Fracking may not be viable in the UK due to unstable geological conditions and unsecured decommissioning costs.

Expert analysis from Heriot-Watt suggests that the UK's geology is unlikely to be suitable for fracking, due to the buckling and fracturing of the British Isles’ sedimentary basins, including those thought to contain large shale resources.

Professor John Underhill, the University's Chief Scientist, has challenged the implication that because fracking works in the US it must also work in the UK.

“In locations where the geology has led to large potential deposits, uplift and the faulted structure of the basins are detrimental to its ultimate recovery. The inherent complexity of the sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated and, as a result, the opportunity has been overhyped.”

Underhill said the rocks containing shale deposits in the UK are riddled with fractures similar to “a pane of shattered glass" which would make large scale fracking unviable.

In a separate development, a report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) says the Government has not assessed the full costs of supporting the shale gas industry. The report, Fracking for shale gas in England, argues that BEIS made false assurances that the Environment Agency (EA) would be able to pursue fracking companies and landowners for the costs of decommissioning and restoring fracking sites, under the Environment Liability Directive and Environmental Damage Regulations.

But according to the NAO, the EA told the Public Accounts Committee that it is unable to use these powers to pursue insolvent operators and landowners. The EA may be able to pursue landowners under other statutory powers, but ultimately it is the Government that is liable for the total costs of decommissioning that operators cannot decommission.

The NAO report also points out that while the full costs of supporting fracking in England are unknown to date, the industry is already putting significant financial pressures on local authorities. The NAO’s latest figures show that at least £32.7 million has been spent by public bodies since 2011, including £13.4 million of public money spent by three local police forces on maintaining the security around shale gas sites.

Last reviewed 24 October 2019