John Underhill

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Professor John Underhill is chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University in the UK.

UK shale gas potential 'over-hyped'

He heads a team of scientists who warned in August 2017 that UK shale gas is ‘overhyped’ and 'unlikely' to be economically viable. '

Their research found that the country's most promising shale gas reservoirs have been warped by tectonic shifts millions of years ago which could thwart efforts to tap the gas reserves trapped within layers of shale.

'Both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate assume that the geology is a ‘slam dunk’ and it will work if exploration drilling goes ahead… but the science shows that our country's geology is simply unsuitable for shale oil and gas production. The implication that because fracking works in the US, it must also work here is wrong,'said Underhill.

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.” [1]

Industry response

In response to the Heriot-Watt team's findings, leading fracking firm Cuadrilla's technical director Mark Lappin said Cuadrilla was currently trying 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,” he added.

Head of the UK’s onshore oil and gas association head Ken Cronin argued: 'It is too early to make any firm predictions – but with imported gas predicted to rise to 80pc by 2035 it is important that we get on and complete this work.'[2]


  1. Andrew Ward, Drilling begins on first UK shale well for six years, FT, 18 August 2017, accessed 22 August 2017
  2. Jillian Ambrose, Fracking: UK shale gas is ‘overhyped’ and 'unlikely' to be economically viable, research indicates, The Telegraph, 17 August 2017, accessed 22 August 2017