Fracking Natural Gas
There is nothing that portrays more the ideological divide in America than the debate on energy. The climate and energy wars have now become an insurmountable chasm and no cost is too great for the ideologues. It is an all-out war, with no prisoners, not unlike so many other cultural, social and economic issues that only nasty and protracted election campaigns can ever resolve with the winners bound to be exhausted and losers to be permanently sour.
The dumbing down of the discourse is also all too apparent with Hollywood celebrities spearheading both the recent opposition to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline and the ever-present “fracking” rancor for natural gas production.
The pipeline, a strategically and economically compelling project, slated to carry at full capacity 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to refineries in the US Gulf Coast was put on hold in November by the Obama administration to “consider alternative routes for the Keystone XL oil pipeline to avoid ecologically sensitive areas of America’s heartland.” The decision was interpreted by friends and foes in exactly the same manner: it was a move to delay the final decision until after the 2012 election, a political hot potato for Obama who has steered towards his radical environmentalist base. In Canada, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, took less than 48 hours to utter the obvious. Canada will seek new markets in Asia, such as China.
On December 6, two stories broke by breakfast time.
The first was about a study by HIS, an energy consulting firm in Denver, estimating that by 2015 about 900,000 jobs will be added to the US economy, directly related to shale gas development. Considering this is happening “during a significant economic downturn – the most significant since World War II – that’s pretty remarkable,” according to the lead author John Larson.
Natural gas from shale is arguably the most important story in America’s energy mix over the last 40 years. There has never been any other energy source that increased its market share from essentially zero to more than 30 percent in five years. IHS predicts now that by 2035 shale gas will account for over 60 percent of domestic natural gas production and will contribute $230 billion to the annual US gross domestic product. Remarkable by anybody’s reckoning and considering that natural gas is the cleanest and less emitting of all fossil fuels one would think this would be a multi-win situation for all parts of the political and environmental spectrum.
Not so fast. Something that has to do with the second morning story of December 6 is the way with which shale gas can be produced. The rock is so tight, in other words its natural permeability is so small, that natural gas cannot be produced economically with just drilling a well. Two things are necessary: 1) drilling a horizontal branch, extending thousands of feet into the shale and 2) perform dozens of hydraulic fractures (the sinister “fracking”) whose areas provide the necessary exposure to the shale rock while the crack itself provides the conduit for the gas to flow into the well. It is absolutely essential for people to understand: “no frack – no gas.” There is no other way to physically accomplish this.
So the choice is stark and made more intractable when a fawning reporter from CNN (Alina Cho) throws softball questions and gets educated on fracking from that great expert, actor Mark Ruffalo. He is campaigning against fracking.
After he explained drilling, both vertical and horizontal and then fracking he talked about “fresh” water use, “7 million gallons”. Millions sound a lot except this amount of water, used once in the life of the well, is less than what is consumed in one day in a coal or nuclear power plant. He also failed to mention that the industry treats and recycles a lot of the water
He talked unchallenged about “whole aquifer contaminated”. On their own initiative CNN added color to the interview even showing twice the thoroughly discredited kitchen tap in flames scenes from the documentary Gasland. Methane near natural gas accumulations has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing. In fact people go to drill in the area because of these surface manifestations which for decade were the best exploration signal.
Ruffalo also talked about stopping “extreme extraction” for all energy sources and he also mentioned tar sands. I have no clue what he means but he did mention it in concert with climate change.
Nothing presents a clearer choice. Affordable energy abundance from shale gas that can generate almost one million high-paying jobs and hundreds of billions to the GDP or banning the production of that natural gas because shutting fracking activities will not happen alone. It would of course be a lot more effective had CNN done its homework or ask an expert and pose the question on the spot. Fawning over a Hollywood actor is ridiculous compared to what is at stake.