An integrated assessment of UK Shale resource distribution based on fundamental analyses of shale mechanical & fluid properties.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Earth Sciences


Shale gas has the potential to transform the UK's future energy security. With imports currently accounting for 50% of its domestic gas requirements, projected to rise to roughly 80% by 2035, the big question is 'Are there enough shale gas resources to effectively replace the declining North Sea and Irish Sea gas production, and for how long?' The largest unknown is the potential gas reserves (i.e. recoverable resources) that would be commercially viable to be produced in the UK. There have been a number of differing in-place estimates for the Upper Bowland Shale in the northern England Carboniferous, ranging from 164-447 tcf suggested by Andrews (2013), to 8-19 tcf quoted by Uguna et al. (2017). In the absence of flow test data, reliable recoverable reserves estimates could not have been published. There has been a single well test carried out by Cuadrilla in Lancashire, the results of which have not yet been made public. The industry, the scientific community, the government, and environmental scientists, have been starved of modern borehole electric log, core and well test data with which to assess both resource potential and the associated environmental impact. This is about to change, with drilling planned to take place during the course of the proposed study in Cheshire, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, and North Nottinghamshire.
This research project will focus on the Carboniferous (Bowland Shale) basins of the East Midlands, Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire. The vision is of a multidisciplinary approach to solving problems in the main research focus areas set out in Challenge 2 of the NERC call. We will bring together key researchers from several institutions around the UK, working on UK shale science from the micro-pore (<10 nm) to the basin scale. Key aspects of shale mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, stratigraphy, rock mechanics, gas generation and adsorption and fluid flow in low porosity rocks will be combined into a holistic basin-scale model to generate a better scientifically-grounded set of estimates. Key sensitivities related to input parameters will be tested, and more importantly, compared/contrasted with available production data from the planned wells .
The outcome of this 4-year project will be a more scientifically defendable assessment of the location and magnitude of UK shale resources, guided by an improved understanding of the shale properties and fluid flow through the shale, before, during and following hydraulic fracturing to ascertain whether shale gas has the potential to have a marked impact on energy security in the UK for several decades into the future. This project will critically inform the key stakeholders (Government, Industry, Academia, and the general public) of UK shale potential, and will provide input to discussions on future UK energy strategy. Collaboration with those projects funded within the other Challenges in this programme will allow us to assess whether or not this resource can be accessed in a commercially viable and environmentally responsible way.

Andrews, I.J. 2013. The Carboniferous Bowland Shale: Geology and resource estimate. British Geological Survey for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, London, UK.
Uguna, C., Snape, C., Vane, C., V. Moss-Hayes, V., Whitelaw, P., Stevens, L., Meredith, W. and Carr, A. 2017. Convergence of shale gas reserve estimates from a high pressure water pyrolysis procedure and gas adsorption measurements. 28th International Meeting on Organic Geochemistry, 17-22 September 2017, Florence, Italy.

Planned Impact

The research carried out in the proposed project will address to fundamental questions related to UK Shale gas. Namely: How much gas and where is it located? Stakeholder interest in accessing new, scientifically calibrated estimates of resources and reserves will be of immense scientific, industry and public interest. Government will also use these outcomes to inform energy policy in the UK for potentially the next 20 years. Regular communication with the other Challenges in this call and industrial partners will take place at a minimum of 6 month intervals. There will also be formal reporting requirements to the funding bodies.


Depending on which current shale gas resource estimates we take (BGS: Andrews 2014) or Urgano (2017) and the recovery factor applied (nominally 10%) the UK would appear to have between 10 and 50 years of potential gas supply from the northern England Carboniferous basins. Assuming UK gas consumption continues at the current rate of approximately 2.7tcf/year. The value of narrowing the range on this estimate cannot be understated. Working with industry partners we can critically test current and evolving academic models of pore and fracture systems in shales against new data acquired by industry. The models will be re-calibrated with real well bore and test data to provide revised models of pore and fracture behaviour. The key to industry and the country is more efficient exploration and exploitation activities. Fewer wells, fewer pads equals less disruption, less emissions and consequently minimised environmental impact.

Having a scientifically supported range of resource estimates for UK shale gas and its location is of immense value to government in terms of framing UK energy policy going forward. CO2 emission commitments require a cleaner energy policy based on gas rather than coal and oil and a resource that is indigenous from either the North and Irish seas and potentially onshore UK. This mitigates emissions related to transportation and the valid criticism that imported gas is just shifting the problem onto someone else.

General Public
One of the key roles we have to play as an informed group is in explaining to the general public from a scientific expert point of view the key pluses and minuses associated with shale gas and the impact of fracking and a potentially large resource might have on industrialisation and environment in the areas we identify that may contain the gas resources.
Description We have developed and implemented methods to forecast induced seismicity during hydraulic fracturing, enabling effective and safe operation of this activity.
Exploitation Route Our methods may also be used to monitor and manage induced seismicity from other industries such as geothermal and CCS.
Sectors Energy,Environment

Description Our methods have been used by the OGA and Environment Agency to regulate hydraulic fracturing. They have also been used by hydraulic fracturing operating companies and contractors to improve their operations.
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Advising OGA
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Advised the OGA on the use of statistical models to forecast earthquake magnitudes during hydraulic fracturing. The OGA used our expertise to make real-time decisions pertaining to the seismicity induced by fracking by Cuadrilla at the Preston New Road site, Lancashire, in late 2018
Description Advising OGA on seismicity occurring in southeast England, and potential relationship to nearby oil and gas activities
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Member of advisory panel formed by the Oil and Gas Authority to address seismicity near to oil and gas activities in southeast England. Public concern regarding these earthquakes was high, with many local people attributing them to nearby oil/gas fields. The panel found that the events were natural, and not induced by human activities. Therefore the Oil and Gas Authority was able to take the appropriate regulatory actions (i.e. allowing drilling to continue), while providing re-assurance to the public.
Description Geomechanical interpretation of microseismic data during PNR-1z hydraulic fracturing at Preston New Road, Lancashire
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact We were commissioned by the Oil and Gas Authority to provide a geomechanical interpretation of the induced seismicity during hydraulic stimulation of the Preston New Road PNR-1z well. Our analysis discovered the mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing was causing the induced earthquakes. This report was used by DBEIS as the scientific basis for imposing a de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the UK (a major decision with respect to UK energy policy).
Description Real time advisory role to the OGA during hydraulic fracturing of the Preston New Road PNR-2 well in August 2019
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Working for the Oil and Gas Authority providing real-time interpretation of geophysical data recorded during hydraulic fracturing of the Preston New Road PNR-2 well in Lancashire in August 2019. Our particular focus was on making forecasts regarding induced seismicity. Our interpretation was fundamental to the OGA decision making regarding hydraulic fracturing operations, including the decision by the OGA to prohibit further operations at the site after the magnitude M2.9 earthquake on 26th August 2019
Description Real-time advisory role to the oGA during hydraulic fracturing of the Preston New Road PNR-1z well, Oct-Dec 2018
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Working for the Oil and Gas Authority providing real-time interpretation of geophysical data recorded during hydraulic fracturing of the Preston New Road PNR-1z well in Lancashire in Oct-Dec 2018. Our particular focus was on making forecasts regarding induced seismicity. Our interpretation was fundamental to the OGA decision making regarding hydraulic fracturing operations, ensuring that the operator activities did not pose an unacceptable risk to the nearby public.
Title Induced earthquake forecasting tool 
Description *Note to ResearchFish - you need to include non-bioscience research tool options for the above question!* Development of a tool for making real-time forecasts regarding the likelihood of induced seismicity during hydraulic fracturing, and the expected magnitudes (Mmax) of induced events. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The "Mmax" forecasting tool has been used by operating companies conducting hydraulic fracturing both in the UK, and in North America. It was also used by the Oil and Gas Authority during hydraulic fracturing at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire in both 2018 and 2019. 
Description Outer Limits Geophysics LLP is a consulting service specialising in microseismic monitoring and induced seismicity. Drawing on our extensive experience in this regard, Outer Limits Geophysics was founded in 2014 to provide independent consulting to the nascent European shale gas, CO2 sequestration and geothermal industries. 
Year Established 2014 
Impact Outer Limits has provided induced seismicity monitoring, data analysts, project management to hydraulic fracturing companies in Europe, Asia, North and South America.
Description BBC Radio 4 "Inside Science" interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact 20-minute interview for BBC Radio 4's Inside Science program about hydraulic fracturing and induced seismicity in Lancashire:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019