UKOOG: Fracking possible with limited environmental impact

By Kasia Patel
Published: Thursday, 26 January 2017

According to a report published by the UK trade body, it would be possible to cut the UK's dependency on gas imports by half while still maintaining the UK's countryside areas, using similar operational models as in the US.

A new study published by trade body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) shows that the development of 400 well pads in the UK could reduce the country’s dependency on gas imports by 50% with a limited impact on countryside areas.
According to the study, titled Developing Shale Gas and Maintaining the Beauty of the British Countryside, the well pads – the size of two football pitches each – were compared to energy supplied by 88,000 electricity pylons, 9,000 municipal waste treatment facilities and 5,300 individual wind turbines already in existence.

The extraction of oil and gas via fracking in the UK has been a highly contentious issue, since M2.3 and M1.5  earthquakes near Blackpool in 2011 as a result of well testing by  Cuadrilla Resources Ltd at Preese Hall, led to a temporary suspension of all shale gas operations in the UK while an independent investigation was carried out.

Since then, the current UK government has exhibited support for the practice by speeding up the process through which companies can obtain fracking licences. In December, Britain’s High Court ruled that a fracking permit awarded by North Yorkshire County Council for Third Energy Holdings Plc’s Ryedale operation was legal, following challenges from environmental campaign groups.

The industry is a large consumer of oilfield minerals such as proppant materials like frac sand, and kaolin and bauxite used in ceramic proppants, as well as barite, bentonite, graphite and calcium carbonate.

However the development of the industry continues to be opposed by environmental campaigners due to concerns over groundwater contamination, the overreliance on fossil fuels, neglecting renewable energy sources and potential earthquakes caused by fracking

Fracking parameters

Alongside its published report, the UKOOG outlined that no single model will cover all licence areas in the UK as geology varies between locations and further exploration is needed.

However, the report examined a number factors such as considerations taken into account by operators when choosing a site, using a typical US example of a 10 well site or pad.

Based on such a model, the report outlined that fracking could take place between seven and 11 pads of two hectares each in a typical 10km by 10km licence block, taking up 0.2% of land in the block.

Each pad would have around 10 well heads leading to 10 horizontal wells extending underground between 1.5km and 2.5km at a depth of around 2,400 metres. It used the parameter of 24 metre- to 54 metre-high temporary drilling rigs – on site for a matter of weeks – which it said are similar in height to an electricity pylon but smaller than a wind turbine. The report added that during gas production the wellhead would be around 2 metres.

"This study shows how shale gas can be developed in the UK while preserving the natural beauty of the British countryside. The oil and gas industry has operated onshore for over a century, drilling over 2,000 wells, yet few people would know we are there," Keith Cronin, the CEO of UKOOG, said in a statement.

Cronin emphasised the need for the development of gas resources in the UK to avoid a future scenario of having to import 80% of its gas needs by 2035.

Chinese bentonite trade

The value of bentonite shipped from China in January to November 2016 reached $52m, surpassing full year 2015 ($42m) and 2014 ($36m) values, according to the latest data from China customs.
December figures were not yet available at time of publication.

The latest 2016 figures saw export values remaining steady in September, October and November with $3.9m, $3.9m and $4m of bentonite exported respectively.

Volumes increased in the same timeframe, from 18,368 tonnes in September up to 23,656 tonnes in November.

August saw some of the lowest export volumes for the year at 15,700 tonnes, but with some of the highest export values seen at $5.7m. That month, $/tonne export prices reached $360, compared to 2016 lows of $169/tonne in November.

Most Chinese bentonite is calcium dominant; a wide range of colour and purity means that a wide range of markets can be supplied, from IOP, foundry, civil engineering and drilling through to desiccants, oil purification, paper and detergents.

Chinese barite trade

The data from China customs also shows that value and volumes increased by 36% and 51% year on year (y-o-y) respectively.

Volumes exported for 2016, excluding December, amounted to over 1.5m tonnes with a value of $176m.

 This compares with 2m tonnes at a value of $273m in 2015 and 2.7m tonnes at a value of $348m in 2014. China is the largest producer of barite in the world and the second biggest consumer after the US. 

Chinese barite is exported largely to the US, where January figures from Baker Hughes indicate drilling activity is improving. The tentative signs of recovery have led to some projections of increased barite consumption in 2017, as reported by IM consultant Ian Wilson in November.