Maps: UK to expand unconventional oil and gas exploration


Unearthed reporters

Searchable map showing existing and under consultation oil and gas drilling license areas. 

The government has published its long delayed Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) (see map on p6) on the next round of licenses to drill for oil and gas in the uk.

The new round could see new licenses for oil and gas drilling issued across the country, and is based on previously released maps from  the Department of Energy and Climate change (DECC). Indeed the area under consideration was first sketched out in 2010.

Unearthed has drawn up a searchable map of the area which covers more than 60% of England. The final license area is expected to be smaller – following consultation – and will be released next year.

It comes as the UK’s British Geological Survey (BGS) added parts of Scotland to the list of regions where it is analysing shale gas reserves.

The size of the area under consultation shows the extent of the UK’s interest in exploring for new fossil fuels previously thought too disruptive, difficult or uneconomic to reach.

No proven technically or economically recoverable shale gas reserves have yet been found in the UK.

The consultation area significantly overlaps with the UK’s potential “unconventional” oil and gas resources including tight oil, shale gas,underground coal gasification and coal bed methane as well as relatively small traditional oil and gas reserves.

Because these reserves are more difficult to reach they usually involve the use of more intensive drilling methods often including fracking and horizontal drilling by oil and gas companies.

Fracking has been used before in the UK – but only on relatively porous rocks to extend the lifespan of existing wells.

Getting oil or gas out of rocks with a far lower permeability involves far larger quantities of water and associated chemicals and more wells (as less gas can be ‘sucked’ out of each site).

In a letter to residents DECC confirmed “Cuadrilla is the only operator in the UK to so far use high volume hydraulic fracturing – this technique was used on the Preese Hall well in Lancashire in 2011.”

Two maps from DECC/BGS showing potential shale, oil and coal bed methane resources.

The 14th Licensing round will be the first time the government has issued licenses since the government moved to encourage fracking.

Previous licensing rounds had focused largely on areas which may have contained conventional oil and gas reserves – though these licenses are now often held by firms, such as Cuadrilla, interested in exploring for shale gas or tight oil as well as coal bed methane.

The British Geological Survey recently completed an in-depth study of the Bowland shale and is currently preparing a similar report on the Weald basin, reportedly containing substantial reserves of so-called tight oil.

However the amount of gas and oil which can be commercially extracted from these reserves is unknown.

In recent evidence to Parliament Bloomberg warned that the cost of extraction may be similar to the wholesale cost of gas – suggesting some reserves may struggle to be profitable. However UK ministers are keen to promote fracking in the hope it provides economic benefits.