More Shale Oil And Gas That Cleaner Than Wind

More Shale Oil And Gas That Cleaner Than Wind Image

EIA Shale Reserves via Brian Wang

North America is glutted with shale gas. But the new energy boom in mainland North America is shale oil -- a much more profitable play. New discoveries of rich shales in the middle of the US high plains are drawing a lot more attention, because these shales appear to be loaded with oil.The Niobrara Shale formation covers parts of four western states - Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska...Geologists have known about the oil in Niobrara for about 80 years. But no one ever thought it could be recovered economically... until now. Like the Barnett, Fayetteville, Marcellus, Haynesville and Bakken - the Niobrara is another shale play that's been known about for some time.

But it's only recently that some of the major exploration and production companies shifted capital and drill rigs to explore the Niobrara.

And it's only since the advent of hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling that it's possible for this formation to be exploited for the oil and natural gas it contains.

According to El Paso County assessor Mark Lowderman, there have been over 2,200 leases signed with oil companies since 2009.

...A September report from the U.S. National Petroleum Council (NPC) said that U.S. shale oil reserves are "proving to be much larger than previously thought." The NPC indicated that shale oil production could rise to as much as three million barrels per day "depending on access to new plays and continued technology development."

That's significant, but still nowhere near enough to wean the country off foreign oil. But it'll provide a significant chunk of our current consumption of 19 million barrels per day.

...Keep an eye on the Niobrara. It's another hot new play in shale oil, and could be a significant contributor to U.S. oil production in the years ahead.

In the meantime, the glut of North American natural gas will be waiting for technologists and entrepreneurs to develop new uses and new markets. And why not? According to Matt Ridley, natural gas is cleaner than big wind energy:The gas well requires no subsidy - in fact it pays a hefty tax to the government - whereas the wind turbines each cost you a substantial add-on to your electricity bill, part of which goes to the rich landowner whose land they stand on. Wind power costs three times as much as gas-fired power. Make that nine times if the wind farm is offshore. And that's assuming the cost of decommissioning the wind farm is left to your children - few will last 25 years.

Decided yet? I forgot to mention something. If you choose the gas well, that's it, you can have it. If you choose the wind farm, you are going to need the gas well too. That's because when the wind does not blow you will need a back-up power station running on something more reliable. But the bloke who builds gas turbines is not happy to build one that only operates when the wind drops, so he's now demanding a subsidy, too.

...The International Energy Agency reckons there is quarter of a millennium's worth of cheap shale gas in the world. A company called Cuadrilla drilled a hole in Blackpool, hoping to find a few trillion cubic feet of gas. Last month it announced 200 trillion cubic feet, nearly half the size of the giant Marcellus field. That's enough to keep the entire British economy going for many decades. And it's just the first field to have been drilled.

...The best thing about cheap gas is whom it annoys. The Russians and the Iranians hate it because they thought they were going to corner the gas market in the coming decades. The greens hate it because it destroys their argument that fossil fuels are going to get more and more costly till even wind and solar power are competitive.

...Wind cannot even help cut carbon emissions, because it needs carbon back-up, which is wastefully inefficient when powering up or down (nuclear cannot be turned on and off so fast). Even Germany and Denmark have failed to cut their carbon emissions by installing vast quantities of wind.

...To persist with a policy of pursuing subsidized renewable energy in the midst of a terrible recession, at a time when vast reserves of cheap low-carbon gas have suddenly become available is so perverse it borders on the insane. Nothing but bureaucratic inertia and vested interest can explain it.

Both articles linked above are worth reading in their entirety. One item of note in Matt Ridley's article on shale gas, is the anticipated bonanza of natural gas at the continental margins. When these discoveries start coming, they are likely to eclipse all the news of discoveries of other types of energy. Why? Because for billions of years, oil has been forming under sediments beneath the oceans, then being inevitably moved toward continental margins to be subducted into the mantle, under the continental margins. It is at those subduction points where hundreds of millions of years worth of oil & gas -- particularly gas -- are likely to be made available for exploitation -- with an ongoing conveyor belt of unlimited and renewable production on the way. For as long as life on earth continues, and the tectonic machinery of the planet operates.

Credit: [Matt Ridley]