BRITAIN is 55 million years too late to have a fracking boom, one of the country’s leading geologists has warned.
The island’s rocks will simply not give up promised shale oil riches due to huge geological shifts which took place shortly after dinosaurs died out, according to Professor John Underhill.
The chief scientist at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh said the British Isles have tilted, pushing entire plates too high to be fracked.
He added these events mean Scots have been fighting a “polarised but misinformed” debate that is essentially moot.
Prof Underhill, an oil and gas expert, said: “Both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate assume that the geology is a ‘slam dunk’ and it will work if exploration drilling goes ahead.
“Public support for fracking is at an all-time low of 17 per cent, based in the main on environmental concerns, but the science shows that our country’s geology is simply unsuitable for shale oil and gas production.
“The implication that because fracking works in the US, it must also work here is wrong.”
America’s increasingly rich fracking fields lie to the west of the Appalachian Mountains and are deep enough to warm the carbon-bearing rocks, “cooking” them to produce gas that can be released by fracking.
British, including Scottish rocks, have been pushed to close to the surface by the tilting plate to be easily exploited, he explained. Moreover, British structures have been warped by the dramatic events which opened up the Atlantic Ocean.
Prof Underhill said: “For hydraulic fracturing to be successful, a number of geological criteria must be met. The source rock should have a high organic content, a good thickness, be sufficiently porous and have the right mineralogy.
“The organic matter must have been buried to a sufficient depth and heated to the degree that the source rock produces substantial amounts of gas or oil.
“However, in locations where fulfilment of some of the criteria have led to large potential deposits, uplift and the faulted structure of the basins are detrimental to its ultimate recovery.
“Yet, the only question that has been addressed to date is how large the shale resource is in the UK. The inherent complexity of the sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated and, as a result, the opportunity has been overhyped.”
Scotland’s Midland Valley has been tipped as one of the biggest prospects for shale oil. The Lothians saw a boom in the product from surface deposits a century ago.
Prof Underhill is not convinced about Scotland, where the tilt in the Earth’s crust is even more acute than in England. He believes geological rippling and distortions may have already allowed any gas created to escape.
He said: “There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation. It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK’s gas needs only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling into the earth then injecting liquid into the rock at high pressure, forcing apart fractures and allowing gas to escape.
Opponents of the technique claim it will harm the environment, citing problems in America, but supporters say it will replace dwindling North Sea resources and offset Britain’s dependence on Russian, Norwegian and Middle East gas.
Ireland has banned the technique and the SNP Government has imposed a moratorium and is expected to make a final announcement this year.
Companies say they are still exploring so it is too soon to say if Prof Underhill is right. Environmental groups still want a ban, believing the latest research backs them.
A government spokeswoman said: “We published key research reports on the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas and carried out an extensive public consultation which closed on 31 May, and which attracted more than 60,000 responses, generating significant public debate.”
Source : HeraldScotland