The UK’s underground shale gas reserves may deliver only a fraction of the gas promised by fracking firms and government ministers, according to a study.
Research by the University of Nottingham found that early estimates may have exaggerated the UK’s shale reserves up to sixfold.
Last week government officials hinted that a review could be launched looking into loosening UK limits on fracking because shale “could be an important new domestic energy source”.
The University of Nottingham said it had used a new technique to measure the shale gas trapped in the Bowland shale basin in central England and found significantly lower levels than was suggested by a widely quoted study six years ago.
In 2013 the British Geological Survey (BGS) found there were likely to be 1,300tn cubic feet of gas. The latest study found there may be 200tn cubic feet, enough to meet the UK’s gas demand for around a decade.
Prof Colin Snape, of the University of Nottingham, said the BGS’s study had involved desk-based research based on the findings of shale developers in the US rather than actual reserves. The new research was based on studies of actual UK shales, using gas absorption data and field data, he said.
“We have made great strides in developing a laboratory test procedure to determine shale gas potential,” Snape said. “This can only serve to improve people’s understanding and government decisions around the future of what role shale gas can make to the UK’s energy demand as we move to being carbon neutral by 2050.”
It is the second major study in recent years to cast doubt on economic claims made by the shale gas industry. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University said the UK’s most promising shale gas reservoirs had been warped by tectonic shifts that could thwart efforts to tap them.
Last week the government lent its support to the shale industry as Cuadrilla restarted fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire. It said shale production could help reduce the level of gas imports while delivering broad economic benefits, including through the creation of well-paid jobs.