Let’s Get Fracking!

Derek Park

Let’s Get Fracking

The announcement that Total is to join the search for UK Shale Gas gas has got to be good news, both for the country and the oil and gas industry. With it though comes a huge responsibility for Total and other operators. As an industry we simply have to get things right or the game could be over before we start.

We will not have our troubles to seek. The ‘frack-off’ lobby are off to a flying start with talk of earthquakes and a threat to unborn babies being just some of the things I heard on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning.

Public Opinion

The jury of public opinion is still out but the government have helped by offering to share some of the rewards with local communities. Attitudes to the industry in Aberdeen and Lerwick are proof that this is a good idea. Opponents of course will still call it a bribe and the industry must do an even better job at explaining the benefits.

Energy Policy

Top of the benefits list is keeping the lights on and the hospitals heated, or put more scientifically the UK will have the space to develop a short and long term energy policy. The oil industry is not to blame for society’s demand for energy and we need to be seen as the cure not the disease. The good news is that shale gas could buy some time in the hope that governments (of whatever colour) will this time make some decisions and investments aimed at a long term sustainable energy future (and it has got to be better than blindly building more windmills!).

Current energy policies demand more and more from the customer in terms of subsidy and to be honest we just can’t afford it. Society has much more pressing demands on its cash (public or private) than to use it to prop up inefficient energy supplies when genuine alternatives are available. Far from being the villains of the piece the shale gas operators could be taking the moral high ground: but that comes with a very big ‘if’.

The Oil & Gas Industry

We have to get things right all the time. If you have read any of my other articles you will recognise this as a recurring theme. We all know that as an industry we have the knowledge, expertise and equipment to exploit shale gas safelyif we can just manage things properly.

One of the criticisms on this morning’s radio debate was that the UK government has weakened the industry regulatory regime and suggested that the industry would run amok. Well maybe regulation is weaker but surely we are still mature enough to ‘get things right’ even with no regulation at all? We need to show that we have learned the lessons of the past, remember Never Say Never Again? In a nutshell this means industry executives paying more attention to what their own engineers are saying rather than hanging on every word of the market analysts. We must do what we say we are going to do and not just promise things at the approval stage that we later ignore. That was one lesson from Macondo, remember?

Perhaps most importantly, let’s have an honest debate with the public. Of course there will be some risk so let’s be up front about it. If we deny it now and something happens later we might as well forget a future in onshore shale gas. Let’s show them that a wellhead in your village is a lot nicer that a forest of turbines on your horizon.

Remember the vast majority of the public have never seen a completed oil well, living with the misconception that a huge noisy drilling rig is the end product rather than the method of construction. Providing they are properly maintained and constructed we need make no apologies for wells, after all many of us working offshore have spent half our lives literally living and sleeping on top of them!

It will also do no harm to explain that a gas well delivers a whole lot more than energy. Plastics and chemicals would be scarce without natural gas and modern life would be unthinkable. Most people have no notion of where the feedstock comes from and the debate needs to be wider than cheap energy.

So let’s not be apologetic as we move into the shale arena. Let’s be sure we are doing things right and then the public will get behind us. We have a moral obligation to deliver benefits all round and dispel the doubts once and for all.

Over to you, Total.


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