Robert Gatliff, Director of Energy and Marine Geoscience at the British Geological Survey is participating at the 2014 UK Shale Gas World Congress. In the build up to the event we asked him for his thoughts on shale developments in the UK. If you are local government or an operator, request your complimentary pass for the 2014 UK Shale Gas Congress by contacting Sarah Hadfield on 0207 092 1157, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What is the BGS’ role in the shale gas industry?
The BGS is a government owned research centre. We are part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), from which we get half of our funding and the other half comes from other sources such as government research contracts, EU research projects etc. Our model is to try and get stakeholders involved in our research and if we get them involved, we can demonstrate that we are undertaking relevant research with impact.
In the oil and gas sector we work in several areas. We have a contract with DECC to provide geological advice on oil and gas and we produced the assessment to the Bowland Shale Formation, which is now on the DECC website, and we are continuing to do other projects with DECC in different areas to look different shales. We also fund our own unconventional shale gas research programme, which is really trying to understand the geology of UK shales so that we can improve our assessment of resources and character of the shales etc.
The third area we are involved with is the environmental aspect of shale gas, where we have a monitoring programme looking at natural background methane content in groundwater, and monitoring earthquakes. BGS is also working on developing a network of subsurface observatories in the UK onshore and offshore.
Are you working with any particular European organization to understand more on shale gas?
We are collaborating with the European Energy Research Alliance, we also tend to work with the geological surveys in Europe, including TNO in the Netherlands, GEUS in Denmark, BGR in Germany, and several more.
When we started working on shale gas, we invited the USGS to share some of their expertise on what happened in America before we started our research programme here in the UK.
Is collaboration amongst the industry crucial at this point?
Collaboration is very helpful. We are partners in a new NERC sponsored venture called the NERC Oil & Gas Centre for Doctorial Training which is providing funding for BGS and a consortium of around 17 universities (led by Heriot Watt, Aberdeen, Imperial College, Durham, Manchester and Oxford) to develop training in the oil and gas sector in the UK. There will be around 90 PhDs starting over the next three years and about 25% of those will be related to unconventional oil and gas research. So, there will be a network of universities and BGS to bring together the expertise across the UK to really understand what it is going on.
Some people think the earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011 were caused by fracking, what is your view?
These have been written about in the Royal Society report. The two large earthquakes certainly occurred close to the fracking sites and shortly after the fracking. And yes, I would say there is a connection between the drilling and the fractures.
Do you think fracking might have an impact on groundwater?
The oil industry might use groundwater as a source of water for fracking. After using it, they need to dispose of any return water which should be a manageable process. The second aspect is, will the fracking fluids get into groundwater? The fracking will be significantly deeper than any groundwater, or water used for drinking and human use, so with proper management the risk of leakage into groundwater is manageable as well. My view is that the impact of fracking on groundwater is a manageable risk.
Can the UK replicate the US shale gas revolution in terms of geological features?
The main shale that we have been looking at in the UK at the moment is the Bowland shale. It can be much thicker than the shale utilised in America. We don’t understand the detailed sedimentology, natural fracture patterns, geomechanics of the shales, or the gas content as we are still at the beginning. Therefore, it is very difficult to say that we will have a revolution replicating to what happened in the US. We need more research and drilling results and give time for industry and academia to assess the data and assess the environmental impacts, the amount of gas recovered per well and whether we generate a safe and profitable industry.
What needs to be done to make the industry succeed?
On the geological side, I suggest that we need more information which will come from fracking to make a better understanding what can happen to our shale when we are trying to extract gas from it. At the moment, we know there is gas there, but we don’t know how much gas there is, we don’t know how much gas will flow on fracking etc. There is a lot of work to do in the exploration phase and do some controlled fracking. On the public acceptance side, there is a huge programme to do. The industry needs to be open, get accepted by the local communities, and demonstrate that it can be done successfully.
What to expect from shale developments in the next 2-3 years?
I would like the BGS to work together with the industry to better understand shale in the UK. I hope there will be several wells being drilled and tested and I hope they will be done in an open-way with independent monitoring of the impact.
What are you going to discuss at the Shale Gas UK Congress?
I am going to give an update on the research that we are doing at BGS, and where I think we should be going. It will be primarily be a geological talk on what we don’t know and on what we do know and what we can do in the future.
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