The offshore oil and gas industry in the UK is entering into its final decade of production, research conducted at the University of Edinburgh claims, making the move into renewable energy essential.
A study of output from offshore oil fields estimates that only around 10% of the UK’s original recoverable oil and gas remains – about 11% of oil and 9% of gas resources.
The analysis also found that fracking will be “barely economically feasible” in the UK, especially in Scotland, because of a lack of sites with suitable geology.
If the study’s predictions are correct, the UK will soon have to import all the oil and gas it needs, the researchers warned. Instead, they recommend a move towards greater use of renewable energy sources, particularly offshore wind and advanced solar energy technologies.
“The UK urgently needs a bold energy transition plan, instead of trusting to dwindling fossil fuel reserves and possible fracking. We must act now and drive the necessary shift to a clean economy with integration between energy systems. There needs to be greater emphasis on renewables, energy storage and improved insulation and energy efficiencies,” said Professor Roy Thompson of the School of GeoSciences at the university.
“It is strongly urged that the UK government’s ongoing energy cost report – the high-profile Helm Review – should take stock of the projected shortfall in resource availability and how this might be addressed.”
The scientists at the University of Edinburgh examined the UK’s likely potential for fracking and carried out a fresh analysis of the country’s oil and gas production.
Their findings take into account the long-term downward trends of oil and gas field size and lifespan, alongside the break-even costs for fracking. They found that the UK has only minimal potential for fracking. Many possible sites are in densely populated areas, have low quality source rocks and complex geological histories. Fracking is likely to be too restricted to become an effective industry, which would require thousands of wells, scientists say.
Analysis of hydrocarbon reserves shows that discoveries have consistently lagged behind output since the point of peak oil recovery in the late 1990s.
Responding to Edinburgh University’s oil and gas study, Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said: “There are up to 20 billion barrels of oil and gas resources still to be recovered on the UK continental shelf (UKCS), based on production forecasts provided by the Oil and Gas Authority.
"Production has increased over the last two years and we expect that to continue to rise. Significant new capacity has been added to the UKCS. Nine new fields began production in 2016 and a further seven started producing in the first half of this year – most of which will still be producing in 2030. A further 12 are due on-stream by the end of next year. Some notably large developments will still be producing towards 2050. Advances in technologies are also presenting fresh opportunities and helping make discoveries commercially viable. To ensure the remaining potential of the UKCS is realised, we need to keep operating costs low, bring in new investment and maintain a relentless focus on exploration and enhanced recovery.
“The UK government forecasts that two thirds of the UK’s energy will come from oil and gas in 2035. We must maximise recovery of our domestic resources so that we can continue to help to meet the UK’s energy needs and safeguard the 300,000 UK jobs our industry supports.”