Letter: Prof Roy Thompson To frack or not to frack? That, in essence, is the question at present being put to the people of Scotland by the Holyrood government in a public consultation exercise. Academic research suggests that, in geological terms, fracking for shale gas in Scotland will be economically marginal at best. Comprehensive data for 25 American shale-gas systems has recently been made available, detailing their geochemistry, rock physics, and production decline. The information allows a geostatistical analysis of gas yield and comparison with other regions. Having completed such an analysis, I find Scottish shales do not compare favourably with even the lowest-yielding US systems. They are below the temperatures needed for effective gas generation; are at pressures that are too low for the gas to rise naturally to the surface and so would require extra pumps and compressors; and sit at too shallow a level, increasing the risk that surface groundwaters will be contaminated. The deeper, structurally simpler and higher-carbon-content shales in the north of England seem to have more potential. If hydrocarbon exploration in Lancashire and Yorkshire turns out to be unsuccessful, or cost-effectively borderline, that would signal that a US-style shale gas industry is unlikely to work in Scotland. Hence, the best response to Holyrood would be to suggest that the government awaits developments south of the border.
Times 9th Feb 2017 read more »