fracking

Is the Fracking Boom Really Just a Bubble?

(3BL/Justmeans Media) - The explosion of domestically produced oil and gas through fracking has produced tremors both in the ground surrounding a number of wells as well as in the economy. Suddenly, the whole energy picture has been turned on its head. Instead of an energy importer, we’ve became an energy exporter.

Oil and gas production are both up by double-digits compared to a decade ago. Fears of running out of oil have been replaced by fears of a production glut. We may soon have more oil than we need. This will do little to encourage developers to slow down, despite the numerous concerns that have been raised about the safety and environmental impact of this form of resource extraction, not to mention climate change.

Instead development is going full speed ahead for a number of reasons, including:

  1. Replacement of natural gas for coal as a carbon reduction strategy
  2. Post-Fukushima move away from nuclear
  3. Geopolitical shift to raise America as an energy power relative to OPEC and Russia
  4. Dreams of a lucrative LNG export market
  5. Resurgence of American manufacturing based on low cost energy.
  6. A return to the belief that we will never run out of oil

A recent post by Resilience.org questions the extent to which these claims are based in reality and how much is simply wishful thinking. IS this really the beginning of a new petroleum era, or is a desperate last gasp by the oil industry, an attempt to retain their pre-eminent position in the world economy?

Notice that there is no mention here of climate change. The idea that gas is cleaner than coal—which is true—seems to be enough to satisfy many people that we are doing something despite the fact that, while helpful, it is far from sufficient to reverse the rising levels of atmospheric carbon.

Despite the chronically over-optimistic forecast of the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), the folks at Post Carbon Institute (PCI) decided to take a look at the data themselves to see if they came to the same conclusion. This, after the EIA, in 2011, responding to United States Geological Survey (USGS) numbers, cut its estimate of recoverable shale gas in the Marcellus field by 80% and Poland by 99%.

That was followed by another downward revision by EIA, of the amount of recoverable tight oil in California’s Monterey Formation, by 96%.

It’s worth asking the question, are we being played?

If We Can't Make Fracking Unnecessary, Can We At Least Make It Safer?

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - Russell Gold’s pragmatic piece about fracking in the Wall Street Journal makes a number of excellent points. First, our economy has such an enormous appetite for energy, that there is no way we can simultaneously give up coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas, as much as the environment would like us to, without bringing things to a screeching halt. So pick your poison.

Conventional wisdom has been that gas is the lesser of the four evils, especially after Fukushima, where nuclear lost most of whatever remaining luster it had. Even the esteemed Rocky Mountain Institute said we could wean ourselves off the other three, while growing the economy, so long as we had natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” That was before the precipitous drop in gas prices due to the discovery of Marcellus Shale and before the realization of the many issues associated with fracking.

Gold mentions several of them: the leaks, the lack of water testing or understanding as to what constitutes a safe and suitable site, and the lack of quality control throughout the process.

He does not mention several other issues including the question of earthquakes triggered by fracking, and the presence of radon in the gas. Radon has a radioactive half-life of 2-3 days. The means that by the time it reaches New York from places like Louisiana, it is no longer radioactive. But it can get to New York a lot faster from Pennsylvania.

Mr. Gold focuses more on pre-testing water before drilling in order to protect companies from “abusive false claims” of water contamination, than he does on legitimate claims.

As to the question of leaks, which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently found were serious enough to make natural gas less climate-friendly than diesel fuel (though still more benign than coal), he says it’s just a matter of finding the leaks and fixing them. That could be easier said than done, considering the shoddy state of much of our infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. There is also the fact that some of the leakage is intentional. Many natural gas wells operating in remote areas without electricity use pneumatic controllers that are powered by a flow of gas that spins a turbine before being released into the atmosphere. Annual releases of as much as 50 billion cubic feet have been recorded in recent years. The EPA has begun regulating these releases under the Clean Air Act, which has led to newer designs with lower emissions that are now being deployed. But these emissions could be cut to zero if solar powered electric units with backup batteries were used instead.

But perhaps the biggest omission is any discussion of any of the work that is currently taking place to actually make fracking safer.

New Paper Shows Fracking Drilling Concentrates in Water Pressed Areas

Ceres study reveals fracking operations are mostly located in regions suffering with water scarcity.

New Report Warns of Coal’s Increasing Share of the Global Energy Mix

IEA's new report forecasts coal growth in emerging countries for lack of high carbon prices.

Subscribe to fracking