You might have noticed a recent news item reporting claims that a monumental gas field has been found in the North West.
Cuadrilla Resources, which has been carrying out test drilling, claims that it has found 200 trillion cubic feet of gas under Lancashire, in an area roughly bounded by Blackpool and Southport on the coast and Chorley further inland.
200 trillion cubic feet, according to some estimates, would power the UK for 50 years. The British Geological Survey claims that this estimate is nuts and that 5 trillion cubic feet could be nearer the mark.
Squeezing the gas out of the shale rock in which it is trapped is a very tricky business. Roughly, you have to drill a bore hole and then force sand, water and chemicals down it at huge pressure. This mix then pushes the layers of shale apart and lets the gas out.
The process, called ‘fracking’, is already the subject of huge controversy in the US. It might cause tiny, localised earthquakes. If the shale beds are close to the surface, and locals use bore holes for water supply, some claim you can find methane mixed into the water supply.
US environmental activists are desperate trying to stop fracking in its tracks. You may associate gas with cooking and heating, but I think that its potential importance to the car industry is too often ignored. Gas is particularly clean burning (you can burn it in confined spaces because it emits so few pollutants) and releases less Co2 than oil. The Honda Civic GX, which is powered by Compressed Natural Gas, has been voted America’s ‘greenest’ vehicle for eight years running, coming ahead of the plug-in Prius and Chevy Volt.
The US, keen on new energy sources for ‘energy security’, could turn to plentiful gas power. Industry sources tell me that gas won’t catch on because US drivers won’t spend more than five minutes refuelling. But CNG-powered vehicles are arguably as green as battery-powered vehicles and 15 minutes refuelling time is a damn sight quicker than recharging a battery.
Indeed, one of Ford’s senior engineers told me that work was underway on ‘design for hydrogen’ which could see future platform designed around a large tank, running down the centre of the car. But, equally, the tank could be use for compressed gas, which will be rather easier to source than hydrogen for sometime to come. And gas-powered petrol engines will be much, much cheaper than EU6 diesel units.
On a more personal note, it seems that my home town of Leyland, which is inside the ‘gas triangle’, need not have gone through the century of upheavals, building a huge truck and bus industry which then was allowed to slip away during the 1980s.
Instead, they could have just drilled a few deep bore holes, sat back and enjoyed the boom times. Maybe Leyland, and much of de-industrialised Lancashire, will stage a gas-based economic reveal over the next couple of decades.
Is too wild to imagine the town becoming associated with powering the future UK car industry, rather than presiding over its collapse?