The British Geological Survey today estimates that the amount of shale gas trapped in the North (the so-called Bowland shale basin) is 1,330 trillion cubic feet. This would be the biggest figure in the world. As the graphic below suggests – America has 682tr, Argentina 774tr and China 1,275tr. These are the ‘technically recoverable’ amounts of shale, and the BGS estimate is for total UK capacity. “The proportion of gas that it may be possible to extract is unknown as it depends on the economic, geological and social factors that will prevail at each operation,” it says.
This leaves open an intriguing possibility: that Britain could become the Saudi Arabia of shale. To put this figure into perspective, if only one tenth of our shale were recoverable it would still be enough for 50 years of UK consumption, according to the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The cover story of this week’s Spectator (non-subscribers can join us here) shows how America has made a huge economic recovery, partly by responding quickly to shale. Its gas prices are now a third of Europe’s, and even Austrian companies are locating in Texas. Former rustbelt states are springing back to life. Jobs are being created where they are most needed. If David Cameron wants a strategy to revive the North, he need look no further. Blackpool could be the new Dallas.
So what will happen in Britain? It’s still too early to say. George Osborne has offered tax incentives to shale, but they’re not needed. The block is the obstacles which quangos like the Environment Agency will throw in front of the would-be shale producers. Shale upsets a lot of people’s plans for a future of heavily-subsidised renewable energy – which, as Sebastian discovered recently, can be a license to print money.
In this week’s Spectator podcast (click on the right to listen) I say the three opponents of shale are Big Green, Big Oil and Big Government. With Owen Paterson in the Environment Department, shale does have a friend in government. Yesterday’s figures showed that Britain can expect years of austerity ahead – unless there is a game changer. This just might be it.
And here is George Osborne speaking about Britain’s shale potential: