What’s wrong with coal? The dash for gas will destroy our countryside and water reserves.

The energy plan which the government is pushing, calls for the building of up to 40 new gas-fired power stations with a combined capacity of 37 gigawatts (GW). By the time most of them are built North Sea gas production will have fallen to a small fraction of present gas consumption, let alone the new demand that these power stations would create. Present gas-fired generating capacity is presently in the region of 30 GW, little of which is due to be decommissioned in the near future, unlike coal and nuclear stations many of which will close in the coming years.


Even without this plan, a situation is developing where it will be very difficult to keep present demand supplied as North Sea production gas declines. The idea of massively increasing demand for gas when supplies are contracting seems reckless at best. One big unknown is what level of gas imports will be possible in the future, but it seems unlikely that they can increase drastically. So the question becomes, what would be the scale of unconventional gas development needed to meet this new demand, assuming that it is feasible?
Gas Pipeline Construction: Unconventional Gas Requires Extensive Networks Of New Pipelines
The 37 GW of new gas-fired electricity generating capacity that is being proposed would consume around 40 bcm of gas a year, which would require the drilling of around 2,000 unconventional gas wells a year (only a couple of thousand oil and gas wells have been drilled onshore in the UK over the last hundred years, most of which found nothing and were quickly plugged). 

Assuming that these power stations had a 30 year lifespan this would need 1200 bcm of gas and 54,000 wells in total, covering around 7,000 square miles (an area the size of Wales) with 4-8 wells per square mile, plus thousands of miles of pipelines and other infrastructure. Lancashire, Cheshire, South Wales, Somerset, Sussex and central Scotland would likely particularly affected but no area of the country would be entirely unaffected. Replacing the majority of the declining North Gas production with unconventional gas would require an at least an additional 36,000 wells out to 2040, which would eat up an additional 4,700 square miles of the country. This adds up to a similar number of unconventional gas wells to that drilled in the US, a country 40 times the size of the UK.
Fracking Operation In Progress At A Site In Amwell Township, Pennsylvania
There are numerous inconvenient facts that are likely to stand in the way of the chancellor’s mad schemes. For instance, the drilling campaign that would be needed to supply just these new power stations would require in excess of 200 modern directional rigs, when only a couple exist in the UK.

 While more could certainly be procured from abroad there will undoubtedly be considerable competition given the general increase in intensity of oil and gas extraction, and it highly unlikely that a rig fleet of that size could be assembled in the near future. We will address the feasibility of such large scale unconventional gas extraction in an upcoming article (see Fracking Scam: Boom and Bust). If possible, the impact of such a scale of extraction would be massive. 

Given that the population density of the UK is 12 times higher than that of the example of Bradford County, Pennsylvania above, the numbers of people affected would also be much higher. Between 5 and 8 million people could end up living in a landscape covered with wells and pipelines and given that production from unconventional gas wells falls off very quickly (70 percent declines in the first year are pretty typical) all this destruction would only provide gas for a very limited period.
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One Response to “What’s wrong with coal? The dash for gas will destroy our countryside and water reserves.”

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