A perspective on drilling for shale gas.

American 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 is going.

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 player.

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.