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No space to frack

UK shale gas extraction could be reduced by limited space to develop wells
No space to frack

Only a quarter of the shale gas contained in one of the UK’s largest reserves might be recoverable because of limited space to develop the wells needed to extract it, according to new research.

Researchers from the ReFINE (Research Fracking in Europe) consortium looked at the impact of ‘existing and immovable infrastructure’ – such as buildings, roads and rivers – on the capacity to remove gas from the Bowland Shale, a type of rock that is thought to hold the majority of the UK’s shale gas reserves.

By mapping well pads onto an area licensed for potential shale gas extraction, the team saw how often these sites would clash with existing properties, roads and natural features.

Limits on extraction

They concluded that within a typical 10km by 10km licensed block there would be room to accommodate 26 wells, limiting the potential gas extraction by 74%.

This means an average of 26% (211 km3) of the shale gas reserve in the Bowland Basin might be recoverable, the researchers said.

The Bowland Shale is found throughout large parts of northern England, as well as parts of the Midlands, north Wales and the Isle of Man.

In 2013 a study by the British Geological Survey (BGS) said the central estimate for the gas resource in the Bowland Shale was 37,633 km3, though not all of this is extractable. The BGS study covered an area between Wrexham and Blackpool in the west of the UK, and Nottingham and Scarborough in the east.

To map the potential size of well sites in the latest study, the ReFINE researchers looked at existing conventional oil and gas wells in the UK, the Netherlands and Poland, as well as the size of comparable sites such as petrol stations and wastewater treatment plants.

They also based their study on the requirement set by the State of Maryland, USA that shale gas wells should be 152 metres from existing infrastructure.

46 metres from a UK home

Currently the UK and several other European countries have no legal or planning requirements stating the minimum distance that a well has to be sited from existing infrastructure.

Instead requirements are designated on a site-to-site basis with the ReFINE study finding that the average distance of an existing conventional well from a UK house was 447 metres, with the minimum distance being just 46 metres at a site in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

‘With global population set to increase, new developments, such as housing and industrial sites, are going to be needed.

‘This highlights the need for a systematic approach to where shale gas well sites are located, with minimum impact.’

Research co-author, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University

The research, led by Durham University, UK as part of ReFINE, is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. It was funded by the M4ShaleGas project, a scheme funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Click here to read ‘An assessment of the footprint and carrying capacity of oil and gas well sites: The implications for limiting hydrocarbon reserves’.

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