British Geological Survey

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The British Geological Survey (BGS) describes itself as 'the nation's principal supplier of objective, impartial and up-to-date geological expertise and information for decision making for governmental, commercial and individual users'.

It is a component body of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and is government-funded.

Shale Gas reserve estimates

FrackWell.png This article is part of the Spinwatch Fracking Portal and project

BGS has estimated that 1,300tn cubic feet of gas exists beneath the north-west of England, Yorkshire and East Midlands. [1]

Reserves 'over-hyped' say Scottish geologists

The BGS estimates have been called into question by a team of scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, led by Professor John Underhill, who warned in August 2017 that the UK's shale gas potential was 'over-hyped' and 'unlikely' to be economically viable. '

Professor Underhill said the UK’s gas-bearing sedimentary basins were tilted and buckled by tectonic movements, making them less suitable for fracking than successful US shale areas.

There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation,” he said. “It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK’s gas needs.”

The shale gas industry has increasingly cited the urgent need to bolster the UK's gas reserve as a key driver behind the push to develop fracking in the UK in the face of protest from affected communities and environmental campaigners alike.

According to the Financial Times, BGS science and technology director Mike Stephenson told a recent conference there was little dispute that “significant” shale resources existed in the north of England. The only way to resolve the geological uncertainty, he said, was 'to start drilling', despite acknowledging that:

areas from which gas could be recovered were “very patchy” and the organic composition of the shale — derived mainly from decayed wood — was likely to be less productive than the planktonic marine material more prevalent in US shale. “British shales are unlikely to be productive all the way through,” said Stephenson. “It’s going to be layers which are useful . . . we need to be able to find and drill these productive layers and that involves quite a lot of science and engineering.”
It doesn’t matter how much you pontificate about what’s underneath your feet, unless you drill a well and find out how much gas comes out . . . so we’re really waiting for the first wells to be drilled to see whether our estimates are right.'[2]

Report on induced seismicity caused by shale gas operations

The BGS published a report about induced seismic activity of shale gas in November 2016 with a focus on Scotland. Its purpose was:

'The aims of this project were to better understand the levels of induced seismic activity that could be associated with unconventional oil and gas activities in Scotland and better understand the robust regulatory and non-regulatory actions that can be taken to mitigate any noticeable effects on communities. The research has found that Scotland is characterised by low levels of earthquake activity and the risk of damaging earthquake is low. On average there are eight earthquakes of magnitude 2 or above in Scotland every year, which is approximately the magnitude above which earthquakes might be felt by people. Hydraulic fracturing to recover hydrocarbons is generally accompanied by earthquakes with magnitudes of less than 2 that are too small to be felt. Evidence from the United States and Western Canada suggests that the probability of induced earthquakes that can be felt is small, although there are a number of examples of earthquakes that were large enough to be felt. Improved understanding of the hazard from induced earthquakes and the successful implementation of regulatory measures to mitigate the risk of induced seismicity are likely to require additional data from a number of sources, including improved monitoring capabilities.' [3]

However, a fracking literature review published by Stirling University academics Andrew Watterson and William Dinan concluded that:

'Although several reports and papers, including some from the UK government and its agencies, state fracking would be safe assuming there is or will be industry best practice and ‘robust’ regulation, the evidence base for such statements is remarkably sparse [...].
There are multiple serious challenges surrounding location, scale, monitoring and data deficits facing regulators overseeing onshore UGE and fracking in the UK
The evidence from peer-reviewed papers suggests fracking in the UK will not be effectively regulated. It is highly likely that regulatory agencies may lack the staffing and resources necessary to monitor and enforce effective regulation of the industry
US and UK peer-reviewed analyses and EU law identify both the precautionary principle and prevention as keys to dealing with fracking. This is underpinned by findings from the peer-reviewed public health literature that already identifies significant hazards and major potential risks from the industry.'[4]

Leading government-funded baseline study in Yorkshire

The British Geological Survey currently leads a research consortium funded by BEIS. According to the government, its purpose is to:

deliver a baseline environmental monitoring programme in and around sites in the Fylde (Lancashire) and Kirby Misperton (North Yorkshire), for which applications for shale gas wells have been made. The researchers are gathering data on features including water and air quality, seismicity and ground motion. Data gathering began in the Fylde in January 2015 and in Kirby Misperton in August 2015.
The monitoring is characterising the environmental baseline before any hydraulic fracturing takes place, in the event that planning permissions and other permits are granted. Future shale gas projects’ data can be checked against these “baseline” data. This allows any significant changes to be flagged for further scrutiny. The investigations are independent of any monitoring carried out by the industry or the regulators, and information collected is freely available to the public. [5]





Research grants include funding from Centrica, Cuadrilla., GDF Suez, Total.


FrackWell.png This article is part of the Spinwatch Fracking Portal and project
  • Press release, 'Shale gas resource figure released', 27 June 2013
  • Report on induced seismic activity of shale gas in November 2016



British Geological Survey
Environmental Science Centre
Nicker Hill
Nottingham NG12 5GG

:London Office:

Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 5BD
Phone:+44 (0)20 7589 4090



  1. *Press release, 'Shale gas resource figure released', 27 June 2013
  2. Andrew Ward, Drilling begins on first UK shale well for six years, FT, 18 August 2017, accessed 22 August 2017
  3. Unconventional oil and gas research published, Wired Gov, 09 November 2016. Accessed 15 December 2016.
  5. Guidance on fracking: developing shale gas in the UK , last Updated 13 January 2017.