A green light for shale gas production in the United Kingdom
Despite the spectacular success of the shale gas industry in the United States, the UK government has remained very cautious towards the idea of taking up shale exploration locally. The main issue of concern were environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), technology used for shale gas production.
The situation has only changed recently – in December 2012, the UK government made a decision to allow using ’fracking,’ provided that strict environmental controls and procedures are adhered to by the companies involved in the shale gas production. This decision is a real milestone in the development of shale gas industry in the UK.
A short history of drilling for shale in Lancashire
At the beginning of 2011, Cuadrilla Resources ltd., a Stafford-based gas exploration company, announced it had discovered significant resources (200 trillion cubic feet) of shale gas, deposited within the Bowland Shale, near Blackpool (Lancashire), England.
The drilling works started soon after, but the exploration project was stopped later the same year, after the company was accused by local residents to cause small earthquakes, as a result of using ‘fracking’ technology.
The first quake (2.3 on the Richter scale) occurred on the 1st of April. The second activity, measuring 1.5, was recorded 26 days later. After the second event, Cuadrilla suspended fracking. The company executives responded that hydraulic fracturing is a safe and proven technology, and ‘extremely rare geological factors’ are to blame in this particular case.
As both the residents and authorities did not find this interpretation of events satisfactory, an independent study was commissioned the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to establish what exactly had happen and if there was any link between Cuadrilla’s drilling activities and the seismic events.
The study conducted by the British Geological Survey and the scientists from Keele University determined that indeed, the quakes were triggered by hydraulic fracturing. However, the seismic activities that occurred were too small to cause any damage or pose any risk to the public. The report also imposed some mitigation measures to minimize the risk of similar events to happen in the future and causing discomfort to the local residents
Hydraulic fracturing 'fracking' - a controversial technology used for shale gas production
December 2012: The ban on hydraulic fracturing lifted
On the 13th of December 2012, the UK government lifted the ban on hydraulic fracturing. The decision gives a green light to the shale gas exploration in the country and was welcomed by all shale gas industry enthusiasts and supporters.
Cuadrilla, currently owing six temporary sites in Lancashire: Singleton, Weeton, Wharles, Kirkham, Westby and Banks, has already announced its plans to resume its shale gas exploration activities in the region.
There is even more good news for shale gas supporters. The UK Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced to consider introduction of tax incentives for the companies looking to develop shale gas. It is also anticipated, that a new regulatory body will be established to develop and oversee the industry regulation.