BORING IN ENGLAND FOR PETROLEUM.
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A Rejoinder to the Statements. Concerning the Government's Attitude. By the Editor of "Oil News."
IN Tax Comitentr, MOTOR of 5th September, in an article entitled "The Home Production of Oil," the present writer criticized the Government's oil policy. On 26th September a reply to his criticism appeared which bears internal evidence of its official source. The following notes are by way of comment on the article of 26th September.
Much is gained when the Government are forced into the open. If, however, the article of 26th September is the best defence they can produce, their case is deplorably weak;. and, as will be shown, they are condemned out of their own mouth.
It was asserted by'the present writer on 5th September that the oil scarcity" is in part at least avoidable, and that the Government could have avoided it if they had liked" Something of what the Government have to say (26th September) in reply to this charge may now be considered. The first Government argument is that the Production Department was right in rejecting the low, temperature distillation proposals of the Research Department Now, the Research Department was created to teach the Government how to increase home production. That the Production Department refused to be taught seems on the face of it nothing to be proud of. The present writer does not allege that the Research people were right and the Production people were wrong. What is claimed is that one department set up by the Government refused the advice of another department set up by the Government for the special purpose of giving advice. If the Government qua Production is right[then the Govern ment qua Research is wrong. , But the reference to low-temperature distillation is a red herring drawn across the trail. By the Government's own confession (20th September), the report of the Research Department was not available until the summer of 1917, or nearly three years after war began. The question is not : Which department was right? but, Why was there more than three years delay in making use of such obvious home sources as cannel ? That the thing is being done now is a proof that it could have been done before.
As an "alternative to low-temperature distillation,",say the Government, fuel oil was brought to this country in the double bottoms of liners and cargo boats. There is nothing wonderful in this. Any bright fourth form boy would think of it. But it begs the question. What the Government is charged with is neglect of home oil resources. It is no answer to that to say that fuel oil is being imported, even in double bottoms. To neglect home resources and rely on imports and "double bottoms" was a gamble against the U-boats ; and it is due to the" Navy, and not to the Oil Departments of the Government, that the gamble resulted happily for us.
To take the credit of importing oil safely when the credit really belongs to the Navy is such a piece of meanness that one feels sure it is unintentional.
Space forbids a reply to all the Government contentions put forward on 26th September ; but shale oil in Scotland and drilling in England must be referred to.
In excusing themselves for not having increased the Scottish shale oil output they say: "Early in the war many of the employees of the Scottish companies enlisted, with the result that the output diminished considerably."• The very next sentence says: "It is only by the strenuous efforts of the Petroleum Administration that the position has been retrieved ; men have been returned from the colours." Then why did the Government let the miners go ? It was "early in the war," before compulsory service. The point need not be laboured.
We come finally to drilling fort oil in England. The official view (26th September) is that the critics contend that "little or nothing has been done to encourage boring in England for petroleum." That puts the issue fairly ; but the present writer gives an unhesitating denial to the next assertion, that "statements to that effect can be wholly disproved by inquiry." Space 'again compels a very brief rejoinder. No active step was taken towards drilling for oil from the beginning of the war up to June, 1817. When such step was taken (the appeal to Lord Cowdray) it was not the oil departments that took it ; it was the Admiralty, which was anxious about fuel oil. Not a single foot of ground was drilled for oil from the beginning of the war up to August, 1918. The apologists of 26th September say : "Lord Oowdray originaDy refused to proceed without legislation." The Governmtnt attempt to shelter behind Lord Cowdray is cowardly, And begs -the question as well. Oil was (presumably) there. The Government had physical powers to go and drill for it. They could have, commanded the necessary machinery. Lord Cowdray could not stop them. The sites were selected at Lord Cowdray's expense and disclosed to the Government by his patriotism. Yet the oil (if it be there) has lain undisturbed to this day, had only during the last few weeks has any attempt been made to get at it.
The " legislation " excuse is destroyed by Mr. Boner Law's 'statement on 14th January, 1918: "It had been • decided not to proceed with the Petroleum Bill, as it had been found that the action necessary could be . taken without special legislation." That was seven months after Lord Cowdray wag appealed to by the Admiralty, and seven months before any drilling work was done. Why was there 14 months' delay ? The present drilling is being undertaken "without special legislation."
This article must close—but not for want of matter.
As a finale let the case of Mr. C. E. Best be mentioned. He wanted to drill for oil at Kelham, Notts., . where he had land on which oil had already been got accidentally. But he was snubbed in 1916 by the Ministry of Munitions, which wrote him that his operations.were "riot likely to have a direct bearing on the supply of munitions of war," and refused to grant him certain facilities. Yet in May, 1918, the Government licensed him to drill. Still later, the Government stopped him from proceeding under his licence. Here, in a single case, is a policy twice reversed.
But oil ought to have been .drilled for four years ago. The geological formations were known ; there wero scientists who would have selected sites for borehole's. Yet four years of war passed before the soil was disturbed for this purpose. Is it not quite true, then, to say that "little or nothing has been done to encourage boring in England for petroleumi'l