London — The UK shale gas industry has slammed new research suggesting the country's recoverable shale gas reserves could be much lower than thought, saying the only way to assess the potential is by drilling and testing more wells.
According to the research from Nottingham University published Tuesday, innovative new testing techniques have revealed that resources within the Bowland Shale formation -- the country's most prospective shale gas area -- could be up to five times lower than previous estimates suggested.
The research, supported by the British Geological Survey (BGS), said economically recoverable reserves of Bowland shale gas could be less than 10 years of current UK gas consumption -- implying a ceiling of around 800 Bcm.
In 2013, the BGS estimated that the Bowland Shale alone could hold up to 1,329 Tcf (37.6 trillion cu m) of gas in place, which with a recovery rate of 10% would mean recoverable reserves of as much as 3.8 Tcm, enough to meet the UK's current gas demand for almost 50 years.
"The only way to really know the extent of a shale resource is by drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flow testing," Ken Cronin, CEO of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), said in a statement.
UK shale gas pioneer Cuadrilla Resources was more damning in its reaction, its press release full of exclamation points. "Wait for our results!" Cuadrilla -- which is in the process of fracking a second well at its flagship Preston New Road site -- said.
CEO Francis Egan said Cuadrilla would continue the current operational program at Preston New Road to fracture theremaining stages of the well followed by flow testing.
"Then let's make some statements about the reserve potential of the Bowland Shale!" Egan said.
UKOOG's Cronin said the Nottingham University research analyzed only a limited amount of core from one Bowland shale well drilled in 2011, which was subsequently decommissioned without fracking or flow testing.
"The industry is currently in the process of exploration in various parts of the Bowland Shale to test the geologyand whether the gas will flow commercially," he said.
"We have made significant advancements in the understanding of the resource potential contained within UK shale, with very encouraging results seen at both Springs Road and Preston New Road which have demonstrated properties in line with world class, US shale plays," he said.
Explorer IGas earlier this year said it had observed "significant" shale gas indications at its Springs Road exploration well and "promising" results from its Tinker Lane shale gas site.
The BGS acknowledged that more studies were needed, but nonetheless backed the latest research as suggesting the UK's shale gas potential "could be much lower than first thought."
"Early indications suggest that it is possible there is less shale gas resource present than previously thought, however the study considered only a very small number of rock samples from only two locations," it said.
"BGS has continued to study resource estimation in shales over the past 16 years and further studies are still required to further refine estimates of shale gas resources," it said.
Cuadrilla's Egan said the company had not been contacted for its view ahead of the publication of the new research.
"We hold more data and technical experience of the Bowland Shale than anyone else in the UK yet not once did anyone from this research group or Nottingham University contact us," he said.
"Cuadrilla is getting on with determining the capacity of UK shale reserves by the only means possible which is todrill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow rate of gas from real world wells drilled into the shale rock. Our early results are very encouraging."
However, the research was supported by academics at Heriot-Watt University.
Professor John Underhill, the academic who first challenged shale reserve estimates in 2017, said: "This research is an important next step in the discussion around the UK's reliance on shale gas extraction as a solution to our current energy crisis."
"In 2017, our research revealed that the UK's geology is unlikely to be suitable for hydraulic fracturing because the uplift and faulted structure of the basins are detrimental to its ultimate recovery," Underhill said.
He said the UK's geology was very different to the US, meaning it was unlikely the UK could replicate the shale gas success in the US.
"It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK's gas needs," he said.
-- Stuart Elliott, Stuart.Elliott@spglobal.com
-- Edited by James Burgess, firstname.lastname@example.org