take back control of our energy policy at least until we have developed nuclear energy and beyond. If we were to release just 10% of British natural shale gas the UK would be self-sufficient in energy for the next thirty years. This would ease the burden on families and businesses as the British economy transitions to net-zero. We are therefore calling on the government to lift the moratorium on shale gas exploration in the UK.”

Strangely the Express didn’t state to whom the open letter had been sent or even if it had been sent at all.

This does beg a few questions, amongst which are “Do these people not understand the difference between “gas” and “energy”?”, “Do these self-proclaimed champions of the people not bother to keep up with the research before they sound off?” and “Do they never feel the need to explain how they arrive at their apparently arbitrary announcements?”

Let’s just look at that claim in more detail shall we?

First of all the claim that producing gas could make us self-sufficient in “energy” for any period is dubious to say the least.

Natural gas made up just 30% of our energy usage in 2020 according to the Government’s 2021 Energy in Brief report

The idea that UK shale could fulfill all of our gas demand let alone magically replace the other 70% of our energy requirements is risible!

Assuming they were just very careless and actually intended to say self-sufficient in gas we need to look at the current state of play regarding estimates of gas in place and recoverable to test this.

Back in 2013 the resource estimate for the Bowland Shale Formation was between 822 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and 2281 tcf, with the central figure being 1329 tcf.

The resource is the amount of gas in place and not the amount of gas that can actually be extracted , which would be far lower. 10% might be optimistic suggesting a central estimate of 133 tcf might be extracted.

However, more recent research by Nottingham University, using newer techniques techniques and data, has found that that resources within the Bowland Shale Formation could be nearly 10 times lower than that initial estimate, with only between 8 to 20 tcf being recoverable at what they consider an unlikely recovery rate of 10%.

The implications of our findings for the entire Bowland Shale gas resource are considered on the basin and we show that these are actually ~10 times lower than previously thought.
This takes the maximum GIP estimate to 140 ± 55 TCF. Given that UK gas consumption is currently ca. 2.8 TCF per annum32 and, assuming an economic recovery of 10%, which is unlikely for much of the Lower Bowland Shale due to its depth of over 3000 m, represents a maximum (14 ± 6 TCF), considerably below 10 years supply at the current consumption

So, to be generous, a central estimate of 14 tcf might be extracted over a period of about 20 years (a reasonable assumption for the life of a fracking well) from when they were to start fracking.

As the Nottingham study states, the UK uses around 2.8 tcf of gas a year on average. That would mean that far from shale gas making the UK “self-sufficient in energy for the next thirty years” it would provide maybe 25% of the gas required for 20 years”. And let’s not forget that it would take the industry the best part of a decade to get producing at scale, so over the next 30 years we might see UK fracking produce about 15% of our gas demand. That’s about 5% of our total energy demand so if we correct their claim it should read:

If we were to release just 10% of British natural shale gas the UK would be self-sufficient in energy could meet about 5% of its energy demand for the next thirty years

Finally even using Cuadrilla’s rather optimistic central assumption for the Estimate Ultimate Recovery rate for each well (5.5 bcf) this reduced amount would still require over 2,500 wells on over 60 pads.

Given the problems we’ve seen with just the 3 wells they’ve fracked over the last decade, that isn’t a very enticing prospect is it?

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