The government is approving more and more licenses to frac for shale oil and gas in the UK but for the process to make commercial sense, operators need to deploy the right technologies

The Oil and Gas authority recently announced the addition of 27 more locations in England where licenses to frac for shale oil and gas will be offered. This step is in line with the government’s increased focus on uncovering commercially viable plays that will minimise the UK’s reliance on imported energy sources. Although the recent fall in oil prices has hit shale operations around the world, there is no denying that it has played an integral part in boosting American crude production from 5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2010 to 9.2 million - indeed unconventional sources account for just over 40% of total U.S. oil production. Although there is now a readiness in the UK to replicate the success of frac’ing in the US, questions are still being raised as to how economically viable the process is in the long-term.

One of the issues raised in this BBC report is about a perceived lack of R&D into frac’ing, which could hinder progress and ultimately recovery. Interestingly, this perception of minimal investment into R&D is a common industry oversight. In reality, there is great, untapped potential in terms of the technological expertise on the ground in the UK and operators need to leverage this to maximise recovery and mitigate against financial and environmental repercussions.  

Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) is one of the major technologies, pioneered by UK companies such as Fotech, that has been developed to support the commercial viability of frac’ing. DAS provides engineers with a real-time log of the operation, combining an overview of fundamental processes such as ensuring the perforation gun fires as expected, and more in-depth insights such as where cracks in the cement casing are causing cross stage communication of the frac fluid. Ultimately, the information that DAS provides gives operators increased visibility of the entire process, enabling real-time decision making which can be used to maximise operational efficiencies. 

While the government has been delaying frac’ing in the UK, technology companies have already refined their products on shale plays in North America where the process is widely implemented and in other regions.  However, if frac’ing continues to ramp up in the UK at the speed that the government is hoping it will, operators will need to take advantage of the technical expertise that has been developed right here, to make sure that frac’ing is as effective, safe and profitable as it can be.