Fracking in the UK will be impossible on any significant scale and won’t help with the energy price crisis, the founder of the UK’s first fracking company has warned.
Chris Cornelius, the geologist who founded Cuadrilla Resources, which drilled the UK’s first modern hydraulic fracturing wells in Lancashire, told the Guardian he believes the government’s support is simply a “political gesture”.
“I don’t think there is any possibility of fracking in the UK in the short term.”
He said that when Cuadrilla had operated here, he had found that the UK’s geology was unsuitable for widespread fracking operations. “No sensible investor” would risk taking on big projects here, he said. “It’s a very challenging geology, compared to North America [where fracking is a major industry]. “
Unlike gas-containing shale fields in the United States, the shale resource in the United Kingdom is “heavily defective and compartmentalized,” making exploitation at any scale much more difficult.
Liz Truss, the prime minister, made it clear that she supports fracking and will lift the moratorium in place since 2019, although it remains to be seen where and how the sites will be licensed. She said she hopes to see gas from fractured sites as soon as six months from now.
But Cornelius said it “would not have happened”. Truss’s decision to give the green light to fracking “will not impact” the UK’s energy supply, he told the Guardian in an interview. “It makes good sounds but I can’t see anything happening,” he said.
In the long run, he said there may be some localized operations, but they would be small and could not make a significant contribution to the UK’s energy needs. “They will never be large-scale, because capital costs are a big problem,” she said.
Writing in today’s Guardian, Cornelius and his former colleague, Mark Linder, who was in charge of public affairs for Cuadrilla in its early days, said the UK was over-regulated, having “excluded the energy sector due to regulations preventing standard operations in agriculture and other industries. ”But Cornelius said this was unlikely to change and that the frackers would not be granted the” social license “to operate.
Cuadrilla, founded in 2007, was the first company in the UK to use modern hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology on shale dense rocks, for the first time at a site in Lancashire in 2011 and continued through 2018. The rocks shale, containing tiny pockets of methane, are blasted with a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to create cracks through which the gas can escape, to be devoured on the surface.
However, Cuadrilla suffered problems, including failure to report damage to an exploration well, and as public awareness of fracking rose, protests began at sites and potential sites. In 2018, a magnitude 1.5 earthquake at its site near Blackpool caused fracking to stop. In February of this year, the company said its wells – the only two wells to be horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured in the UK – would be “plugged and abandoned,” according to the regulator’s instructions.
Cornelius stepped down from Cuadrilla in 2014 after Lord Browne, former head of oil company BP, took over the presidency. Browne left in 2015. The company declined the opportunity to comment on Cornelius’ views.
Cuadrilla has spent “hundreds of millions of pounds”, according to its chief executive, Francis Egan, in his efforts to start a fracking operation. However, the company has never produced gas for sale.
Egan welcomed this month’s announcement that the moratorium would be lifted, but the company has yet to say whether it will open the wells.
Cornelius, an academic geologist, remains a staunch advocate of fracking – “it has been used safely all over the world, in the United States, without problems” – and shale gas, but he said that the UK’s geology and The densely populated nature of the British countryside made it impossible to set up a commercially viable fracking business here.
For Truss, promoting fracking was “primarily a political decision: they have to be seen as if they are doing something,” Cornelius said. “It doesn’t make economic sense. I don’t think reasonable people are investing money in this ”.
He added: “This is a sad situation. It is a disappointment. There was an opportunity 10 years ago to look at this [fracking] reasonably, but that opportunity is now gone. It was worth watching then, but now it’s not practical. “
Writing in today’s Guardian, Cornelius and Linder are calling for investments in key technologies they believe are more likely to produce energy than fracking, including geothermal and tidal energy.
Cornelius, who also attempted to start fracking under the Irish Sea in 2014 with a project known as Nebula that never went live, is involved in a geothermal consortium called Triassic Power, which is evaluating the potential for hot water use. found underground in some geological formations in the UK as an energy source. He has no commercial interest in the power of the tides.