The shale gas reserves sitting under the UK could heat every home in the country for the next 100 years, experts claim.
The upcoming British Geological Survey (BGS) report on how much shale gas is currently sitting under the UK is set to be published in the coming weeks, and will reveal that there are far greater resources than first anticipated.
That is according to sources close to the report, which claims that the current estimates – standing at somewhere around five trillion cubic feet – are far lower than the actual amount that can potentially be extracted and used to keep the homes of UK consumers warm in the decades ahead.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Dr Nick Riley, from the BGS, said that the existence of the shale gas is not in question, but the possibility of extracting it all – and doing it in a safe manner – remains to be seen.
“We are sitting on potentially a massive resource, but whether we are able to extract it we do not know. We have to do the exploration and then we have to get the consent of the people,” he added.
According to the newspaper, insiders believe that there is as much as 1,800 trillion cubic feet of gas under the UK, most of which is located in the north of the country, though pockets also exist in the Home Counties, Wales and Scotland.
Analysts believe that, should the upper estimate be accurate, and the gas can be extracted safely and efficiently, British homes could be heated for more than a millennium using shale gas alone.
Some way off
However, the possibility of this occurring and customers’ energy bills being lowered for the foreseeable future are remote, as only a small proportion of shale gas can usually be extracted safely from each reserve – around a third.
Previous attempts to extract the gas in Blackpool led to earth tremors so analysts have conservatively estimated that around a tenth of the potential reserves could safely be mined; an amount that could still provide UK homes with power for 100 years.
The main problem with using shale gas is the process used to extract it – known as fracking – which has raised controversy across the globe, particularly in the US, where some customers reported their tap water being set alight.
Despite this, Britain’s 18-month ban on fracking was lifted at the end of 2012 and many companies are already applying for licenses to begin drilling and tap the vast potential reserves under the nation’s surface.
The Weir Group, IGas and Cuadrilla have all expressed interest in drilling for shale gas, despite objections from members of the public and campaigners, who believe earthquakes and contaminated water supplies are among the potential side-effects if things go wrong.
The government appears to be softening its stance on shale gas, however, with Chancellor George Osborne stating in his recent Budget that there will be tax breaks for exploration companies and monetary benefits for communities that allow drilling to take place in the local area.
Professor Richard Davies, from the Energy Institute at Durham University, said that any extraction remains some way off, until the extent of the shale gas reserves is revealed in the BGS report and adequate methods of extraction are established – and even then drilling will not necessarily commence immediately.
“The BGS can say what they like about the rocks under the ground and the gas in it but no one has produced a molecule yet,” he concluded.