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Are Romney's drilling plans eco-friendly?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event at Watson Truck and Supply in Hobbs, New Mexico, on Aug. 23, 2012. Romney was in New Mexico to unveil his energy plan, which aims at energy independence for North America by 2020.

Mitt Romney has announced a new energy plan he says will lead to greater energy independence if he's elected. The plan calls for states to have greater authority to allow drilling on federal lands within their borders.

What would that drilling mean for those lands? For one thing, the drilling would be faster than before.

"Drilling efficiency has improved mostly because of the progress of information technology and drilling techniques," says Tad Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. "Not only the drilling bits got better, but the way we put them in and yank them out from the hole and the way we drill has improved, so the speed of drilling today is two to four times probably what it was even a couple of years ago."

Drilling technology has made huge leaps forward but it's still drilling and still has impact.

Patzek: I want to dispel the myth that all activities have no environment cost. They do. And so the question we have to ask ourselves is what is more important to us? Unspoiled landscape or oil and gas? And very often, in my mind at least, the answer to this question is far from clear.

Moe: You've talked about how much faster these are than previous technologies. Has the environmental footprint improved accordingly?

Patzek: Yes. So there are rig manufacturers who radically redesigned the rigs and for example make rigs that do not use mud pits, they use closed containers which are very easily assembled and disassembled in a very safe and clean way. In addition to that, because of the directional drilling and because of the progress of measurement while drilling and the other things that we do, from one location, very often you can drill several wells and that also decreases the environmental footprint.

Patzek says it's not the rigs themselves that would have the big effect on the environment.

Patzek: It comes in the form of excess roads, power lines, pipelines, all kinds of other things which have a much larger footprint than the wells themselves.

Moe: It's the infrastructure around the wells?

Patzek: Absolutely.

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About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.
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"It invites you to stop accepting everything that a political ad tells you at face value ..."

Did you ever accept anything a politician told you at face value?

Yeah ... I'm fairly certain you're being facetious. But I'm also fairly certain my time would be better spent playing Angry Birds, than trying to analyze political messages.

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