Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Mensa Bulletin Looks At The Two Sides of Fracking - What Should You Believe?
The latest issue of the Mensa Bulletin featured two interesting back to back articles on fracking. The first, 'Energy and Economic Freedom' by Leonard Gaston, sang the praises of fracking for both natural gas and shale oil (kerogen) and how it is helping to make us energy independent. The second, 'Selling Our Health and Homes', by Al Bell, examined how fracking is undermining not only our environment - devastating water sources and ecological systems - but also our own health by extension.
According to Gaston, in his frack- praising piece (p. 20):
"The Independent Energy Agency indicated in its 2012 world energy outlook, that by 2018 North America will provide 40 percent of new supplies through the development of tight oil and oil sands and that the expected steep rise in U.S. shale oil reserves will change the global balance of power between existing producers and new producers."
Note that "tight" oil means that extracted at or near the "breakeven point", i.e. the energy input to extract it is nearly equal to the energy that will be delivered by it. In most instances of kerogen fracking, I am putting in about 1.1 barrels of high EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) light crude oil, to get about 1 barrel back. This is based on the additional energy needed to clean up nasty fracking waste pits, spills, leaks and other collateral damage. And btw, this is heavy, volatile, 'skank'' oil of the type that has recently been traced to explosions in rail way storage cars - in Canada and in the U.S.
From there, Gaston goes on to sing even more praises and presses the case for pie-eyed optimism, quoting the head of British Petroleum (surely a font of insight), stating that the rise in U.S. oil production - largely due to shale oil - would make the United States "completely independent of imported oil, likely by 2030."
Maybe, but what condition will the planet be in by then- with over ten million fracking wells and more added all the time? Is it really worth all that extra energy and to boast of "energy independence" to live in a ravaged world where you can barely breathe and looking across the landscape you see only barren, shredded terrain, with barely any water left to drink (all poisoned by methane and other effluent)? What kind of a parent would even want to bring a kid into such a world?
These questions are left to Al Bell to answer, but even before he does, Robert Heinberg ('Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future' ) has butchered the whole Pollyannish nonsense that fracked oil and natural gas are our energy saviors - oh, and will be kind to the environment.
As Heinberg observes, while it may cost less to extract a cubic foot of natural gas or a gallon of oil shale today, it will cost much more in just five years and even more in ten - such that one would have to spend as much or more to get the energy as the benefit it delivers. Heinberg summons a point that most of the snake oil salesman humping fracking won't tell you, that it costs energy to get energy. And if you are a nation that resorts to employing 15 to 1 EROEI energy to extract 5 to 1 EROEI oil shale energy.....well, can we say 'stupid'?
As Heinberg puts it (p. 116):
"No evidence suggests that the technology of fracking has actually raised the EROEI for natural gas production. It temporarily lowered prices but only by glutting the market."
Heinberg's book is essentially a tour-de-force exposing the false promise of fracking with hard statistics and basic energy principles. Regarding the much ballyhooed "shale oil" or kerogen, Heinberg is blunt (ibid.):
"Kerogen is not oil. It is better thought of as an oil precursor that was insufficiently cooked by geologic processes. If we want to turn it into oil, we have to finish the process nature started: that involves heating the kerogen to a high temperature for a long time. And that in turn takes energy- lots of it, whether supplied by hydroelectricity, nuclear power plants, natural gas, or the kerogen itself. Therefore the EROEI in processing oil shale is bound to be pitifully low. According to the best study to date, by Cutler Cleveland and Peter O'Connor, the EROEI for oil shale production would be about 2:1. That tells us that oil from kerogen will be far more expensive than regular crude oil."
Many Mensans, I think, would not have read any of this before seeing Bell's account, and hence may be skeptical (especially since way too many Mensans buy into the libertarian nonsense.) I will be looking to see what sort of responses come in over the next few months,
Bell's bona fides and familiarity with oil and natural gas came from his father who had been president of the Southern Gas Association and a member of the American Gas Association. No surprise he had largely been into the "drill, baby, drill" meme. His education on the deleterious effects of natural gas fracking, however, came by virtue of seeing Josh Fox's Gasland and Gasland II documentaries, e.g.
As Bell observes (p. 22):
"My views have now been completely reversed by two documentaries, Gasland and Gasland II, and by the all out and totally unscrupulous efforts by the gas industry to discredit the information provided by those two films. I have little love for environmentalists, but when they are right we must pay attention and this is such a case."
He goes on to elaborate on the pro-frack propaganda, leading to too many brainwashed citizens:
"Gas industry ads blanketing television now are intended to show you how safe this process is and how we all benefit from it. The ads show how this fracked shale is separated by thousands of feet of rock from the aquifers high above and how steel casings and cement liners prevent any gas escaping into the aquifer."
He goes on to show what bollocks this is by citing the gas industry's own stats that disclose 5 percent of cement liners fail immediately, and more fail progressively with time. In Gasland II, for example, Josh Fox shows an actual document from Schlumberger, revealing that cement failure occurs at alarming rates - as depicted in one of their graphs showing 'fraction of wells affected by cement failure' vs. the well age in years'. The document showed a failure fraction of 40 percent after only 12 years, and a failure fraction of 50 percent after 30 years. That means if 1.5 million new wells are added in the US of A, as projected, 750,000 will leak after thirty years. If 180,000 are added to PA, that means 90,000 will leak after 30 years.
So the natural gas and other ads pumping "safety" are all BS.
The result of all the leaks, as Bell notes (p. 23): "The result is tap water that contains methane, other gases and chemicals" (Like benzene). He also shoots down the idiocy, pushed e.g. by Niall Ferguson, that the quality of air is unaffected. He writes (ibid.):
"Special FLIR cameras have captured scenes of massive amounts of methane escaping from the drilling sites, polluting the air."
As here in Colorado, Bell has noted "frequent fogs of brown gas escaping from wells, blanketing homes and herds". Such instances have caused gas companies to erect enormous walls, some fifty feet high and blocks long, in some Denver metro communities - to try and prevent the noise and effluent from affecting communities excessively. One of them near Denver is shown below:
But the negative health impacts can't be cordoned off so easily - especially as the frackers can extend their drilling underneath the walls, even into neighboring properties. Bell observes (ibid.):
"You may now be eating meat from cattle raised in this environment. Much of our country is being destroyed by fracking. Just the sight of dead wildlife, poisoned streams, sick children and burning wells - and government mendacity and collusion will disgust you."
Indeed! And lo and behold there on CBS Early Show this a.m. was the little shyster, Lloyd Blankfein - of Goldman Sachs - which made out like bandidos in the aftermath of the '08 financial meltdown ( by making credit default bets against good lenders). Here he was proclaiming what a "blessing" it is to now have energy independence in the near future. As the little rat said:
"Here we had all taken it for granted that we'd have to import energy from the most troubled places in the world. Now, all of a sudden, we have a completely different view forward. And if you want to think how that will change the world going forward - just think of how the world might have been different if we didn't have the energy situation we had. Going forward, we have a terrific situation and we should recognize it. It's a gift and it has to be picked up."
Which makes me wonder what turnip truck this little prick fell off of. For one thing, his reference to what "might have been" is totally disingenuous. What is he saying? That if we'd only started to plumb natural gas and shale oil sources 40 years ago we'd have avoided becoming embroiled in Middle East geopolitics? Or the Arab Oil Embargo? Hello! It was precisely that HIGH EROEI light sweet crude that enabled everything that advanced the nation - from powerful machines leading to efficient manufacturing, to jet aircraft in modern aviation (and mass transport via such) to air conditioning, and petroleum byproducts (including fertilizers for growing crops). It was that HIGH quality oil, not degraded kerogen, that enabled it, you doofus! Hence, without that Arabian (and domestic) light sweet crude, our economic growth up until the 1970s or so never would have been what it was!
As for shale oil fracking being a "gift", tell that to the kids dealing with sores and rashes all over their bodies, and unable to breathe without coughing half the time.
Blankfein also pointed to the creation of "2 million new jobs" but as Al Bell observes, these are mainly in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and North Dakota where the frack craze has brought in drillers by the tens of thousands, to try and grab their brass ring. The result? "Motels in Texas and Louisiana are doubling all their prices" and roads are clogged with many more thousands that the towns were not developed to accommodate. Meanwhile, pollution and noise reigns supreme.
Meanwhile, the claim that these new fossil fuel "plays" are resulting in a "5 percent reduction in greenhouse gases" is just plain balderdash. In fact, greenhouse gases- including methane and CO2 -are now increasing at an ever more dangerous level (See 'The Years of Living Dangerously' which can also be viewed online.)
At the end of his PR appearance, Blankfein claimed that:
"Everybody is pro-environment and everybody is pro-energy. It's not a question of somebody being right and somebody being wrong".
But in Al Bell's essay, it is! Key among the issues is the loss of water supplies, especially, since each fracked well consumes 3-5 million gallons of fresh water So that question, not to be facetious, becomes:
"Would you rather have clean water to drink and use, OR energy?"
This puts the issue in a more objective form than Blankfein's. Since no one can live without water, and we can live with less energy (though yes, it might be hard to surrender all those smart phones and notebooks) it is a no -brainer. "Balancing" the two seems to be a fool's errand, because as it is, the gas industry isn't interested in being balanced. They will not, for example, allow communities here in Colorado to establish limits to fracking. (It has been left to Jared Polis to table such a referendum for vote in November - to enable all CO communities to decide for themselves if they want fracking or not).
Given the lack of balance, the environment and human health must trump the energy mandate. However, don't look for industry, government or Wall Street to go along with anything citizens want. On this score, Bell is perhaps correct when he ends his piece with:
"If we do not stop plans to frack (in the CA Central Valley, where most of the nation's produce is grown) we will be totally fracked!"