United Kingdom Poised to Join Shale Gas Boom?

An energy company in the United Kingdom has revealed estimates for a huge shale gas resource under the northwest of England. Cuadrilla Resources, after drilling some exploratory wells in the Blackpool region, estimates there could be 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the region. Not all of this is recoverable, but the resource is substantial; the United Kingdom consumes about 3.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year.

According to the Guardian, the area may soon play host to as many as 800 new gas wells, mirroring the recent controversial natural gas boom in the United States. The Marcellus Shale, a formation underlying Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and other states, remains at the center of natural gas issues to do with potential harm coming from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale rock formations. Fracking involves injecting massive amounts of water, sand, and a toxic mix of chemicals deep underground; there is increasing evidence that this process can contaminate nearby water supplies.

In the United States, both fracking and natural gas itself have come under intense scrutiny in the last year. The EPA is conducting an analysis of natural gas extraction processes in the wake of reports of water contamination, and the idea that natural gas is a cleaner, more climate-friendly fossil fuel than other options has also been called into question. Also, the US Geological Survey recently released estimates of the Marcellus Shale's total gas reserves, which knocked the total down from 410 trillion cubic feet to 84 trillion.

There are already concerns in the UK that the newly discovered resource will be extracted before proper environmental assessments can be carried out. Some also expressed the worry that a shale gas boom will draw money away from renewable energy projects.

(Image: Gas drilling rig in the Barnett Shale region, via jermlac/Flickr)

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