Drilling Deep “Down Under”

By Joyce Hale

It is a rare occasion that I wander far from the Ozark Hills and even more unusual to wind up in a distant land. But I blocked out the month of November to join husband, Jay, in Australia, where he was working with a group of scientists to photograph a total solar eclipse staged near the Great Barrier Reef.

When flying out of Dallas, one could see a great patchwork of gas well pads, waste pits and the persistent march of thirsty drill rigs. The gentleman seated near me had no idea what we were flying over. Unable to restrain myself from sharing this information, he looked down and then back at me with a “Whatever” expression of disinterest and returned to the sports pages. After six years of tunnel vision on natural gas development, I have had to accept that not everyone is as addicted to this topic as I am. So a trip Down Under seemed like the perfect distraction to encourage me to think about other things.

A departing passenger in Auckland, New Zealand, left behind The Australian, a newspaper which I quickly confiscated. The headline above the fold declared: “Compete or Perish, says Minister: Blueprint to harness gas boom.” It was clear that Aussie politicians were as eager as those in the U.S. to press ahead at full throttle. Secondary stories spoke of a decade-long drought (which made me wonder who would win the water wars between fracking and farming) and the usual short-term industry promises of jobs and cheap energy.

While in the Brisbane airport waiting in a very long customs line, I struck up a conversation with a traveler pushing a cart loaded with at least a dozen large cases. “You travel heavy”, I commented. “Yeah, I will be here for the next four years,” he volunteered. The engineer was from Louisiana beginning an assignment to build a gas liquefaction plant (LNG) in Queensland. He had just left an LNG project in Peru to start work on one of eight plants to be developed in Australia. Multi-national companies were flocking in to invest with an open door policy greasing the skids. We spoke in generalities without his knowing my addiction and he reflected on the likely environmental decline that will follow. But with a shrug of resignation and waving a hand accepting the inevitability, his face said, “Whatever…” It was a good job.

Our ocean-side accommodation in Cairns, where the cameras and telescopes were readied, stood vigil to untapped energy in waves, winds and the sun. And yet fossil fuels seemed to be the only option governments considered. An occluding moon, scheduled to be the guest of honor, came at last shrouded by clouds for all but a few seconds of solar totality. It was certainly disappointing but not entirely unexpected. “Whatever, maybe next time.”

And so it may be for natural gas development in Arkansas and throughout the world in the coming years if the public grows weary of the issue. Whatever.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:  Blueprint for Queensland’s LNG Industry

Categories: Commentary