Monday, March 30, 2015

The U.S. Wants Arctic Oil When Fracked Stuff Runs Out....Really?

Comparison images of Arctic (top) and Antarctic sea ice changes for summer minimum and winter maximums. (From National Snow and Ice Data Center)

The news that a U.S. Energy Dept. advisory council  wants a push for more oil drilling in the Arctic once the fracked shale oil runs out, borders on insanity.  For one thing, grabbing that extra oil will almost certainly hurl us into the maw of the runaway greenhouse effect, see e.g.

It will also push the planet past the critical 550 gT threshold noted by Bill McKibben, meaning much harsher climate conditions once we pass the 2C increase mark. Why take this reckless action? Energy greed and fossil fuel addiction. In the latter case, the gov't predicts the shale boom won't last beyond the next decade - which is true.

By then, most of the U.S. landscape will have been gutted into a near Moonscape by the frackers, emulating sci fi flicks when the aliens invade and extract all our resources - leaving only craters and deserts. Water also will have reached crisis shortage levels on account of the water-intensive nature of fracking (4 mil gallons used per frack well, then toxic brine removed after the frack that must be disposed of).  And we won't even go into the pollution of soil and air, e.g.

So, because the powers that be have decided the U.S. must "keep domestic production high" the push is on to drill the Arctic into submission. According to Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon and chairman of the council's committee:

"There will come a time when all the resources supplying the world's economies today are going to go in decline. So this will be what's needed next."

And then when that runs out, what will you do? The fact is every last drop of oil - more than the 4,400 gT McKibben asserts we mustn't touch, will be needed to "support economies" if population continues growing along with demand. Also, if alternate energy isn't developed, such as solar.

Even if the Arctic is drilled it won't slow the decline in economic growth and living standards which is tied to the degraded nature and difficulty of getting contemporary oil.  For example, current fracked oil (from shale) costs on average $70 a barrel to extract. If the oil price is less than this (as it is now at $50. bl), that means the source isn't even at "breakeven" point in terms of energy returned on energy invested.. By contrast, the light sweet crude oil we'd been getting earlier returned nearly 18 times more than the cost to extract it per barrel. These are signs Peak Oil has come and gone (estimated in 2005) but most people don't even know what Peak Oil means. It doesn't mean the oil has stopped or slowed in production, it means the era of cheap oil is over,  making everything more expensive.

Neil Lawrence, Alaska Director for the National Resources Defense Council, has said (Denver Post, Sunday, p. 19A):

"If there's a worse place to look for oil, I don't know what it is".

He's correct.

In a blog post 4  years ago, I warned about the impending signs of ice sheet breakup and melting in Greenland in connection with the phenomenon known as "Jokulhlaup" (cf. ‘Jokulhlaup Observed in Greenland ice sheet’, appearing in Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (Vol. 89, No. 35, 26 Aug. 2008, p. 221). The cited paper specifically noted an increased frequency in occurrence of “jokalhlaups”or sudden glacial bursts of melting runoff from glaciers.

It was this phenomena that also played a role in the “unusual cracks" that set off the separation of a “chunk of ice the size of Manhattan” (19 sq. miles)from Ellesmere Island in Canada’s northern Arctic. In the case of the increasing Greenland Jokulhlaup we are looking not just at one massive breakoff, but the loss of perhaps 45% of the entire Greenland ice sheet on account of the underground splintering effects producing ever larger cracks in the ice and the inability of it to support the overlying permafrost and other ice. Thus, onset will be sudden and perhaps more like a "terror attack" from nature.

Needless to say, if drilling commences on the scale suggested for the Arctic, jokalhlaups will dramatically increase, and arguably ...the end of human reign on this planet will be much closer.

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