* Britain needs new onshore drilling infrastructure
* Thousands of wells might be needed and have short life
* Cuadrilla estimates 330 tcf of gas trapped in licence area
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, March 5 Britain may be a prime location
for shale gas exploration in Europe, but a lack of onshore
drilling infrastructure and local opposition will impede
development, experts and geologists said at a shale conference
Britain is in the early stages of exploring for
unconventional gas to counter growing dependence on imports and
to emulate the success the United States has had in lowering its
energy prices due to a shale boom.
The current crisis in Ukraine has renewed calls for
countries in Europe, including Britain, to diversify away from
Russian natural gas.
In eastern Europe, Polish gas monopoly PGNiG said
last month it had found a new gas deposit in south-eastern
Poland, and Ukraine has signed agreements with Royal Dutch Shell
and U.S. energy major Chevron for shale gas
Several companies have announced plans to explore for shale
gas in Britain using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, a
technique of injecting water, sand and chemicals deep into rock
formations to release hydrocarbons.
"Probably the UK (is Europe's prime location) from a
technical point of view as we have some very thick shale, but
there are still a number of question marks," Ron Oxburgh, a
former Shell chairman and member of the House of Lords Select
Committee on Science and Technology, said on the sidelines of
the two-day Shale UK shale conference.
"We may get more out of a single hole than in other parts of
the world, but we need new onshore drilling infrastructure which
we don't have now. The issue of noise is also a limiting factor
in the near term (...) These are brutes, they are big pumping
machines," he added.
The British Geological Survey has estimated that rock
formations in so-called Bowland Basin in central Britain hold
around 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, far more than the
3 tcf of gas a year currently consumed, but the amount that can
actually be extracted is uncertain.
The Upper Bowland area, a part of the basin that has already
attracted exploration, could have 260 tcf of gas present, said
Andy Aplin, professor of unconventional petroleum at Durham
University and former adviser to BP.
"We would need 33,000 wells to drain all that," he told the
two-day Shale UK conference in London. That compares with an
annual average of 19 onshore wells drilled in Britain over the
Analysts at energy consultancy Poyry estimate that by 2024
around 100 new wells will need to be approved each year to pave
the way for significant shale gas production.
But shale gas wells have a short life. Based on the U.S.
experience, their flow rate is reduced by 85 percent over three
years, compared with a conventional gas well which would still
have high flow rates after 30 years, Oxburgh said.
Cuadrilla is the only company so far to have used fracking
in its test wells in the Bowland area and has applied for
permission to drill and frack at up to four new exploration
wells in the area.
The company has been repeatedly targeted by protesters and
environmentalists concerned about groundwater contamination,
earthquakes and the expansion of fossil fuel use.
Cuadrilla estimated in 2011 there was around 200 tcf of gas
trapped in the shale rock of its licence area in Lancashire but
now thinks there might be closer to 330 tcf, according to Huw
Clarke, geologist at Cuadrilla.
Other parts of the country have potential as well.
Al Fraser, professor at Imperial College and former
geologist at BP, highlighted the so-called Gainsborough Trough
area of northern England. French oil major Total
bought a 40 percent interest in two licenses in that area in
"I would have picked that. If it doesn't work there, it
won't work anywhere," he said.