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UK basin holds 'multi-trillion cf shale gas stash'

The resource could be huge, but Cuadrilla halts drill after tremor

A BASIN in the northwest of England could hold “multi trillions” of cubic feet (cf) of shale gas, said the company exploring it.

Peter Turner, Cuadrilla Resource’s vice president of exploration, told Petroleum Economist in Warsaw that recent drilling had confirmed a large shale-gas deposit in the Bowland basin, close to Manchester, in the northwest of England.

But drilling is now on hold after a small local earthquake – not thought to be linked to fracturing (fracing) work – prompted fears in British media about Cuadrilla’s shale-gas drilling programme.

Cuadrilla has completed six of 12 wells it plans to drill in the prospect, and says initial test results have been encouraging.

The 1.5 magnitude quake, which hit the Fylde coast on 27 May, is the second in recent months. The British Geological Society (BGS) said the epicentre of the latest earthquake was within 2 km of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site. Cuadrilla said it will now examine the data collected by the BGS before deciding whether to continue drilling.

A previous tremor occurred around Poulton-le-Fylde on 1 April. The BGS said the two quakes shared a “similar location and mechanism”.

Following the tremor in April, which measured 2.3 magnitude on the Richter scale, the BGS said fracing could “possibly produce earthquakes”.

Paranoia

“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity,” the BGS said.

But defenders of shale-drilling consider such worries part of the paranoia surrounding their activities. They point out that northwest England has a history of small tremors and add that the epicentre of April’s tremblor lay 6km below the fracing site.

Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources, said: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracing operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts.

“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”

Fracing has faced opposition from environmentalists who claim the process can also contaminate groundwater. In May, a UK parliamentary committee recommended that the government allow fracing in the country, saying there was little evidence that the process, which involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into shale rock to fracture it, contaminates groundwater.

The committee’s chairman, MP Tim Yeo, dismissed concerns fracing could damage the environment as “hot air” and said there was no need to follow the lead of France and the state of New York to enforce a moratorium on the practice in the UK.

“We can’t do it the North American way,” Cuadrilla’s Turner said of UK drilling. “we have to engage every part of the community.”

Turner added that the Bowland play was naturally fractured with “huge open pores” which made gas extraction easier.

The company also wants to explore for unconventional gas in Holland next year and in Poland in 2013.

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