EU Referendum

Energy: technology to the rescue


multiwell 001.jpg

A serious piece from Booker on shale gas brings forward the usual crop of comments, but mostly they miss the most significant point. This is how, from next April, the Government will be imposing its swingeing new "carbon tax" on every ton of CO2 emitted by producing electricity from fossil fuels, rapidly rising from £16 a ton to £70 by 2030.

In all the media's obsession with how fast our energy bills are rising, this is scarcely ever mentioned, says Booker – and it barely registers with his own readers either. But this tax alone will add billions a year to our bills. Within 17 years, it will be well on the way to doubling them.

The wickedness of this is that it will apply just as much to electricity from shale gas as it will to that produced by the coal-fired power stations, currently producing nearly half our electricity, which the Government wants to drive out of business as soon as possible.

So, at just the time when the Government reluctantly holds out to us the prospect that the gas we will need to keep our lights on might become very much cheaper, it will be imposing this new tax to make it very much more expensive, thus cancelling out much of the financial benefit shale gas could bring us.

That, of course, is all part of the Green strategy – a deliberate attempt to increase the cost of fossil fuels in order to make "renewables" competitive – a trick which is considerably aided by the Carbon Tax.

But the other element of the Green strategy – at least as far as shale gas goes – is to play the "scare" card, and in particular talking up hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as an instrument of the devil, a technique that is going to despoil the countryside, burn babies in their cots and poison their mothers.

There is no question, though, that large-scale gas drilling is going to have an environmental impact, as this collection of photographs show (taken in 2009). But, even as the fracking technology proliferates, it seems there is help at hand.

In one of the comments to Booker's column there is a reference to a technical solution that avoids the need for fracking. This, we are told, goes under the name of the "Octopus" and is a method of drilling a large number of wells, initially vertically and then radiating out horizontally, from a single drill site of under five acres.

At one location in Colorado as many as 51 wells are producing, with no need for hydraulic fracturing and therefore no possibility of ground-water pollution or seismic effects (not that these are significant in any event). Drilling has taken place below towns and airports with no observable effects on the surface. Thus, hydraulic fracturing may prove to be a transient technology, destined to be superseded by better methods.

Otherwise known as multi-well pad drilling (pictured above), this "better method" has received a good press of late - and is clearly advantageous. The location in Colorado where it has been so successful is a small town called Parachute, and the technique is regarded as a game-changer, a major breakthrough in the oil industry.

If the technology is half as good as it is being painted the evidence is that it will so far reduce the the environmental impact that it will leave the Greens stranded.

In fact, so successful has it been that one operator reports that in the first quarter of 2012, ten percent of its rigs were on multi-well pads; today 45 percent use this technology, representing huge savings of $600,000-$700,000 per well,  in addition to reducing the drilling footprint.

One can imagine that the Greens will hate this – as they do anything that might improve our living standards and reduce costs. And with the cost of production also dropping, they will have to work on raising taxes even more. It thus becomes a race between the dead hand of government, and advanced technology – and a race where the politicians need to back the right horse.

As the USA becomes more competitive and their gas becomes cheaper, the Green Agenda looks less and less credible by the day. And in this new technology, we have the means to give it another push towards oblivion. All we need is for the political process to join in.