Why Fracking Won’t Save Us

There’s a lot of talk about how if we could only frack – like they do in the states – then our energy problems will be gone forever. This is inherently wrong and worth understanding in case you are thinking that this is a solution.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is where wells are drilled deep into the earth to reach a layer of rock called shale. This is an ancient rock which contains oil and gas. Unfortunately the rock suffers from very poor permeability and without articifial stimulation a well won’t produce much oil or gas.

So the well is pumped with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals which serve to crack open the shale rock, improving the permeability, or the movement of oil and gas to the well bore.

Unlike conventional oil and gas wells, fracking wells are much longer with significant paths through the shale over miles in length. Also the wells are not as productive, producing less energy (Sm3 of gas or bbls of oil).

A new offshore well can produce over a thousand barrels of oil for years on end. A shale oil well might produce a hundred for a few months before needing to be refracked.

But look at the US?

Fans of fracking point to a panglossian picture of shaletopia in the states. However, there is a key difference in the shale rocks in the US basins like the Permian and like those in Lancashire and it is rather simple.

Yes there’s oil in both rocks but the rocks are about 10 times harder in the UK. This means that drilling is slower (fewer feet/day) and more expensive (how much does a drillbit cost?)


Given these wells require extensive drilling in the first place and high pressure pumping of fluids into the well before you get production – the metric of Energy Returned On Energy Invested EROEI is shockingly bad. That means that ignoring all other factors – you are not getting a good return of natural gas or shale oil on your cost of diesel for drilling the well and pumps plus the imbedded energy cost of the miles of drill pipe and equipment used.


With high drilling costs, lengthy drilling times, low energy returns, the return on capital employed is also poor. The wells need to not only be drilled but substantial surface infrastructure to be built.

For the UK to genuinely have a shale gas revolution will require thousand of miles of pipework to be built as well as new processing facilities and connection to the national grid.A

The Giveaway

All this will take time to do it right or cost more to do quickly. And the economics don’t look good.

The big giveaway that fracking in the UK has no hope from just an energy economics point of view is that there was an industry that did it until the 1950s in Scotland but it became uneconomical.

Now there’s nobody lined up to invest the millions it would need for a test site let alone the billions it would need to supply even a fraction of our oil and gas needs.

If fracking was a viable solution there would be no way it would not have happened already.

Why All The Talk?

The talk from conservatives that we should drill the north and frack away to energy independence is common. I am not sure it’s based on ignorance of the energy economics or it’s part of a North/South divide and rule policy or if the proponents know it’ll never work but present it anyway so that we are distracted.

It is funny that onshore wind which is probably the easiest way that we have of bringing new energy onstream by next winter is being ummed and ahhed by the Tories. Yes it’s a good solution but our voters don’t like change.

You can see why destroying Blackpool under a foot deep lake of carcinogenic shale sludge is seen as an attractive alternative?

The government also seems to be pretty ignorant of science, engineering and industry. They’ve just spent 2 years on a crash course of immunology so I doubt that Grant Schapps (who’s sole purpose in life is to show people that it’s not only toff idiots like Boris Johnson who get promoted way above their levels of ability and are out of their depth, underperforming uncomfortably with no respite for them or us – the Tories have an oik idiot too – they even have the same haircut!) actually knows what he is talking about when he says no to onshore wind.

Don’t Be Distracted

The best way out of the energy mess we find ourselves in is clear and fracking isn’t part of it. It doesn’t work in either high or low energy prices and I’ve not talked about things like local/green opposition, the decade it’s actually going to take to produce any oil and gas.

If you are suffering now from the high cost of your high energy usage, the best thing to do is to reduce your consumption – there’s loads of ways to do this.

Educate yourself as well – work out how much energy things consume and what that costs. How much to boil a feed of spuds? I heard of people heating beans on a candle – is this a cost effective solution for a rational human being?

You won’t be helped by thinking that there is a 1000 years of easy gas under our feet that we aren’t using because of the bad guys Farage told you about.

I hope that this helps.

Thanks, GFF

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