Why We Should be Open to Drilling in “My Back Yard”
The recent news that UK Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) believe there are something like 116.5 million barrels of “drill ready” oil has led to wildly inaccurate claims of fracking and poisoned groundwater, with little being said about what this kind of activity might actually mean to the Isle of Wight.
Firstly, there is a huge difference between “drill ready oil” and hydraulic fracturing for shale gas. As a representative of the oil and gas industry, I’m in favour of both, but only after spending a lot of time in researching and understanding the implications – both positive and negative – on the local economy, landscape, and the well-being of those who live nearby. And it has to be said that in the short term, yes, there will be a certain amount of upheaval, but I would suggest it is unlikely to be any more, and probably less, than your average building site. In the longer term, the advantages, both on a national and a local scale, could be considerable and will outweigh the short term inconvenience.
Let’s look at the national situation. The recent drop in oil price has been good news for the consumer – who hasn’t been pleased at the prospect of lower petrol prices? – but actually there are serious implications not only to the oil industry – who have shed tens of thousands of jobs and reduced exploration as a result – but to the general public, and indeed to the environment. A report on Radio 4 yesterday (25th March) suggested that when the oil price is high, we are more careful in our consumption, but with a large reduction in petrol prices, we are being far more carefree in our use, rather than enjoying having the extra cash. The implications on the environment as a result are obvious, and the quicker we use up the current “oil lake” created by the refusal of some countries to reduce production, the sooner the price will rise again in order to meet an increased demand.
Currently we are heavily reliant on imported oil and gas, particularly from Eastern Europe, and aside from the political implications, the cost is likely to rise steeply as global demand increases. The North Sea is now regarded as a “mature” basin, and in the coming years, production will dwindle. The only way to maintain the energy requirement that we currently have in the UK is to look at a mix of energy sources, and until we have the technology in place to gain enough energy from wind or solar or any other renewables, we have to take a more balanced and inclusive view of oil and gas exploration in our own back yards.
The news release from UK Oil and Gas Investments also suggests there may be 197 billion cubic feet of gas available, again conventionally available (ie not requiring hydraulic fracturing). Gas (including shale gas) is a surprisingly clean fuel. Of all the fossil fuels it emits the least carbon, provides power stations with the highest level of reliability and generates affordable electricity. It is generally considered to be the bridge between our current reliance on oil, coal and other “dirty” fuels and the renewable fuels which are likely to form an increasingly large percentage of our energy supply in the future.
On a local scale, there are naturally concerns about what it might mean in terms of disturbing the beautiful countryside in which we are privileged to live. However, the industry is getting better at working with local communities about what they plan to do. Any exploration involves Environmental Impact Assessments, required by government, and these have to be closely adhered to. This also covers other developments such as wind turbines, hydro-electric power and so on. Additionally, the prospects under discussion include areas of outstanding natural beauty, and, should they be considered appropriate for further exploration, the industry is heavily restricted in how they do it. As an example, Europe’s largest producing oil field is under Poole Harbour, where the wells are ‘hydraulically stimulated’– i.e. fracked, and the area is still a draw for tourism based on the beauty of the surrounding environment.
We live on an Island which is very beautiful, but which has high unemployment compared to the rest of the South East, and employment opportunities are limited, particularly for our young people. We should be open to the opportunities that new industry development would bring – opportunities for engineers, geoscientists, IT, building skills and much more. Yes, we need to be aware of the impact of exploration, but ultimately, we need the energy, and rather than focusing on the negative aspects, we should embrace this potential for injecting money into our local economy, and a more interesting employment future for our children.