As well as developing its own gas reserves across the North Sea and UK Continental Shelf, the UK can import via pipelines and LNG tankers. It also has short, medium and long range gas storage sites.
UK Continental Shelf
The UK Continental Shelf remains the largest source of gas supply to the UK, although production is declining as the basin matures. It has become increasingly complex and expensive to source gas from maturing fields. The UK moved to address the expected decline in indigenous production of the last decade, implementing a diverse import infrastructure which ensured energy security was maintained.
These imports are the second largest contributor to UK gas supplies. The initial Frigg pipeline constructed in 1977, linked to a new receiving terminal at St Fergus. However, it was the introduction of the 1200km Langeled pipeline which significantly increased the capabilities of Norwegian imports into the UK. Running from a processing plant at Nyhamna to the receiving terminal at Easington, Langeled was the world’s longest underwater gas pipeline when it opened in 2006.
Imports from Continental Europe
The UK can also import gas from the Netherlands via the Balgzand-Bacton Line (BBL) and from Belgium via the IUK Interconnector, with both pipelines delivering to the terminal at Bacton. Each can import up to 30mcm of gas per day, with the flow rate and direction largely dependent on changing market prices and demand levels, both in the UK and on the Continent. While the BBL pipeline can only provide imports to Bacton, the IUK Interconnector is also one of the UK’s two export links, providing gas to Zeebrugge in Belgium. There is an additional gas interconnector supplying the Republic of Ireland.
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
Currently, the country’s newest source of gas is LNG – it allows the UK to import from numerous countries around the world via tanker. The main source of shipments is Qatar, but the UK has also received tankers from Malaysia, the Caribbean and West Africa. The UK receives tanker deliveries into specialist LNG terminals at South Hook and Dragon in South Wales and at the Isle of Grain in Kent.
LNG supply has only been possible in recent years as technological advances have made it more economical to produce, transport and store. The UK competes directly on the open LNG market for cargo deliveries, meaning frequency of delivery is often dependent on variable demand levels and global market prices. Asian requirements for LNG have been very high in recent years as the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster closed capacity. Contrastingly, the shoulder season in Asia, running from March to May each year, sees demand drop and cargoes from the Middle East are often diverted towards the UK during this time.
Fracking – a future supply source?
The discovery of potentially large quantities of shale gas in areas across the UK has put the issue of indigenous supply back in the frame. This issue is highly divisive due to the use of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) in order to extract the gas. Fracking in the US in 2007 led to a shale gas boom, with shale wells becoming the largest source of natural gas production in the country by 2013.
The British Geological Survey estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas could be found in the UK. Just 10% of the estimate, if extracted, would meet Britain’s gas needs for the next 50 years.
While Prime Minister David Cameron is a supporter of fracking as a means to reinvigorate domestic gas production and reduce dependence on imports, there has been no commercial production of shale gas in the UK at this time, amid vocal environmental opposition.