Myth 13 – Shale gas can replace coal

I read on one of the pro-fracking facebook pages that fracking is needed as we have to replace coal.

Clearly we agree that burning coal is bad, and that something will be needed to replace it, but we really need to be careful about any suggestion that fracked gas can fill the gap.

This is the argument being advanced by the advocate for shale gas

gas replaces coal

The 280,451 Gwh would be the equivalent of 24.11 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (mtoe)

In 2014 according to DECC’s December 2015 Energy Trends report the total use of coal in the UK was 31.7 mtoe and the average use over the last 5 years was 35.3 mtoe

So the gap that needs to be filled if we are to replace coal is indeed huge. Even huger than our friend suggested.

We can be pretty certain that there can be no shale gas industry producing at scale before the early 2020s. so there is no chance of shale “filling the gap between now and then“, but even if we ignore that, what chance is there that shale gas could get anywhere near filling that gap at any time?

Well, the Cuadrilla sponsored Institute of Directors Report “Getting Shale Gas Working” tells us that shale gas in the UK could be exploited with 100 well pads of 40 wells each. That’s 4,000 wells in total.

The same report tells us we can expect average Estimated Ultimate Recovery Rates per well of 3.2 bcf.

4,000 wells at 3.2 bcf would give a total amount of gas extracted of 12.8 tcf.

According to the Institute of Directors report production on these wells would last over 30 years but we’ll use 30 for this exercise.

Over 30 years the annual average production would be 426 Bcf each year. This is equivalent to 130,152 gwh or 11.192 mtoe.

So shale gas, even if it does get off the ground, and even it it were assumed that it could all be burned without Carbon Capture and Storage without blowing our climate change mitigation budgets, could only replace just a third of the gas currently being burned.

Shale gas can not even get close to being able to replace coal as an energy source if we are to believe the reports sponsored by the industry.

Bizarrely, though as I type this I have just listened to a Conservative MP, Nigel Adams, talking in the Energy Bill debate about gas replacing coal. This myth is very pervasive.

If the argument is that there is more gas to be extracted, then the concomitant is that all of the impacts of the extraction process would be commensurately greater.

To put it another way – to replace coal, even for just the 30 years of probable shale gas production, we’d need at least 300 well pads of 40 wells each. That’s 12,000 wells. Would they ever dare admit to the people of the North of England that this is what they have in store for us?

Now, if that is what they really propose, surely now is the time to come clean about it.

If not then let’s not have any more rubbish about shale gas being capable of “replacing” coal because according to the Institute of Directors, it can’t.