Big oil de­posit near Lon­don’s Gatwick Air­port


A Bri­tish en­ergy com­pany says there is oil, and lots of it, near Lon­don’s Gatwick Air­port. The ques­tion is how much of it can be pumped from the ground.

UK Oil & Gas In­vest­ments PLC says anal­y­sis of a new well in the Weald Basin in­di­cates there may be as much as 158 mil­lion bar­rels of oil per square mile in the re­gion. That sug­gests the en­tire basin may hold as much as 100 bil­lion bar­rels of oil, more than 10 times ear­lier es­ti­mates. By com­par­i­son, Bri­tain has pumped about 42 bil­lion bar­rels of oil from the North Sea over the past 40 years.

While oil com­pa­nies have been drilling in the Weald Basin since the 1930s, UK Oil & Gas says new “con­cepts, tech­niques and tech­nol­ogy” have given it a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the re­gion’s po­ten­tial. As re­cently as De­cem­ber, the Bri­tish Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey is­sued a re­port sug­gest­ing the basin’s shale rock for­ma­tions held up to 8.8 bil­lion bar­rels of oil.

Stephen San­der­son, the CEO of UK Oil & Gas, said the lat­est es­ti­mates shows this is a “world class po­ten­tial re­source.”

The UK has iden­ti­fied three po­ten­tial reser­voirs of on­shore oil and gas as it seeks to get in on the shale oil boom that has made the U.S. the world’s top en­ergy pro­ducer. While U.S. de­vel­op­ers have re­lied on hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, to break up the shale and re­lease en­ergy de­posits, UK Oil & Gas says the Weald Basin is “nat­u­rally frac­tured” and so can be tapped us­ing con­ven­tional drilling tech­niques.

But Alas­tair Fraser, a pro­fes­sor of petroleum geo­science at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, warned that the area’s ge­ol­ogy is “rather un­friendly.” While the oil may ex­ist, it will be dif­fi­cult to get out of the ground be­cause the rocks are ex­tremely tight and non-per­me­able, said Fraser, who worked for Bri­tish oil pro­ducer BP for 30 years.

“That’s all very well,” he said of the in­creased es­ti­mate of the basin’s oil re­sources. “But you’ve got to get at that.”

Ex­perts agree that only a frac­tion of the oil in shale rock for­ma­tions can be ex­tracted.

De­vel­op­ers have been able to re­cover from 3 per­cent to 15 per­cent of the oil present in ar­eas that are ge­o­log­i­cally sim­i­lar to the Weald Basin, San­der­son said.

An­other com­pli­ca­tion may be op­po­si­tion to large-scale drilling in a basin that stretches across 4,180 square miles (10,825 square kilo­me­ters) of south­ern Eng­land.

“Some of the most prospec­tive plays are in en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas, in Na­tional Parks, Ar­eas of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty or un­der towns and vil­lages,” the Bri­tish Ge­o­log­i­cal Study said in its re­port. “Shale oil ex­plo­ration and po­ten­tial devel­op­ment should progress cau­tiously to en­sure the ac­tiv­ity is safe and the en­vi­ron­ment is prop­erly pro­tected.”

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