New publication: Fracking and Coalbed Methane -- Unconventional gas in the UK.

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Tue Oct 11 06:23:21 BST 2011

News Release: Free Range 'Energy Beyond Oil' Project -- 11/10/11

New Sheet E11. Fracking and Coalbed Methane -- Unconventional gas in the UK

Although it's dropped off the agenda since the economic crash, Britain's energy 
problems are still rumbling away in the background of the political and 
economic debate. Now the Government is consulting on awarding new onshore oil 
and gas exploration licences, and at present the largest projected growth in 
projects relates to coalbed methane and gas "fracking".

The new EBO Sheet E11 examines the background to the fracking issue. It looks 
at the geology of Britain, which areas of the UK might be affected by 
unconventional gas developments, and the technology involved. Then it takes a 
broad-brush tour through some of the latest information and evidence on the 
problems of fracking, and the possible effects that might result from the roll 
out of shale gas and coalbed methane in the UK.

Quite apart from the groundwater pollution, air pollution, smog, noise, and 
contaminated surface water runoff from slurry lagoons, unconventional gas now 
appears to be one of the least "green" energy solutions when compared to other 
development options. Recent research suggests that energy production from 
shale gas creates far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gas. 
Methane emissions are at least 30% more, and perhaps more than twice that of 
conventional gas. These emissions occur when wells are hydraulically 
fractured, as methane escapes from fracking fluids. Thus the greenhouse gas 
footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when 
viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to 
coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater, and perhaps more 
than twice as great on the 20-year period, and is comparable when compared 
over 100 years.

It would also appear that the Government is misleading the public over the 
impacts of their new policy. The strategic environmental appraisal document, 
produced by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), states that 
between 6 and 28 conventional oil/gas wells, and between 2 and 50 coalbed 
methane wells will be developed in Britain over the next decade. However, 
Cuadrilla Resources, which recently reported a shale gas find near Blackpool, 
stated that, "About 400 wells could be expected as a conservative estimate... 
with up to 800 in the licence area between Blackpool and Southport over the 
next 15 years." Either the Government's projection of the scale of future 
development assumes that very little unconventional gas will be produced, or 
they are deliberately under-estimating the number of wells in order to massage 
the overall level impacts for the strategic environmental appraisal process.

Over the last eight years conventional gas production from the North Sea has 
fallen by a half -- the inevitable effect of the peak of gas production in 
2003. Despite the media trumpeting Cuadrilla's Lancashire shale gas find as 
"huge", it is in fact only a few years of present domestic gas consumption. 
Shale gas will not solve our problems with North Sea gas supplies. To make up 
for the loss of North Sea production between 2003 and 2010 we need to find 
another four Lancashire-sized shale gas fields. Then, to make up for the loss 
of North Sea production in coming years, we'd need to find another three 
similar-sized fields over the next two decades. Taking the statements from 
Cuadrilla Resources in the press, together those eight fields would require up 
to 6,400 wells to be drilled -- far in excess of the couple of hundred 
analysed by DECC in their strategic environmental appraisal of the 14th 
Licensing Round.

To sum up, shale gas is not a "solution" to our energy problems. It's a means 
for the oil and gas industry to generate new income streams as hydrocarbon 
depletion cuts into their conventional business activities. It's not a 
sustainable energy solution: At best it's a stop-gap measure, for two or three 
decades, before global energy shortages precipitate a far greater crisis; at 
worst, it will not address the problems of energy supply and prices in the UK, 
but it will contaminate land, generate toxic waste streams and exacerbate air 

Finally, the sheet is extensively referenced. As well as the references for 
the sheet itself, the index page for the sheet (address above) contains a list 
of reports, web sites and videos that relate to the development of shale gas, 
coalbed methane and underground coal gasification in Britain.

As well as HTML formats, the sheet is also available as two PDF versions:

# The 'colour' PDF has colour illustrations, but it also hae embedded links so 
that you can browse background information/references from the file.

# The 'greyscale' version is in 'grey', but it's optimised for photocopying 
and distribution as a hard copy publication.

The whole publication is released under The Creative Commons Attribution Non-
Commercial Share Alike licence (by-nc-sa), version 3. This means that not only 
can the public copy and distribute it, they can also extract or translate the 
text and graphics and circulate them in their own publications (for non-
commercial purposes, in accordance with the by-nc-sa licence).

The publication was researched and compiled by Paul Mobbs on behalf of the 
Free Range Network. If there is any interest, he is willing to give 
presentations to groups on the issues of energy depletion and the development 
of unconventional gas in the UK. For further details contact him directly (see 
his web site -- )




"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Read my 'essay' weblog, "Ecolonomics", at:

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
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