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Drilling Dreams and Nightmares

It’s time to harness technology.

In early 2006, Mexico announced the discovery of a massive new oil patch that would ease the growing global shortage of black gold. The only problem was that it lay beneath 3,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico and under another 2.5 miles of rock and seafloor. Specialized drills would be needed to maneuver around bedrock that had never previously been penetrated. It may be another decade before any of that oil sees the light of day. It may be never.

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Last week, Brazil announced plans to take control of its massive new oil discovery that lies beneath almost four miles of seawater, mud, and a thick layer of salt. Again, no one has ever drilled in formations like this and the new oil will be at least a decade away, if ever.

Oil is not the only commodity that may be limited by technology, or at least re-priced based on the enormous costs of such epic engineering challenges. This week comes news that AltaRock, a geothermal energy producer that is drilling for hot water in northern California, has experienced delays in harnessing this clean geothermal energy because of broken drill bits. That project is trying to drill more than two miles below the surface, but has been unable to penetrate the bedrock protecting the super-heated water resources.

It is indeed ironic that the limiting factor for securing either polluting fossil fuel or clean renewable energy is the same. It is even more ironic that if AltaRock succeeds, the oil developers may adapt its technology to finally get at the oil. The difference is that once the geothermal hole is drilled, it will provide an endless supply of clean energy, but if the oil drilling is successful, the immense cost will one day leave another empty hole in the seafloor and tons of additional carbon polluting the atmosphere.

It’s time to harness technology – – even old-fashioned engineering like drill bits – – for the benefit of humankind, not its continued decline and destruction.

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About the author

From his youth in Australia to career experiences in Europe, Africa, China and across the United States, Terry has developed expertise in business, farming, education, non-profit, the environment, the arts, and government. A United States Coast Guard-licensed ship captain, Terry has long been drawn to the undersea world, starting in the 1960s with a family-run tropical fish breeding business in Australia and continuing with studies on conch depletion in the Bahamas, manatee populations in Florida coastal waters, and mariculture in the Gulf States with Texas A&M University.

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