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doi:10.5194/se-2015-134
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
27 Jan 2016
Review status
A revision of this discussion paper for further review has not been submitted.
Hydraulic fracturing in thick shale basins: problems in identifying faults in the Bowland and Weald Basins, UK
David K. Smythe 1College of Science and Engineering, University of Glasgow, Scotland
*now at: La Fontenille, 1, rue du Couchant, 11120 Ventenac en Minervois, France
Abstract. North American shale basins differ from their European counterparts in that the latter are one to two orders of magnitude smaller in area, but correspondingly thicker, and are cut or bounded by normal faults penetrating from the shale to the surface. There is thus an inherent risk of groundwater resource contamination via these faults during or after unconventional resource appraisal and development. US shale exploration experience cannot simply be transferred to the UK. The Bowland Basin, with 1900 m of Lower Carboniferous shale, is in the vanguard of UK shale gas development. A vertical appraisal well to test the shale by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the first such in the UK, triggered earthquakes. Re-interpretation of the 3D seismic reflection data, and independently the well casing deformation data, both show that the well was drilled through the earthquake fault, and did not avoid it, as concluded by the exploration operator. Faulting in this thick shale is evidently difficult to recognise. The Weald Basin is a shallower Upper Jurassic unconventional oil play with stratigraphic similarities to the Bakken play of the Williston Basin, USA. Two Weald licensees have drilled, or have applied to drill, horizontal appraisal wells based on inadequate 2D seismic reflection data coverage. I show, using the data from the one horizontal well drilled to date, that one operator failed identify two small but significant through-going normal faults. The other operator portrayed a seismic line as an example of fault-free structure, but faulting had been smeared out by reprocessing. The case histories presented show that: (1) UK shale exploration to date is characterised by a low degree of technical competence, and (2) regulation, which is divided between four separate authorities, is not up to the task. If UK shale is to be exploited safely: (1) more sophisticated seismic imaging methods need to be developed and applied to both basins, to identify faults in shale with throws as small as 4–5 m, and (2) the current lax and inadequate regulatory regime must be overhauled, unified, and tightened up.

Citation: Smythe, D. K.: Hydraulic fracturing in thick shale basins: problems in identifying faults in the Bowland and Weald Basins, UK, Solid Earth Discuss., doi:10.5194/se-2015-134, in review, 2016.
David K. Smythe
Interactive discussionStatus: closed (peer review stopped)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Printer-friendly Version - Printer-friendly version      Supplement - Supplement
 
SC2: 'Comment on “Hydraulic fracturing in thick shale basins: problems in identifying faults in the Bowland and Weald basins, UK” by D.K. Smythe', Rob Westaway, 05 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC9: 'Interim reply to Dr Westaway', David Smythe, 31 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
SC18: 'More rhetoric rather than substance', Rob Westaway, 01 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC11: 'Regrettable re-insertion of citation of a tabloid press article', David Smythe, 01 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
EC1: 'EC on SC2', Federico Rossetti, 09 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
SC4: 'Advocacy-Based Science', Terry Engelder, 16 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC2: 'Conjecture and refutation; author's response to Dr Engelder', David Smythe, 22 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
SC13: 'In a tangle over philosophy of science', Rob Westaway, 28 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
SC14: 'In a tangle over philosophy of science - ii', Rob Westaway, 29 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC3: 'Water well contamination case history: Bradford County, Pennsylvania', David Smythe, 22 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
SC6: 'TYPOS CORRECTED SC5: 'Erroneous assumptions lead to fundamentally flawed hydrogeological conclusions'', Paul L. Younger, 18 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC8: 'Reply to Professor Paul Younger', David Smythe, 31 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
SC20: 'Rejoinder to Smythe's response on hydrogeological issues', Paul L. Younger, 14 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC12: 'Response to Professor Younger (SC20) and Professor Aplin (RC1) on Fylde groundwater salinity', David Smythe, 07 Jun 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
AC14: 'Response to Professor Paul Younger (SC20) on faulted limestone systems', David Smythe, 07 Jun 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
EC2: 'removal of SC3 and SC5', Federico Rossetti, 19 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
SC7: 'This paper shows a poor understanding of the hydraulic fracturing process', James Verdon, 19 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
SC8: 'Correcting formatting issues in Verdon comment SC7', James Verdon, 19 Feb 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC7: 'Reply to Dr James Verdon', David Smythe, 31 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
SC9: 'Reply to “Hydraulic fracturing in thick shale basins: problems in identifying faults in the Bowland and Weald Basins, UK”', Huw Clarke, 02 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC5: 'Reply to Huw Clarke of Cuadrilla Resources Ltd', David Smythe, 24 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
SC10: 'Some additional thoughts on Preese Hall', Rob Westaway, 04 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC1: 'Failure by Dr Westaway to incorporate well data released in April 2015', David Smythe, 05 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
SC12: 'Diversity of stratigraphic interpretations for the Preese Hall-1 well and surroundings', Rob Westaway, 10 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
SC11: 'Misunderstanding of the Literature and Expanding the Discussion of Fracturing Fluid Migration Modeling', Daniel Birdsell, 04 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC4: 'Response to Daniel Birdsell and co-authors', David Smythe, 22 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
RC1: 'Smythe se-2015-134 Review', Andrew Aplin, 29 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
AC10: 'Reply to review by Professor Aplin', David Smythe, 01 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
SC15: 'Comment on use of data and figures in Smythe paper', Andrew Kingdon, 29 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
SC16: 'Clarification of Affiliation', Andrew Kingdon, 29 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC6: 'Thanks for new PH-1 image data; faulting on 3D seismic not ambiguous; nothing missing from Balcombe logs', David Smythe, 31 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
SC17: 'Preese Hall-1 bedding dip', Rob Westaway, 31 Mar 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
EC3: 'regarding SC18 and AC11', Federico Rossetti, 02 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
SC19: 'About SC18', Fabrizio Storti, 04 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
RC2: 'Review', Stuart Haszeldine, 15 Apr 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
RC3: 'Review of Hydraulic fracturing in thick shale basins: problems in identifying faults in the Bowland and Weald Basins, UK', Anonymous Referee #3, 10 May 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
AC13: 'Reply to anonymous referee RC3', David Smythe, 07 Jun 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
 
RC4: 'review', Anonymous Referee #4, 12 May 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
 
EC4: 'decision on SE Discussion paper', Federico Rossetti, 14 May 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
AC15: 'Final author comments', David Smythe, 07 Jun 2016 Printer-friendly Version Supplement 
David K. Smythe
David K. Smythe

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Short summary
Fracking of shale is a controversial industrial process for producing hydrocarbons. The UK shale basins, in contrast to the US basins, are pervaded by through-going geological faults. These will act as pathways for contamination of drinking water resources. But in the UK the exploration companies are able to ignore this risk because of inadequate regulation. Therefore the alleged success of fracking in the USA cannot be replicated in the UK, despite its promotion by the government.
Fracking of shale is a controversial industrial process for producing hydrocarbons. The UK shale...
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