Scottish underwater shale reserves divide experts

Production platform for oil and gas
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The N56 business body, founded by Dan MacDonald, a board member of the pro-independence Yes Scotland organisation, believes that underwater fracking could almost double the amount of recoverable oil from the industry’s high end estimate of 24 billion barrels to 45 billion barrels.

According to N56, extra reserves – located in the Kimmeridge Clay formation, an Upper Jurassic organic rich shale and a major oil and gas source rock for the Central and Northern North Sea – could yield an additional wholesale value of £1 trillion to £2 trillion depending on oil prices – the BBC News website reports.

N56 adviser Graeme Blackett, from BiGGAR Economics, said: “Scotland’s public finances would be given a colossal boost through access to these new oil and gas reserves. These finds are reminiscent of the early North Sea discoveries from over 40 years ago, such as the Brent Field, and would propel Scotland towards the top of the global league table in terms of oil and gas production.”

Danish state-owned oil company Nordsofonde has described offshore fracking as “a potential game changer”, N56 said, while Trapoil’s CEO Mark Groves Gidney said: “Offshore unconventional oil and gas could materially change the UK economy, let alone the North Sea oil and gas industry.”

Professor Richard Selley, emeritus professor of petroleum geology at Imperial College, London, was also optimistic, saying: “The in place resources of oil and gas in the Kimmeridge Clay in the North Sea are vast. The technology to extract it is tried and tested. The kit – platforms and pipelines – are becoming available as the conventional fields deplete.”

Not everybody was as buoyant, though. Professor David Macdonald, chair in geology and petroleum geology at the University of Aberdeen, said the report was “very poor”, adding that underwater shale oil reserves would be at least ten times more expensive to explore than onshore deposits – the portal Energy Voice reported today.

Professor Macdonald also noted that the comparison made by N56 between the Kimmeridge Clay and similar unconventional oil and gas fields in the US was ‘completely inappropriate’, explaining:

“They will have been depleted already by conventional oil production. The amount of oil expelled from the Kimmeridge is already two orders of magnitude above the Bakken and the Eagleford. It is bad science and bad economics. If we are at a stage of drilling for unconventional gas in the deepest part of the North Sea we are in real trouble. To make this pay, gas prices will have to have gone through the roof.”

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser was also sceptical of the N56 findings, saying: “It’s remarkable an organisation whose founder sits on Yes Scotland’s board has discovered £300bn worth of oil just weeks before the referendum.

“I’m sure if these reserves existed, the Scottish government would have been falling over itself to announce it before now.”

A referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on Thursday 18 September 2014.

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