Fracking is controversial to say the least, but Conservative-led government has been pushing for the UK's shale gas reserves to be exploited for a while now. So far the UK has yet to exploit shale gas commercially (though a well is currently being constructed), and according to one geologist it might not be as viable as previously thought.
Professor John Underhill from Heriot-Watt University says that the UK's potential shale reserves might have been disrupted by shifts in the earth around 55 million years ago. With that in mind, he's suggested that the government come up with a 'Plan B' for obtaining future gas supplies.
Professor Underhill said his research, which focused on how tectonic plates influenced the UK, suggests that tectonic action caused shale formations to lift, warp, and cool - factors which make the possibility of shale gas production far less likely. More specifically the tectonic movement that affected the UK was caused by the movement of magma underneath Iceland.
Areas of shale were subsequently lifted upwards, away from temperatures where oil and gas were likely to generate. Professor Underhill also noted that basins will have been broken into compartments that created pathways for gas to escape through.
He told the BBC that
"The complexity of the shale gas basins hasn't been fully appreciated so the opportunity has been hyped.
For fracking to work, the shale should be thick enough, sufficiently porous, and have the right mineralogy. The organic matter must have been buried to a sufficient depth and heated to the degree that it produces substantial amounts of gas or oil."
The amount of shale gas present underneath the UK is still unknown at this point, though estimates from the British Geological Survey indicate that the country could potentially be sitting on a large gas reserve. Fracking firm Cuadrilla said its test drills would determine how much gas is present at any given site.
The BGS said it couldn't formally comment on Professor Underhill's work, because it had not done the research itself. However Mark Lappin, Cuadrilla's technical director, told the BBC:
"We have noted the BGS estimates for gas-in-place and consider that volume to be indicative of a very large potential reserve. It's the purpose of our current drilling operations to better understand the reserve, reduce speculation from all sides and decide if and how to develop it. I expect Professor Underhill would be supportive of the effort to understand the resource including geological variation."