Over the next decade, Britain is expected to spend some £200bn on overhauling its entire energy infrastructure. Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, tries to justify this colossal price tag by pointing to the future opportunities presented by “green growth”. He reckons the UK can reap a huge dividend by becoming a leader in renewable energy technologies, allowing us to penetrate new export markets in emerging economies.
But an energy conference organised by the Financial Times in London threw several buckets of cold water over Huhne’s optimistic theory.
While oil patches from the Bakken shale to the Eagle Ford have been getting a lot of attention in recent years, the oil industry is focussed increasingly on one of the oldest and richest basins in the country – the Permian Basin. Permian formations have long trapped hydrocarbons in shale and other tight sands and rock in what was formerly the Permian Sea, an area of what is now 110-degree-heat desert that stretches 100,000 square miles across West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico.
The attention there is not coming so much from companies going out in search of new acreage. Many of them have held acreage in the Permain for decades. Others have accumuated it over the years through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Everyone has known the area held oil – lots of oil – and it was just a matter of time before advances in technology meant they could get a little bit more of it out.
The technological advances in the oil and gas patch just keep coming. While everyone has been scrambling to catch up with the shale gas revolution, the industry has been working on another potentially significant breakthrough in gas. This one is in producing gas that has long been stranded offshore in areas too far or too small to warrant a pipeline to shore.
Royal Dutch Shell recently announced it would be the first producer to invest in a multibillion dollar project to capture this gas. The project will be a floating liquified natural gas terminal – known as a FLNG terminal in the industry – that makes it economic to get at such gas fields. No pipelines need to be built. Shell just produces the gas until it runs out and then moves along to the next field.
Audio Nuclear and gas
In this week’s podcast: Germany to phase out nuclear power; UK utility Centrica leaves a major gas field dormant; plus, the report into the Fukushima disaster raises questions about reactor structures. Presented by Sylvia Pfeifer with David Blair and Vincent Boland in the studio and Gerrit Wiesmann in Berlin. Produced by LJ Filotrani
It was not a bluff. When Centrica warned a month ago that it might choose to leave one of Britain’s biggest gas fields off-line because of the higher taxes levied on UK energy companies, some thought this was an empty threat.
However, South Morecambe gas field has become available after a period of routine maintenance – and Centrica chose to leave it dormant on Wednesday morning.
I am in “Gas City” or Doha, the capital of the state of Qatar. Located halfway along the Western coast of the Gulf, Qatar has been enjoying a construction boom fuelled by its hydrocarbon riches, in particular the world’s largest single gas field, the North Field. The field contains more than 900 trillion cubic feet of gas, equivalent to 150bn barrels of oil, or more than 10 per cent of worldwide gas resources.
The field was first discovered in the early 1970s by what is now Royal Dutch Shell and in just a few week’s time the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giant will make history when it starts up its Pearl Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) plant. Via pipelines feeding from two offshore platforms 60km off the Qatar coast, the plant will take gas from the North Field and turn it into valuable liquids such as cleaner-burning diesel and aviation fuel, oils for advanced lubricants and naptha used to make plastics.
The board of Tony Hayward’s new energy fund, Vallares, which will see the former head of BP return to British corporate life, is taking shape. George Rose, the former finance director at BAE Systems, the defence contractor, is in talks to take up the position of chair of the audit committee.
If he agrees, it would be a good catch for Hayward. Rose, who stepped down from the board of BAE in March this year, was well-respected during his time at the defence company. He is currently also a non-executive director at National Grid, a position he has held since 2002, and where he chairs the audit committee, and was until recently a candidate for its chairmanship.
As questions about hydraulic fracturing – fracking as it is known in the industry – continue to build, the oil and gas industry is finding investors asking for more transparency as to how companies are going to face the growing risks to production.
France has banned fracking, and US federal regulators are investigating the safety of the process.
But the real risk to the industry at this point is how some US states and cities have taken the issue into their own hands: Pittsburgh has banned such drilling, and the New York State Assembly approved a temporary moratorium. There are other efforts under way in pockets across the US to further control or bar the process.