Monday, 20 January 2014

Population density in Total's new PEDLS

In the news this week I am sure you won't have missed the entry of Total into the UK shale gas market. They follow Centrica and GDF Suez as major players in the European gas to invest in UK shale gas by buying into licence areas. 

Rather than bore you with details of their business arrangements, I thought I'd take this opportunity to examine another commonly held myth about shale gas development - that the UK simply does not have enough space.

Total have bought into PEDL (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence) blocks 139 and 140, which are in Lincolnshire. You can download a large map of all PEDLS from DECC here. I have added the approximate locations of the two adjacent licence blocks to the Google Earth image below.

The first thing you'll notice is the abundance of yellow and pink pins, these represent existing oil and/or gas wells, as per this post. Gainsborough sits atop the Beckingham Marsh oil field, which has been in operation since 1963. The field has numerous wells, and doesn't seem to cause the locals much bother. It will be interesting to see whether a similar level of opposition to shale gas develops here as we have seen at Balcombe and Barton Moss. As they have more experience than most of how the onshore industry is able to operate without causing undue disturbance, this will be an interesting one to watch.

The second thing to notice from the satellite image above is the relative sparsity of population outside of Gainsborough. We are often told that shale gas development in the UK will be too challenging due to the high population density. I think this image tells a different story.

I won't rely on a picture to prove this point, however. Instead, I will compare Lincolnshire with counties in Texas where shale gas is being extracted. I've looked to shale developments in Texas before when addressing shale development footprints, of course.

Extraction of gas from the Barnett shale in Texas is focussed on 5 counties: Denton, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant, and Wise. The following tables show population densities (people per square mile) and the number of wells in each county (pop densities from wiki, well counts from the RRC).

Density (ppl/sq mile)
No of wells

I have added Lincolnshire, which has a population density of 390 ppl/sq mile (and 342 existing oil and gas wells). Note the comparable densities between these Barnett shale counties and Lincolnshire, which sits somewhere in the middle. Only Wise County has a density that is substantially lower, while Tarrant County's population density is substantially higher. All five counties have thousands of Barnett shale wells, an indication of how the industry is capable of operating in all settings, preferring unpopulated areas where possible, but perfectly capable of operating in areas of dense population where it is required to.

I'm sure this post won't stop the endless stream of articles in the media telling us that Britain is too crowded for shale gas development to be possible. At least you, dear reader, will now be a little better informed. 


  1. There is a Gainsborough anti-frack group and they have a facebook page

  2. It doesn't add up...22 January 2014 at 08:06

    I see today that SABIC, the Saudi petrochemical company, have decided to invest in US shale gas.

    Under what conditions might they invest in the UK?