The untapped shale gas supplies under South Wales could supply the UK for the next 16 years, the Welsh Assembly has been told.
A new report carried out by a consultancy in Dallas, Texas, has estimated that in one area of South Wales around 50 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lies under the surface.
At the moment, the UK only uses around 3.5 trillion cubic feet a year, meaning the reserves in South Wales alone could supply the country until at least the year 2029, if consumption continues at its current rate.
The report has led to interest from businesses keen to test drill in the area, including Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd, whose director Gerwyn Williams says the Dallas report only “scratches the surface” as far as Wales’ shale gas potential is concerned
He told Wales Online: “We now know that through similar methods America has a 100-year gas supply; there is no reason why we cannot be in the same position. There is a big prize for everyone in Wales if this works.”
Fracking under pressure
Though the possibilities are great, shale gas remains a contentious topic, specifically the method used to extract the resource: hydraulic fracturing.
Commonly known as fracking, the process involves using machinery to inject a highly pressurised hydraulic fracturing fluid that creates new channels in the rock and enables easier extraction of shale gas.
Though effective in some cases, it has also caused controversy after test drills resulted in earth tremors, while some homeowners in the US have even reported their tap water being set on fire.
Exploration in Blackpool was halted in 2011 after tremors were reported, and environmental campaigners argue that fracking could have “catastrophic” consequences for the UK.
Gareth Clubb, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, commented: “The global authority on energy, The International Energy Agency, has described our continuing rush to exploit more and more new sources of fossil fuels as catastrophic for the planet.”
“To protect Wales from climate catastrophe we must impose a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, as has already happened elsewhere in Europe.”
Exaggerating the impact?
However, Mr Williams claims that critics of shale gas extraction exaggerate the impact it has on the environment, including those who argue it can contaminate water supplies.
He pointed out that the 18,000 cubic metres of water used to drill a shale gas well is equivalent to the amount used to water an 18-hole golf course in one month.
“Of that amount of fracking solution used, only 0.4% is made up of chemicals, all of which are commonly used in the food industry and therefore pose no threat to water pollution,” he elaborated.
Mr Williams’ company has planning permission for test drilling at the Llandow industrial estate in the Vale of Glamorgan but did note that most of South Wales’ gas reserves could be accessed through Coalbed Methane extraction, which is far less controversial than fracking.
He revealed that hydraulic fracturing will only be considered if more research is carried out into the method and its potential impact on the environment.
Campaigners continue to argue that introducing a moratorium on unconventional gas would be the right step to take, as it could place a greater focus on sustainability and the benefits of renewable energy.
It is claimed that a UK shale gas industry could support up to 35,000 jobs, but Mr Clubb told Wales Online that renewable energy can offer a “prosperous and sustainable” future, which would power the country and also provide hundreds of jobs for years to come.
He concluded: “We should move as swiftly as possible to a Wales powered by 100% renewable energy, providing tens of thousands of jobs in the booming green economy.”