UK's Gas Heritage May Become Its Legacy
- Tom Pickering (Independent Consultant)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- December 2012
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 20 - 22
- 2012. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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The United Kingdom is attempting to emulate the unconventional gas bonanza that has transformed the United States from having an energy industry that was in its “sunset” era to a nation rich in energy resources. The UK, which sits on significant shale reserves, wants to become part of this game-changing industry, viewing it as an exciting opportunity as it looks to revolutionize the energy landscape for the next generation.
By its very nature, the country has a dense population with a rural and agricultural countryside and, though it boasts a huge offshore infrastructure, lacks onshore support and infrastructure. Add the obstacles of environmental concerns, a need to build awareness, and a cautious political uptake, it could take 2 more decades before investment decisions by industry could turn concern about the value of unconventionals into certainty.
Unconventional gas has a particular production profile and economics; consequently, operators must be able to drill, produce, and build facilities within tight cost parameters, which can be marginal. The underpinning culture and supply chain in the North Sea is not as conducive to that development. Therefore, it is crucial that there is a fundamental shift in the approach toward equipment, infrastructure, service industry support, and onshore and community stakeholder engagement.
Historically, the UK and Europe have engineered large gas deposits offshore and deployed pipeline and transport facilities to handle the delivery of large volumes of conventional high-pressure gas to market. Therefore, the existing base infrastructure presents a costly challenge for unconventional operators seeking entry into the industry. It is also true that where there has been the opportunity to turn gas into electricity by generation, both the generating and distribution network is geared to high-voltage, coal-fired power stations and nuclear electricity generation.
The story now centers on the indigenous supply of natural gas. Five years ago, it looked as though the world might have only 50 to 60 years’ worth of gas. However, by some estimates, shale and other unconventional gas finds have increased that life span to 200 years or more.
The successful exploration, appraisal, and development of UK onshore unconventional resources have the potential to provide a significant contribution to the hydrocarbon component of the nation’s balanced portfolio and strategy.
Despite the technical, environmental, financial, and political challenges, the UK and other European countries, are taking the first tentative steps to establish the development of shale and coalbed methane. Coring activity is now under way in reservoirs to ascertain the presence of gas, geological permeability, and the natural fracture system within the rock, and that presents an encouraging commercial opportunity.
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