Taking the fracking Mickey

Fog, mist or hazy darkness. An energy system that has passed its sell-by date and is slowly evanescing into darkness.

You have to hand it to Dr Chris Cornelius. Calling his offshore fracking business Nebula Resources betrays a wry sense of humour if ever there was one.

Of Nebula’s plans to explore for tight gas in the Irish Sea, Dr Cornelius said:

“We’re very comfortable that the resource is there and the numbers are absolutely ginormous. Is any of that exploitable? That’s the billion dollar question and we won’t know that for many years.”

Quadranting has to assume that the resource being referred to is gas rather than the credulity of investors. After all, Wall Street has successfully strip-mined the latter in the US. Fortunes have been made in the shale gas business. But all too often it was from flipping leases and selling derivatives based on nebulous expectations, rather than selling gas at a profit.

Of course, a big rise in gas prices could easily turn tight offshore gas into a viable game for the frackers. Good for them. But, if you’re a customer, that’s the economics of ‘let them eat cake’.

In space, nebulae form when suns burn through virtually all their fuel. These stars finally eject their outer layers in a bright shell of gas, which lasts a few ten thousands of years before diffusing into the surrounding vastness. In another five billion years, it will happen to our own sun.

Right now, it’s a pretty close analogy to the experience of the oil and gas industry. As it burns through the last of the cheap reserves, fracking and arc tic exploration become the last, bright, hope of holding everything together.

But going after ever harder, deeper and more difficult resources is really just the final flourish of a burnt-out system. Dr Cornelius is clearly a smart guy. If he’d wanted to suggest that offshore fracking is really is hot stuff after all, he could easily have named his company Corona (after the superheated plasma surrounding the sun).

But as it’s called Nebula, I guess we’re being invited to draw our own conclusions.

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