Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are the biggest energy breakthrough of the century.
Gas will start flowing from Cuadrilla’s two shale exploration wells in Lancashire this year. Preliminary analysis of the site is “very encouraging”, bearing out the British Geological Survey’s analysis that the Bowland Shale beneath northern England holds one of the richest gas resources known: a huge store of energy at a cost well below that of renewables and nuclear.
A glance across the Atlantic shows what could be in store for Britain, and what we have missed out on so far because of obstacles put in place by mendacious pressure groups and timid bureaucrats. Thanks to shale, America last week surpassed the oil production record it set in 1970, having doubled its output in seven years, while also turning gas import terminals into export terminals.
The effect of the shale revolution has been seismic. Cheap energy has brought industry back to America yet carbon dioxide emissions have been slashed far faster than in Europe as lower-carbon gas displaces high-carbon coal. Environmental problems have, contrary to the propaganda, been minimal.
All thoughts of imminent peak oil and peak gas have vanished. Opec’s cartel has been broken, after it failed to kill the shale industry by driving the oil price lower: American shale producers cut costs faster than anybody thought possible. A limit has been put on the economic and political power of both Russia and Saudi Arabia, no bad thing for the people of both countries and their neighbours. Shale drillers turn gas and oil production on and off in response to price fluctuations more flexibly than old-fashioned wells.
Seven years ago it was possible to argue that shale would prove a flash in the pan. No longer: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are the biggest energy news of the century. For those who still think the falling price of wind and solar is more dramatic, consider this. Between them, those two energy sources provided just 0.8 per cent of the world’s energy in 2016, even after trillions of dollars in subsidy, and will reach only 3.6 per cent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. Gas will then be providing 25 per cent of the world’s energy, up from 22 per cent today.