Like so much of modern life, humans in the developed world are increasingly removed from the forces that shape their lives. Take energy, for example. Wildcatting used to be a term that everyone was familiar with. A wildcatter was an independent oil prospector who roamed the land looking for oil in places not known to have oil. Like the cowboy, they were a part of the cultural fabric of the growing nation.
The term originates from the country’s first oil well, discovered in North Western Pennsylvania in the 1870’s. The initial strike happened at Wildcat Hollow in Oil Creek State Park. A local newspaper published a story about the strike stating “The discovery of the fluid in New York
State was the signal for a general exodus of wildcatters from all parts of the oil country…”
Just like that, the wildcat craze was on. As America pushed Westward in her quest for manifest destiny, wildcatters were a mainstay on the frontier, with many a fortune being made in the areas that would become Oklahoma and Texas. Eventually the oil market matured, and the individual prospector gave way to corporate interest.
Today with more and more countries climbing the ladder to prosperity, the demand for energy remains acute and is growing. Fracking and sideways drilling have unlocked some previously inaccessible sources of oil, but many geologists question if there will be enough. And that’s where the new wildcatter comes in. Today the modern wildcatter is looking to harvest renewable energy sources where none previously existed. Wildcatting today looks nothing like its oil soaked origin.
But the potential payoffs are just as considerable, and tempting, as they were 150 years ago.
Up in tiny Eastport Maine, the Ocean Renewable Power Company is wildcatting ocean currents in search of energy. In place of the oil derek, the company has pinned its hopes to a modestly sized generator that’s positioned under the ocean’s surface. While the small TidGen was only capable of supplying enough energy to power 25 to 30 homes, it set the stage for a much more significant project. Having succeeded with their first turbine, the company’s goal is to have a total of 18 generators in and around the Eastport waters. Their goal is to be able to supply thousands of homes with clean energy generated by the tides.
Perhaps no other state in the union is associated with oil more than Texas. But if a new generation of wildcatters have their way, Texas will soon be at the vanguard of the North American wind generated power. Already, Texas produces the most wind power of any U.S. state. In 2012 Dallas-based Tri Global Energy announced plans to work with Google to build a 650 turbine wind farm near Lubbock. And this year, far from being the fossil fuel dinosaur it’s portrayed as, Texas is leading the American push for renewable energy from the air.
Harnessing solar power has long been the holy grail of the renewable resource wildcatter. The first patent related to solar power was issued all the way back in 1886 in Genoa, Italy. But it’s always been a tricky proposition to make work. The problem with solar has always been monetizing the sun’s rays. While the amount of energy they provide is immense, it’s also fairly diluted. Concentrated Solar Plants use a series of mirrors to collect the sun’s heat over a wider area and focus it on a single point where it can be collected. Think of a small army of mirrors all pointing to a single point. Again, Texas is a leading researcher in the field, and already has a number of functioning concentrated solar harvesters. As the technology evolves—some companies are working on generating solar power on a cloudy day—the viability of solar will continue expanding.