Scotland shale gas

Why should someone who wants to explore for shale gas in London care what’s going on in Scotland? Simply put, a ban on shale gas in Scotland would naturally make the case for shale in England and London harder.  That’s not only because at the last census 90,000 Scottish people live in London (more than from Jamaica, Somalia or Sri Lanka). It disrupts the narrative of shale, so lets  at least get the story straight.

There’s a consultation going on in Scotland on shale gas which will probably decide that exploration in Scotland may be OK, but hold off until after Cuadrilla and Third Energy’s results before taking any exploration plunge.

Here’s my take on the Scottish potential for shale gas.  There’s only one way to find out, but the European shale conversation has been stymied  by several academics in Scotland, usually connected to the offshore industry, casting doubt on onshore prospects. Being offshore guys, they think conventionally and  confusingly.  On one hand they are rightly proud of the  great, if past, contribution of the North Sea to the global oil industry.  On the other hand, they are now belatedly jumping on the bandwagon that shale doubters like Russia and OPEC once set in motion: the idea that shale wouldn’t ever amount to much so let’s not even look. The abandon shale gas on cost grounds – while we supply you – is a tactic Russia and OPEC long ago abandoned.

Today, both now either embrace or accept that shale is here to stay.  For example, last weeks Baker Hughes Rig Count shows 80% of the US rig count is now horizontal , i.e fracking in shales -or if you wish “unconventional”.  What was once called unconventional is now the new normal, simply a case  where yesterday’s innovations become todays mainstream.  Instead of accepting this reality, and the upsetting US parallel of 21 offshore rigs  today against 100 in 2005, the small group of Scottish academics find an audience among  the more retrograde elements of the Oil and Gas Authority and the Scottish National Party that shale, at least in Scotland will never amount to much and here’s our expert advice, all for your own good of course,  that we should support offshore instead.

Roy Thompson an Emeritus Professor in Geosciences at Edinburgh University was quoted in the Scottish Edition of the Times on Saturday under a headline:

Scotland’s geology will not allow for successful fracking, says academic

Roy Thornpson, of the University of Edinburgh, said that analysis of US government figures on the American shale gas industry showed that Scotland had the·wrong geology.  Professor Thompson,a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said that geochemical, rock- physics and production data for 25 American shale gas systems allowed a comprehensive analysis of potential in Scotland.

Both the BGS and INEOS are quoted in the article but both were too polite to point out that Prof Thompson had made a simple mistake with the numbers he was using. Life is too short to be polite.

Prof Thompsons’s blog has the chart from which he has drawn the wrong conclusion about the shale in Scotland. (

Gas-production in 25 major US shale-basins [Thompson (In prep.), Edinburgh Geologist, Autumn 2017].

Recently comprehensive geochemical, rock-physics and production data for 25 American shale-gas systems has been made available, thereby allowing a simple (regression-based) geostatistical analysis of gas-production to be made. Scottish shales are found to be so shallow, thermally immature and heavily faulted that, when all three indicators are taken into account, the Scottish basins do not compare favourably with even the lowest-yielding US systems.

Prof Thompson has taken TOC (Total Organic Content)  for Scottish shale to be 2%.   He should have had his work checked by his colleagues at Edinburgh University or at the BGS in Edinburgh. They would have pointed out that  the BGS 2014 report on Scottish shale gas says that:

The West Lothian Oil-Shale unit has a large proportion of the samples between 1-7% TOC and a significant number between 7% and 30%

and that there is a

significant net thicknesses of shale with TOC contents well over the >2% TOC

So Prof Thompson made a simple error.  He used the wrong TOC and also did not adjust his plot for the fact that both the Scottish and English shales are much thicker than most US shales.  Making these corrections, Professor Thompson’s plot suggests that Scottish and English shales should have high EURs (Estimated Ultimate Recovery) compared to US shales – the opposite of what Prof Thompson says.

Thus Prof Thompson tells The Times, and London shale opponents will retweet the simple headline:

“I personally wouldn’t invest any money at all”.  

Shale opponents on the other hand will certainly ignore the rest of the comment from Prof. Thompson:

I personally wouldn’t invest any money in it at all and I think there is a big contrast with the north of England. Exploration in the north of England is a much better bet.”

One can imagine Friends of the Earth burying that detail deeper than the Mariana Trough. Without exploration the professor is either half right or all wrong.  But which half? There’s only one way to settle this argument and that is to explore. In the meantime, the nitpicker’s and snipers always get prominence that they don’t deserve, all in the eternal quest of today’s media for anything “controversial”.

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