Drilling The UK  

Posted by Big Gav in

The BBC has a report on efforts to explore onshore areas in the UK for oil - Rush for oil reaches Britain's fields.

At first glance Britain's green fields and ancient woodlands have little in common with deserts of Saudi Arabia or the Texas plains - but the oil deep beneath parts of the UK could be the next frontier in the bid to beat the energy crisis.

A record number of prospectors are scouring scores of sites across the East Midlands, Yorkshire and a swathe of southern England. The dizzying rise in oil prices over the past year to above $147 a barrel has made even the smallest pockets of oil and gas commercially viable.

Environmentalists fear drilling for oil will ruin some of Britain's most beautiful landscapes but the government and oil companies say that it will help secure the UK's energy supplies amid a global grab for oil. ...

The UK's onshore oil industry is still tiny compared to production in the North Sea but is attracting the attention of companies from as far afield as the US, Australia and Canada.

In May, the government awarded a record 97 new licences to 54 applicants for onshore oil and gas exploration. Five years ago, only eight licences were granted. Hampshire-based Egdon Resources obtained six of those licences, allowing the firm to prospect for oil and gas in Dorset and the East Midlands.

Mr Abbott says a typical UK oil field will contain one million to 10 million barrels of oil. "It's not Saudi Arabia or even the North Sea. But if we find oil, it's quick and easy to put in small, low-key production facilities and then tanker the oil out to refineries," he says. ...

The UK has a long history of oil production. Onshore drilling in the East Midlands proved vital to the war effort during World War I and the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea in the late 1960s allowed the UK to become largely self-sufficient in the two resources.

But this is changing. The UK became a net importer of gas in 2004 and is expected to become a net importer of oil by 2010 as production in the North Sea declines from its 1999 peak of about 2.9 million barrels a day. Building and maintaining offshore platforms is costly and as fields mature there are fears that the return will no longer be enough to cover costs and make big profits.

The Guardian has an article on a forest observatory in Northumberland, which may be a good place to watch the rigs pumping away one day - A view with a room.
It is the darkest place in England. The Kielder Forest, occupying 250 square miles and situated just where Northumberland brushes against Scotland, has the lowest levels of light pollution in the country - making it the perfect place to watch the stars. Here, far from towns and cities, where all that artificial light smogs up the skies, Charles Barclay, a young, London-based architect, has designed a gloriously inventive yet low-key observatory. It is a place where amateur stargazers and professional astronomers can share telescopes, viewing platforms, ideas and knowledge, beneath one of the most wonderful sights the country has to offer, as the sun sets on clear days and eyes adjust to the seemingly infinite expanse of stars above.

This really is a remote spot. It is the last great, uninvaded playground of the red squirrel, as well as home to otters, roe deer, six species of bat (happily evident in the hot summer skies) and any number of birds of prey, from goshawks to windhovers. Unless you are prepared to drive, though, the Kielder Observatory, built for the Forestry Commission and the Kielder Partnership, is very hard to get to. The last passenger train stopped at Kielder Forest station in 1956. If trains were running along the route today, they would be busy all summer: there is so much to see, by day as well as by night. There's the vast reservoir, opened in 1982 and almost instantly redundant, designed to quench the thirst of heavy industry along the Tyne, Wear and Tees. There are 155m trees, great stretches of moor and bog, and a cluster of enigmatic artworks, plus numerous other structures - including Japanese architect Kisa Kawakami's Mirage, which features 1,000 steel discs woven between trees - all commissioned over the years by the Kielder Partnership.

And now there's the observatory. I finally got here by the post bus that runs morning and afternoon from Hexham, half an hour from Newcastle upon Tyne by train. The observatory - which is not staffed all the time, so check before you go - is a small wonder, a kind of wooden pier stretching over land. When the doors of the turrets concealing its telescopes glide open, it looks like a child's drawing of a warship. With its decks and galley, its largely timber and steel construction, and great views out across the waters of Kielder Forest, the observatory really does feel like a ship at sea - especially as night settles in and only the ghostly shrieks of barn owls remind you that you are a long way from tidal waters.

Set on concrete stilts, the observatory has two hand-cranked, rotating telescope turrets; between them sits an open-air terrace where amateur stargazers can unfold their telescopes, and a timber retreat called the "warm room". This is where professional astronomers can operate the smaller telescope remotely, by computer. The room is equipped with a stove, and there's a compost lavatory next door. All the energy the observatory needs is generated by a 2.5kw wind turbine and by solar power. This special building touches down on the Kielder landscape as gently as a long-legged fly on the nearby reservoir.

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