Editor’s Log: Acts Of Nature

By now, most people in North America – indeed, around the world – are well aware of the growing energy treasure trove being discovered in shale rock.

In this issue, we have two articles discussing the impact that shale projects have had upon the underground construction market. Track trenchers along with medium to large horizontal directional drilling equipment are in high demand for this work. However, as one of the articles points out, high demand and profit don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand when inexperienced competitors jump on the bandwagon.

To the contractors and suppliers working to locate oil and gas in these regions, shale rock has become an incredible financial prize. For homeowners in these often remote areas of challenging terrain, leasing their mineral rights has become a financial Godsend.

For the United States, shale rock has the potential to bring at least some level of energy independence for the next 100 years – at a minimum.

And, for those thousands of workers who have found long-sought after employment in a country still battling to put people back to work, shale rock provides a value to their families beyond description.

Add it all up and you would think that North America is incredibly blessed with a bright energy outlook. That we have a future in which we can finally alleviate our incredible energy appetite for decades while realistic alternatives are found and developed, ensuring a smooth energy transition and power security for future generations.

But this is America, full of people with contrarian views that seem to permanently focus only on niche areas of self-interest. A broad perspective of energy’s interaction with our society is rarely, if ever, considered. Thus, shale continues to come under attack.

For now, the shale oil and gas industry is still evolving all the while increasing production – overproduction, some might argue. The U.S. is awash in cheap natural gas right now prompting much of the work to take a sharp turn into oil extraction where prices – and profits — are higher. While economics will continue to fluctuate, gas still has a bright future as it steadily replaces dirty coal as the fuel of choice for power generation. If efforts to begin switching much of our country’s truck fleet to natural gas vehicles gain traction, we now have an ample supply of economical natural gas (along with the technology) that will be needed to accommodate such a move and further reducing a demand for foreign oil products.

But this future is based upon the theory that strategic use of our oil and gas resources is a good thing. Unfortunately, the prevailing winds in Washington still associate anything petrochemically based as inherently evil. It makes developing a comprehensive energy policy that includes any kind of long-range utilization of oil virtually impossible despite market/economic/environmental realities. We can only hope that common sense will emerge after the next election.

President Obama’s goal of using alternative energy for 50 percent of our country’s needs by 2030 is a grandstanding fairy tale. Yes, alternative energy is, and will be, a good thing. But to think that our existing research will yield such demanding results by 2030 is dismissed as highly impractical by even the greenest of researchers. In fact, many of those researchers admit that a true alternative resource to replace oil and gas may not even be discovered yet. Research is not linear: it takes all sorts of twists, turns and steps backward before progress can be made. Often we discover after costly research that new technology is not feasible and have to start over in a different direction.

We should absolutely embrace shale. Yes, be cautious and concerned with the technology (such as fracking), but believe the science when it is proven safe and effective. Don’t condemn the fuel because it is a petrocarbon.

We should absolutely embrace alternative fuels. But don’t continue investing billions upon billions of dollars into technologies that work only with exclusive tax breaks and heavy doses of government subsidies — technologies whose long-term future is suspect at best.

Lest we forget, natural gas and oil have served this country well. With due diligence and proper stewardship, oil and gas will continue to do so for decades to come until we discover that mythical, all-encompassing, 100 percent environmentally-friendly alternative fuel – whatever that may be.

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