Cuadrilla, the UK shale gas developer, has started drilling operations at its site in Lancashire. The project has featured frequently in the headlines over the last three years because the local council turned down planning permission for the plans in both 2014 and 2015. Subsequently, the Government gave planning permission in 2016 after holding a six-week enquiry. The developer will drill into and hydraulically fracture the shale rock more than a mile beneath the site, a process known as fracking. Under this process, fluid is released at high pressure into the rock formation to create small cracks. These cracks are held open by grains of sand within the fluid, which allow the gas to flow and be collected. Work began on the first well last week, and Cuadrilla expects to be supplying shale gas to homes by the middle of 2018.
This is the first time fracking has taken place in the UK for six years. It has been a contentious issue due to environmental concerns such as groundwater contamination and increased seismic activity. The process has been banned in France and is currently under a moratorium in Scotland. However, it is a well-established process in the United States, where its supporters point to lower energy prices and improved energy security, despite an ongoing environmental debate. Analysis from BP, which outlines a base case scenario for global energy markets to 2035, points to global growth in natural gas with shale gas making up 60% of the increase in supplies. This is predominantly driven by US shale output and, as we get closer to 2035, China is expected to become the second largest shale supplier. Meanwhile, geologists are questioning how much gas can be extracted through fracking in the UK. Research released last week from Herriot Watt University x suggests that the rocks containing shale gas deposits in the UK are riddled with fractures. Professor Underhill said, “There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation. It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK’s gas needs only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.” Shale developer INEOS has argued that more data needs to be collected before conclusions can be reached.