A perspective on drilling for shale gas.
energy self-sufficiency has been on the forefront of our government’s
collective mind for years, mostly without producing any worthwhile results.
After the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter ginned up the Department
of Energy, which now employs 170,000 bureaucrats, and has, through government
efficiency, managed our production from 50 percent of our needs, down to 26
percent, all in about 30 years of hard work.
Recent events have caused even the most reason-starved progressive to realize
that something needs to be done. True to form, they screech that it must be
done right now, before anyone has a chance to research or understand the plan.
When asked to come up with some workable solutions, the democrats came up with
cap and trade. The “cap” side of this boondoggle disproportionately punishes
our lower-income citizens, and will raise the price of energy by as much as
$1,700 per family. The “trade” side will allow industry to sell their carbon
credits to people with money, no doubt overseas, since that‘s where our money
The next big idea is sustainable energy, meaning something that will last
forever and be free. Back in my tie-dyed youth, we tried all this stuff. We put
up windmills, usually on windy days (a large wreck), then went and sat on the
porch, and watched while the wind died; free became expensive. Even when it
worked, we barely got enough power to drive an 8-track
Next came solar cells. This took a little more thinking since most of us stayed
up all night and slept during the day, but, eventually somebody fig-ured out
that the sun put out a lot of energy if we could just get it to cooperate.
Solar cells were very expensive, and the most we could afford wouldn’t put out
enough to light a lava lamp. Then the sun went down.
Times have changed. The price of solar cells has fallen, windmill technology
has improved, but we still are a long way from making these things work in any
meaningful way. Congress would like to mandate a large percent of our energy be
produced this way, but at present, it’s a lot like king-what’s-his-name commanding
the tides to turn. There are several problems that are going to take quite a
while to solve – storage being one of them. The sun doesn’t shine at night,
when strangely enough, some of us like to turn on the lights. The wind doesn’t
always blow, either.
A very smart man, T. Boone Pickens figured out that the wind only stops one day
out of 32 million in west Texas, so he started building a huge wind farm to make power. So far, so good,
until somebody realized that it was a long way to where people needed power. To
harness it effectively required building huge transmission lines. Not only were
they very expensive, the NIMBY (not in my backyard) lobby got their knickers in
a knot, and decreed that it wouldn’t happen there. Poor ol’ T. Boone is sitting
on a warehouse full of useless windmills. You’d think it might be a good idea
to build the wind farm closer to places where the power is needed. One such
place is Cape Cod – plenty of wind, and the power-hungry Northeast corridor
close by. Do you actually think, however, the residents of Cape Cod are going
to mar their view with something that will help?
All of these problems can be solved by the application of a little common sense
and some good science – two things that seem to be in mighty short supply in
Washington. While we are waiting for the lights to come on in some of the
dimmest bulbs on the Potomac, we still have a problem. Oil won’t last forever,
although our newest technology pushes back the inevitable every year. We need a
“bridge fuel” to tide us over.
By my way of thinking, this fuel is natural gas. Those of us in the drilling
industry have known about shale gas for years, but it was more of an
un-economic nuisance than a reliable energy source. In the first place, shale
wells didn’t produce much, and depleted quickly when compared to an oil well.
In addition, you couldn’t put gas in a tank battery and haul it away by truck.
It takes a pipeline.
This is where free enterprise and drillers’ ingenuity come in. We now have a
tremendous infrastructure of pipelines running from most of the major producing
areas to the areas of highest load. We also have learned how to frack these
shales to produce much more gas.
Natural gas is the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, and would reduce man-made
pollution a tremendous amount, freeing up the oil for industrial uses, such as
plastics, fertilizers, insecticides and other complex industrial products,
while we figure out something that actually will work in the real world, like
nuclear power, but that’s another story.
One of the potentially productive shale plays in the United States is the
Marcellus Shale, which covers parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and
New York. The producing formation isn’t all that deep, making drilling costs
competitive, and it is close to a huge market – the Northeast. This fortunate
combination of circumstances makes it one of the most attractive energy bridges
to self-sufficiency we’ve seen in years.
Experts think that there may be enough gas in the Marcellus Shale to last many
years; your mileage may vary. The drillers are there, the pipelines are there;
all we need is for government to get out of the way. Sure, there are problems
to be solved, such as what to do with the frack water, while protecting the
drinking water, but these problems can be solved – not necessarily by the
application of taxpayer money, but by the application of free enterprise. Show
us the profit; we’ll solve the problem.
The World According to Wayne: A Bridge to Energy Self-sufficiency
December 1, 2009