America upbeat on Britain’s shale gas prospects

Shale gas extraction in Britain looks even more promising than previously thought despite an "abysmal" start, according to a US government agency.

The Energy Information Administration has increased its assessment of the UK's "technically recoverable" shale gas reserves to 26 trillion cubic feet (tcf).

That could revolutionise Britain's energy security. The entire country needs just 3tcf each year and currently is forced to import around half of this.

"Compared with North America, the shale geology of the UK is considerably more complex, while drilling and completion costs for shale wells are substantially higher," the EIA report noted.

It described the minor earthquakes triggered by the first attempts at extraction as a "temporary setback" but said the deformed nature of the well was "perhaps unsurprising given the highly faulted nature of shale deposits in the UK".

After an 18-month moratorium on gas extraction the UK government has now given the green light for more fracking – the process by which water and chemicals are forced into the ground to extract the gas or oil lying beneath.

The EIA noted that natural gas prices are higher in the UK than in the US but warned that "geologic conditions are much more complex".

"Faults are numerous, geologic data control is weak, and shale wells are more costly to drill," it found.

"While the UK's shale resource base appears substantial, commercial levels of shale production are yet to be established."

Shale gas could form a substantial part of the world's energy mix. Britain does not even come up in the top ten countries with shale gas resources recoverable under existing technology.

The list is topped by China, which holds 1,115tcf of the world's total 7,299tcf. Argentina, Algeria, the US and Canada also feature highly.