Study UK shale extraction reduced by limited space
© Kim Carpenter

Study: UK shale extraction reduced by limited space

According to new research, only a quarter of the shale gas contained in one of the UK’s largest reserves may be recoverable due to limited space for the development of wells needed to extract it.

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 on to an area licensed for potential shale gas extraction, the team saw how often these sites would clash with existing properties, roads and natural features.

They concluded that within a typical 10x10km licensed block there would be room to accommodate 26 wells, limiting the potential gas extraction by 74%. This meant that an average of 26% of the shale gas reserve in the Bowland Basin might be recoverable, the researchers said.

The research, led by Durham University, UK, as part of ReFINE, is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Lead author Sarah Clancy, postgraduate student in the Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, UK, said: “For the first time we have looked at the capacity of the land above the Bowland Shale and where potential shale gas wells could be located, and the impact this could have on the probable amount of gas that could be extracted.

“Our findings suggest that the number of wells that could be developed could be limited by existing and immovable infrastructure, which in turn would reduce the amount of shale gas that could be extracted.

“Instead we recommend that wells should be situated in the best location to minimise their impact, but also to maximise their yield by adopting a multi-well approach.”

Research co-author Professor Fred Worrall, also of the Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, added: “With global populations 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.”