Geoscientists say tectonic events millions of years ago mean the UK is unsuited to large-scale fracking, and raises concerns over CO2 storage potential off-shore of the British Isles. Matthew Stock reports.
Leading UK geoscientists say plans for large scale fracking for shale gas in Britain are fundamentally flawed. That's because shifting tectonic plates millions of years ago caused massive geological upheaval under what's now the British Isles. Rocks that were deep underground were brought up towards the surface; tilting, fracturing and cooling along the way. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR JOHN UNDERHILL, CHIEF SCIENTIST AT HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The shale gas fracking in the UK is challenged. It may work on a small scale... but it won't be successful on the same industrial scale that is needed for the UK's gas supply. It's fundamentally different in terms of the geology in the subsurface from those basins that work in the United States." As buried rock moved upwards it created faults, acting as pathways for the gas to escape. While fracking could work on a small local scale, researchers say shale gas reserves have been vastly overestimated. In effect, the UK is 55 million years too late. It also raises concerns over potential carbon dioxide (CO2) storage plans in the underlying off-shore bedrock of the UK. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR JOHN UNDERHILL, CHIEF SCIENTIST AT HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "If you inject a gas into that sandstone there are few barriers to arrest the gas and it would potentially leak. We've also seen faults affected generated by this uplift, tilt and deformation at the same time. These are also potential leakage pathways. So whilst I'm an advocate for safe storage of CO2 in the subsurface, the geology is crucial and there are good sites and poor sites." The geoscientists say attention should shift to areas where CO2 has already been found during exploration by oil and gas companies. Britain sees carbon capture as vital to help meet a legally binding target to cut emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. The Heriot-Watt research, published in the journal Interpretation, hopes to re-insert geology into the discussion.