In his State of the Union address to the Nation, President Obama reassured the American people that they would have an energy-secure future. He informed them it was intended to go “hell for leather” in the exploitation of national shale gas resources which would guarantee US energy security for decades to come and help create 600,000 new jobs. Already production of shale gas has enabled the USA to cut all imports of liquefied natural gas, particularly from the Middle East. It is estimated that shale gas will meet half of USA gas demands within 15 to 20 years.
Shale gas, or unconventional gas as it is called, is to be found in underground reservoirs extending for thousands of square kilometers throughout the world. The largest deposits have been found in China and North America. Europe also has considerable resources and they are currently being mapped by The Shale Gas Research Initiative (GASH). There are estimated to be worldwide reserves of shale gas, equivalent to 3 trillion barrels of oil. According to the International Energy Agency, based on current demand, there are only 60 years of worldwide reserves of natural gas. However, the availability of shale gas will extend gas reserves to more than 250 years.
The potential of shale gas has been known for some time, but it is only in recent years that technological improvements used in its extraction have made it economically viable. Also, the search for greener energy to replace high-carbon fuels such as coal has made shale gas a more acceptable and reliable fuel. It emits 30% less carbon than oil and 60% less than coal when used for power generation and is a much cheaper alternative to wind and solar power which currently require considerable consumer subsidies.
In Britain, test drilling has identified a huge reserve of recoverable shale gas in North West England. Preliminary results have been rewarding, but the hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – process used to unlock the gas from shale rock has alarmed environmental groups who warn that it will cause earthquakes, despite research to the contrary carried out at Durham University Energy Institute. Quadrilla Resources Ltd. has, however, been granted a license to carry out exploration throughout the 1200 sq km of the Bowland Basin in Lancashire which, they assess, holds at least 200 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas reserves. The company will intensify its exploration in 2014 giving them the opportunity to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment, community consultation and risk assessment. When this is completed they intend to seek Lancashire County Council approval to “frack” for gas at a site at St Anne’s, near Southport.
The success of shale gas extraction in the USA over the past two years has almost halved the price of gas, thus encouraging investment in new businesses and manufacturing which has contributed to a considerable reduction in unemployment. Britain, which is dependent upon costly gas imports and is concerned about the security of its energy supply, has need for a similar shale gas boom to stimulate the economy and get the country back to work. Furthermore, shale gas production would mean we would not be tied to an energy policy that relies upon inefficient consumer subsidised wind and solar power developments. Undoubtedly green energy campaigners, who over recent decades have pressured our government into taking the expensive road to a low carbon green economy, will not be happy, but those of us who wince every time the fuel bill falls through the letter box will rejoice.