It’s official, and it comes from a DECC sponsored report. To get 12 % of our gas supply from fracked gas we’re going to need between 1400-2400 wells over a twenty year period, concentrated on about 30 and 120 well pads (depending on the number of wells per pad). This sounds like quite a few, although perhaps less than some had feared. But even with this number of wells, the report emphasises that water supply might be a problem in some parts of the country. And the waste water generated by the process may also cause quite a headache; as the AMEC strategic assessment report for DECC puts it, the treatment of waste water is likely to place ‘a substantial burden on existing wastewater treatment infrastructure capacity’.
So not a nice picture for some parts of the country, but maybe manageable.
And of course unlikely to be true.
This is because the AMEC strategic assessment is based on what used to be known as ‘inverted pyramid’ research. That is, you take one central (and maybe dubious) proposition, and then research diligently above it, spreading out an ever wider and more convincing array of findings, so that it looks impressive. So long as you don’t knock the original ‘given’ out of place because, if you do, the whole lot crashes down.
The ‘given’ in this instance is, as the report states: ‘an assumed production of 3 billion cubic feet of gas per well (over the lifetime of the well, which is assumed to be 20 years)’.
Eh? We know that shale structures in the UK are very likely to be more complex and hence potentially less productive than the simpler structures in much of the US. But even in highly benign and productive structures such as the Barnett shale in Texas, studies have shown that the lifetime of a well is likely to be about ten years (because of rapid production depletion), with an average lifetime production of about 1.44 billion cubic feet.
The ‘given’ in the AMEC report in effect assumes that on average, each well produces 3 billion cubic feet of gas (with one refracking) which makes the proposed 2400 wells across the country uniformly about the most productive wells anywhere in the world. Not bad going when we still don’t have information about most of the shale plays in the UK.
The ‘given’ here is very much the pivot around which the rest of the well–researched document turns. It informs the estimations of the water needed, the waste water generated, the truck movements, and the extent to which environmental considerations are taken into account.
I’ve looked through the report to see whether there is any justification for the assumption. There isn’t as far as I can see. It just appears and then isn’t mentioned further. Which causes me to think…AMEC are a very good and reputable research consultancy and I doubt that they would have made this figure up. So where did it come from? Was it an instructed assumption in the research brief given to the company by DECC perhaps? If so, then it looks a bit like providing the answer and then asking the research to find out what the questions are, because a researched range of possible lifetime production rates would almost certainly show a far higher number of wells needing to be drilled nationally, with an inevitable far larger effect on water, waste and vehicle movements. Such a conclusion might scare the horses somewhat more than the present report does.
It would be nice to know where the assumption comes from so that we can set ours minds to rest that no one anywhere has sought to manipulate an otherwise objective report in an unseemly direction.