Fracking and shale gas

December 10th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Baron Lawson of Blaby (father of Nigella) writes in the Daily Mail:

Thirty years ago, I was Secretary of State for Energy in Margaret Thatcher’s government, and one way and another I have been a close observer of the energy scene ever since. 

In all that time, I have never known a technological revolution as momentous as the breakthrough that has now made it economic to extract gas from shale.

Technology the Greens are trying to ban.

… shale gas is locked in dense rock. Energy companies must drill a well hundreds or thousands of feet deep to reach the layer of shale — which can be just 50ft thick — and then turn the drill sideways to bore horizontally.

Water, chemicals and sand are pumped into the hole under enormous pressure until the rock cracks, allowing gas locked up in the shale to escape and flow upwards into the well. 

This process is called hydraulic fracturing — or ‘fracking’ for short.

So how significant is this shale gas, that the Greens want left down there?

The consequences are difficult to exaggerate. Not just in terms of the economic benefit of a new and abundant source of relatively cheap energy, but in geopolitical terms, too.

Until now, the West has been heavily dependent for its supplies of oil and gas on an unstable Middle East and an unreliable Russia. Crucially, all that has changed because gas and oil-bearing shale is scattered throughout the world — including in Britain. …

The dramatic news emerged a few weeks ago that the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer in 2017.

America is already the world’s largest natural gas producer, and it is estimated that, by 2035, almost 90 per cent of Middle East oil and gas exports will go to Asia, with the U.S. importing virtually none.

It is ironic that for decades the left have cried out that they want the US less dependent on middle eastern oil, and now that it can happen – they are fighting it.

For decades, the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, has had to shape, and sometimes arguably to misshape, its foreign policy in the light of its dependence on Middle East oil and gas. No longer: that era is now over.

For decades, too, Europe has been fearful of the threat that Russia might cut off the gas supplies on which it has relied so heavily.

No longer: that era will very soon be over, too. Thanks to the shale gas revolution, the newfound energy independence of the West is a beneficent game-changer in terms of world politics as much as it is in the field of energy economics.

When bullies lose their power, this is a good thing.

The company behind the exploration has announced that Blackpool is sitting on one of the biggest shale gas fields in the world — with a reserve of 200 trillion cubic feet lying under the Lancastrian countryside. 

To put that figure in perspective, it’s enough gas to keep the UK going for 50 years and create more than 5,000 jobs.

50 years of fuel in just one field. So what does this mean for peak oil?

For the world as a whole, technically recoverable gas resources are now conservatively reckoned to amount to around 16,000 trillion cubic feet. In short, as a result of the shale revolution, the Earth can now provide us with about 250 years’ worth of gas supplies.

The so-called ‘peak oil’ theory, which suggests that within the foreseeable future the world will run out of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — has never looked more absurd.

If you hear about peak oil again, laugh. And point out even George Monbiot has admitted peak oil has not occurred and will not occur for many decades or more.

While the world’s shale gas reserves appear to be massive, they could even be dwarfed by global oil shale reserves in sedimentary rock, which contains solid organic material that can be converted into an oil-like product when heated.

According to the U.S. government, oil shale deposits in an area called the Green River Formation in the western United States are estimated to contain up to 3 trillion barrels of oil — three times more than the whole world has consumed in the past 100 years.

And the Greens want us to stop building roads in New Zealand, because they say peak oil will lead to the death of the car.

We are living in an era when good news is thin on the ground. The shale gas revolution is the exception: a game-changing piece of good news, both economically and geo-politically, both for this country and for the world.

Hear hear.

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