The geology of the UK is unsuitable for fracking because we’re 55 million years too late, according to a leading geoscientist.
Professor John Underhill, chief scientist at Heroit-Watt University in Edinburgh, also said the opportunity of the new energy source has been “overhyped.”
Seismic activity 55 million years ago damaged reservoirs of shale gas, said Underhill, and allowed some of the deposits that fracking would rely on to escape.
Fracking involves drilling into the earth, before injecting liquid into the rock at a high enough pressure to force apart fractures and allow gas to escape.
Critics of fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — claim it would contaminate water supplies, damage the countryside, trigger earth tremors and, fundamentally, perpetuate a dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the world needs to switch to renewable energy.
But supporters say the gas extraction technique would be a beneficial source of energy.
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“Both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate assume that the geology is a ‘slam dunk’ and it will work if exploration drilling goes ahead,” said Underhill, reported The Independent.
“But the science shows that our country’s geology is simply unsuitable for shale oil and gas production. The implication that because fracking works in the US, it must also work here is wrong.”
The geology of the UK is very different to that of the US, where gas deposits are large and easily accessible, according to the Guardian.
Underhill added that a number of geological criteria must be met for fracking to be successful. For example, the source rock should have a high organic content, a good thickness, and be sufficiently porous. Meanwhile, the organic matter must have been buried to a sufficient depth and heated enough for the source rock to produce substantial amounts of gas or oil.
“The only question that has been addressed to date is how large the shale resource is in the UK. The inherent complexity of the sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated and, as a result, the opportunity has been overhyped,” he said.
“There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation. It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK’s gas needs only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.”
UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), the body representing the UK’s shale gas industry, told the Guardian that more exploration was needed.
Meanwhile, public support for fracking has reached an all-time low of 16%, coding to a survey this month by the Business and Energy Department.
That’s down from 21% last year, and is the lowest since the study was launched five years ago.