Friday, September 20, 2019

WHY Are The Frackers Doing A Language "Overhaul"?

A drilling rig operates in Erie in 2015.
Top: Fracking well despoiling water and emitting volatile organic chemicals in a Colo. town. Bottom: Students get ready for global climate strike

Today, as the global  climate strike revs up, it is well to consider the not insignificant role of fracking.  True, fracked shale oil is still a minor part of fossil fuel consumption but it has an outsized impact on the environment and public health. We've known this since the excellent two-part documentary ("Gasland")  by Josh Fox.  See e.g.

Less well known is that fracking - apart from wasting precious ground water reserves and contaminating the environment with fine particulates e.g.
has been a bottomless money pit for investors.  This is  given it takes more energy to generate a quantity of fracked shale oil than the extracted amount delivers.  Thus, the June article in The Wall Street Journal's Business and Finance Section (' Frackers Scrounge For Cash As Wall Street Shuts Spigot'', p. B1, June 7) didn't really astonish or surprise me.. Especially on reading:

"The companies behind the U.S. fracking boom are turning to asset sales, drilling partnerships and other alternative financing to supplement their cash flow. These forms of funding often come with higher interest rates or other downsides  - such as giving outside investors a hefty share of future oil and gas profits."

And further (p. B2):

"Producers have been forced to get creative about financing because Wall Street began shutting off the cash spigot  last year after frackers routinely failed to turn a profit over the last decade."

Worse, only a tenth of large shale companies saw a positive cash flow in the first quarter of 2019.   This according to a Rystad  Energy analysis of 40  drillers.  To sustain  or increase their production these companies had to keep drilling new wells, as opposed to seeing greater production from each existing well .

The piece also noted some companies had become so desperate for cash to jump start new wells that they turned to junk bonds.  The central question emerged:  Why have the frackers - who seemed to be all over the place -- failed to turn a profit over a decade? 

I explained this in earlier posts in terms of the lower energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) say compared with the light  crude oil of the past, non-shale based. I also pointed out the difference in EROEI translated into some bad economics given the lower energy content of shale oil (kerogen) meant the frackers would always be in "catch up" mode so struggling in an energy (and hence economic)  hole.  A less efficient energy source means you have to extract more of it, and at ever higher costs given the innate diminishing returns. (According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in a report issued as recently as May 31::"The average breakeven price of oil has fallen 4 percent (or $2 per barrel) over the past year, to $50 per barrel, according to the latest Dallas Fed Energy Survey." )

The entire issue of sinking oil shale fortunes pivots on the breakeven price: that amount which the recovered oil needs to earn to have made its extraction worthwhile  If that per barrel amount tends to be below what the market offers, a loss occurs and over years the losses pile up. In many cases, as seen in recent years there is the added factor of an oil glut from over production.  In this case one has an excess supply and so oil prices tend to plummet creating a bigger financial hole for an already marginal operation.

The issue first surfaced some six years ago in Richard Heinberg's book, Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future', ( p.115).   Therein we learned from a report by a London -based brokerage firm,  Tullett Prebon:

 "Our calculated EROEIs both for 1990 (40:1) and for 2010 (17:1) are reasonably close to the numbers cited for those years by Andrew Lees. For 2020, our projected EROEI of 11.5 to 1 is not as catastrophic as 5: 1 but would nevertheless mean that the share of GDP absorbed by energy costs would have escalated to 9.6% from about 6.7% today. Our projections further suggest energy costs would absorb as much as 15% of GDP (at an EROEI of 7.7 to 1)  by 2030."

Now we flash forward to a WSJ Business & Finance piece from Sept. 10  (p. B1):  'Fracking Lingo Gets An Overhaul' where we learn that:   "Frackers are changing how they talk and how they drill to show they can live within their means."   The problem is that  changing the language doesn't really address the core problem: The low EROEI of shale oil which makes it a fundamentally inefficient mode of oil extraction and use.  But what language overhauls are we talking about?  Some examples from the piece:

1) "Where once top shale executives promised to 'ramp up/ production, these days they are more likely to assure investors they can deliver 'free cash flow'."

According to the article this is "the trendiest term in the industry right now".  It has become synonymous with the promise "not to spend beyond their income and to then generate profits which can be returned to investors."

So, in other words, the execs are promising to lowball the costs of their fracking operations because they can't deliver the fracked oil at the price needed for investors to make a buck.. So the interpretation seems to be forget "production growth" and instead look to "discipline" - meaning the frackers will cut more corners to try to ensure costs of extracting the stuff are within bounds.  But this is impossible if the shale oil itself is of such low grade in terms of EROEI.  After all (ibid.)

"Many of  the companies have yet to show they can deliver consistent returns or live within their means as oil prices hover below $60 a barrel"

Again, WHY is this? Well, it's because it costs MORE to extract a barrel of shale oil than $60 a barrel. So  at that price it's a breakeven world and  below that price it's a LOSS.  If companies have YET to show they can live within their means then they never will unless oil prices spike much much higher.  The EROEI of shale is simply too low compared to light sweet crude to support its consistent profitable production.  Hence, no surprise that "shale stocks have hit historic lows with many companies all but cut off from capital markets and many filing for bankruptcy protection."

In other words, the classic losing operation, or "batting on a losing wicket" in Bajan parlance

2) The frackers promised investors they would "downspace" the wells , i.e. move them more closely. In this case, the frackers claimed "they could boost production by placing wells in closer proximity".  

However, .they  found "doing so meant the wells produced less as they draw down the same resources".  

 Quick to parse the lingo, the industry called it the "Parent-child well problem"   but I call it the "not enough shale energy to go around" problem."  Obviously if two wells are placed closer together and the extracted oil from the combo is less than expected it means there wasn't enough there to supply 2 wells to begin with.   Or to put it another way: the energy returned from the two wells is still too low to make a profit because the oil extraction process itself is too inefficient to support the cost. Because the shale itself (kerogen) is too unprofitable.

Supporting this thesis is the revelation (ibid.) that:  "as financing dries up many companies are retreating to the sweetest spots in the best basins and shutting down drilling elsewhere."  Again, why is that being done?  It's because the frackers - with so little capital to work with on account of the oil price being too low, e..g.  to make it profitable -  have to go to the most productive basins to even break even.  Hell, and "even stalwart fields where the shale boom began, including North Dakota's Bakken, are declining in popularity with drillers."  Why?   Because it takes more energy and effort to snag the few barrels left than the barrels are worth!  The amount of energy processing for kerogen, given its cost, is simply too much for the quality of energy resulting.

  As  Richard Heinberg explains (op. cit.,  p. 110):

"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. "

Oil shale fracking is a symptom of diminishing quality supplies of oil, that of high EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) not oil abundance. Anyone with half a brain would know that, which is why Heinberg  refers to it as "snake oil". It simply can't deliver the energy solution promised and in fact its continued use will result in ever lower quotas of useful energy- at ever higher cost.

While we're on the topic of fossil fuel production and global climate issues, let's bear in mind the Dems are not all pure as driven snow in regard to fossil fuel impacts, campaign cash flows etc.. (At least they seem to be better  in comparison to the climate change denying Reeps.)  On Wednesday, the 103-member New Democrat Coalition saw its Pac BP, ExxonMobil and the Edison Electric Institute all max out on donations to this year –then  outline a series of incremental and “pro-market” steps to curb carbon emissions.

 A suite of legislation unveiled on Wednesday would do many great things, like investing in clean energy research and development via ARPA-E and limiting emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It is not, however, a plan for fulfilling the challenge laid out by the IPCC, leaving the door open to define coal as a potential source of “clean energy” in pursuit of a “technology-neutral, market-oriented standard for electric energy generation” and providing a financial incentive for fossil fuel companies to capture carbon dioxide and funnel it back into pumping out more fossil fuels.

Sadly. Greta Thunberg’s right. And establishment Democrats pushing doomed strategies and policies are denying climate reality nearly as much as Republicans.

Those who want to access all 340 pages of the 'Climate Deception Dossiers' can go here:

See also:




Thursday, September 19, 2019

Erratic WSJ Screed Against Socialism Merely Indicts The Author (Roger Kimball) And His Irrelevant Arguments

There's no avoiding the fact the debased Neoliberal media goes to extreme lengths to try to deform public perceptions of both socialism and capitalism.  Hence, for the latter they try to tie in "freedom" and "wealth" for all whereas the truth is more how Chris Hedges has described it.  I myself  had little conception of  corporatist capitalism  until writing  'The Elements of the Corporatocracy' - later converted into a book.  My motivation was to expose the many lies that attempted to instill in citizens a false consciousness that twisted socialism into a terrifying caricature while extolling capitalism.

One of the hallmarks of a religion is that its dogmas and tenets are accepted without question, or challenge. These arrive from 'on high' so are presumed beyond experimental test, or testing via personal experience in the real world.  On account of the absence of reality testing even its myths are thereby integrated into a person's belief matrix and become unquestioned tropes.  In this sense, Bill Maher's  June 2, 2016 comparison of capitalism to religion in the final segment of his Real Time was spot on.  

For those seeking an in depth exposure of capitalism's multitude of defects there is Chris Hedges' book, 'The Empire of Illusion'.  Hedges pulls no punches in showing how  - when it comes to being "incurious"  - the corporate media gets medals, i.e. in demeaning democratic socialism while blindly elevating capitalism to preposterous heights. 

 Enter now a recent(Sept. 3rd) WSJ essay by Roger Kimball, entitled 'Socialism is for the Incurious' (p. A17).  The piece trots out assorted quotes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Joseph Stalin, and Sir Roger Scruton - to end up with this nonsense:

"Human reality is drained of dignity and becomes material to be shaped and formed according to the scheme of utopian power."

But socialism is hardly utopian!  It is the practical means by which capitalism is inhibited from becoming a metastatic malignancy to the detriment of public welfare.   A sober essay  perspective is offered by Robert Freeman:

"Anybody here ever used the Internet? That was created by a government agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The technology itself was invented during the Nixon administration. Nixon was a Republican president. It was turned on by the same agency in 1983, under Ronald Reagan, another Republican president. That is socialism.

Anybody here ever been made safer by the military, or felt safer knowing that police or fire or first-responder services were there? That’s people coming together to solve problems that none of us could solve on our own. Socialism.

Anybody here ever fly on an airplane? Guess what, your safety was guaranteed by thousands of standards set by the FAA, and by air traffic control, run by the same agency. Socialism. Anybody here ever used prescription drugs, or drunk water or breathed air or eaten food that was made cleaner or safer by government rules and standards? Guess what? That’s socialism.

You get the idea. The truth is that without some elements of socialism, capitalism doesn’t work. It literally collapses of its own predatory greed. Don’t take my word for it.

That’s what happened in the 1930s. Capitalism, left to its own devices, destroyed itself. That’s what we call the Great Depression. It was the greatest economic event of the past century. And you know how it was solved? It was solved by socialism.  Roosevelt created Social Security (notice the word “social” in the name), unemployment insurance, regulations so that bank deposits would be safe, public service employment programs, and more. All socialist to the core."

For the take of a Danish woman, which echoes the above points, in answer to a fearful question on socialism by Oprah,  see e.g.

By contrast, with so many citations of different actors from different epochs, it's no wonder that Kimball - at the end of his erratic screed- ends up with a miasma of disjointed,  incoherent rants.  For example:

"The cruel and suffocating intrusiveness of those dystopian experiments against reality are not so seamlessly or thoroughly implemented in American society as elsewhere."

What "cruel experiments"?  Kimball doesn't specify but because he earlier refers to "revolutionaries trading only in masses not individuals" we can infer he means any 'experiment' that attempted to right inequality - economic or other. So include Jacobo Arbenz'  nationalization of  Guatemala's resources in 1954 - which caused the CIA to overthrow him.  Or Premier Mohammed Mossadegh's efforts to nationalize Iran's oil fields in 1953 - which got him assassinated and paved the way for theocracy.   "Dystopian" experiments?  That's hardly the way Arbenz or Mossadegh saw it. They rather saw their mission as providing a more equitable distribution of resources for their own people - as opposed to fodder for capitalist profits.

But by mounting this warped jeremiad against "socialism" - or indeed any national effort ("experiment") to strive for civil betterment- it's no surprise Kimball also can write at the end of his previous remark:

"But anyone who looks around at the vast, unaccountable, self-engorging bureaucracy of the so-called administrative  state ... cannot help but mark the parallels with the remorseless incuriosity that stood behind the totalitarian juggernaut as it systematically discounted truth for the sake of the accumulation of power."

Seriously?   After reading this fulsome codswallop one wonders if Kimball was on an MJ  high maybe mixed with Oxy.  Maybe he vaped both, who knows?  Let's clarify by first asking what he's railing against when he cites the "so-called administrative state".

Far from being "so-called" this is the system of taxes, regulations and agency oversight the current structure of government supports. In other words, all those elements of the federal "bureaucracy" that ensure your milk is free of fecal matter, your burgers not infected with  E Coli., your drinking water not fouled by cow manure, perchlorates or lead.  Oh and your canned tuna free of botulism. Also that medical devices are properly manufactured and sterilized to acceptable standards (FDA regs), i.e. so when you get your colonoscopy the colonoscope didn't just come directly from insertion into another patient.

Taken literally, Kimball is conflating this protective bureaucracy-  recall that as economist George Lakoff has pointed out, e.g.

Regulations are protections.

With some kind of ersatz Stalinism or some skewed, warped view of socialism  Worse, he's renouncing the Preamble of the Constitution wherein the central clause (general welfare) is an effective working government that has the general welfare as a primary role.  

So one can rightly say on this basis that any "remorseless incuriosity" - and even palpable ignorance-   is wholly on Kimball's side.  In effect, what started as a scattershot attack on statism and socialism ends up a hollow screed that is self-indicting and I'd add, self -refuting. 

Charles Reich poignantly notes in his book, Opposing the System, Crown Books, p. 103:

"When society itself comes to be modeled on economic and organizational principles, all of the forces that bind people together are torn apart in the struggle for survival. Community is destroyed because we are no longer 'in this together' because everyone is a threat to everyone else. "

This is the de facto model Kmiball would have us embrace, assuming we took his gibberish seriously..

See also:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Solar Oscillations Revisited

A computer-generated image of some of the 10 million modes of acoustic waves on the Sun (red indicating receding wave fronts, and blue approaching).

The phenomenon  and measurement -interpretation of solar oscillations being a relatively new field, mainly developed in the last forty-five years, few lay folk are aware of it.. However, plumbing the Sun's depths to investigate its different modes of vibration allows hitherto unknown tools to be applied to many types of solar  predictions. 

The first reckoning of non-radial oscillations arrived ca. 1968 with the work of Frazier who made two-dimensional plots of wavenumber vs. frequency or (k -w) diagrams. Several peaks of amplitude were found and it was suggested that these corresponded to the fundamental and first overtones for the solar envelope. Interestingly the patterns of solar oscillations - namely the acoustic or "p-modes" resemble those detected on drum heads by computer holography.

The Sun is clearly not a drum head, but it seems to behave like one in terms of its oscillations.  Solar physicists are particularly interested in what are called p, g and f modes given they are resonant modes of oscillation.  The p-modes are basically for acoustic or sound waves, the g modes are for internal gravity waves and the f modes are for surface gravity waves.   The spherical harmonic function, also peculiar to atomic physics, but here most applicable to the p-modes in the solar oscillations context, is given by:

y nℓm  =  R n (r)  Y ℓm (q,j) exp (iw t)

Where R n (r)   is applicable to all radial patterns with n the radial quantum number.

And for normalized spherical harmonics:

Y ℓm (q,j) = 

(1)m [2 ℓ +1 (ℓ - m)!/ 4n (ℓ +m)!] ½ P m (m  ) exp (i m j),

Where m  =  cos q and  w = 2 pn  where n = n nℓm is the frequency of oscillation of mode n, ℓ, m. (Note: j is measured from the meridian of the ascending node of the Sun’s equator.)

The spherical harmonic, e.g.

 Y ℓm (q,j),

determines the angular dependence of the eigenfunctions and hence the surface distribution of the oscillation amplitudes, i.e. as seen by an observer.

 The letters n, m and ℓ denote numbers whose meanings should be further clarified. The first is the radial order or the number of nodes in the radial direction. The second is the harmonic degree or azimuthal order which indicates the number of nodes around the equator on the three dimensional spherical surface. Finally we have the angular degree or the number of nodes from pole to pole, e.g. along longitude or meridian lines. The difference  (ℓ  - m) is also of interest as it yields the lines corresponding to parallels of latitude

Hence, there exist   values of  q  for which the function  P    (m  )  vanishes. The zeros occur on specific  parallels of latitude on the sphere. All odd-numbered harmonics vanish at the equator given they contain the factor  m  =  cos q.  Hence at the equator q    = 90 degrees so cos (90) = 0.  In like manner,

P m   (m) vanishes along (ℓ  - m) parallels of latitude.  The associated functions vanish at the poles (m = +1) when m > 0.   The zeros at the poles are of order m/2 because of the factor :          (1 -  m 2 ) m/2  in the general equation.[1]

The first few zonal harmonics are computed  using an alternative form of Rodrigues’ formula, 

P  (m) =  1/ (2    ℓ!)  d 2 / d m 2  ( m 2   -   1)  l 
   Then:  P 0  =  1                                                                              

P 1  =   m  

P 2  =   3 m  2  /2    -   ½

P 3 =   5  m  2  /2     -  3 m  /2

Meanwhile, the tesseral harmonics:

P m  (m) =  (sin m f)
                     (cos  mf)

Will vanish along the  2m meridians.  The parallels and meridians on which some sample harmonics, e.g.      P 3 3  (m )cos 3 q  vanish,  appear in the graphic below:
Image may contain: people playing sports

As an example we can examine the zonal harmonic with   = 2,   m = 0, on the left.  
This would be done using the associated Legendre polynomial function given by:

P ℓm (q )  =  (1 – z2) m/2 / ℓ! 2   d (ℓ+m) / dz(ℓ+m)  (z2   -1)

But   =2  and  m = 0 ,  so:

P ℓm (q )     =  (1 – z2) 0 / 2! 22   d(2)  / dz(2)   (z2   -1) 2

 The completion of the analysis is left to the energetic reader and is given as a comprehension problem at the end.

Let us also note here that: j = (   - m)  and this brings us to the Laplace equation:

Ñ F  =  

  2 / q 2   + (cos q / sin  q)    / q   +  1/ sin2 q ( 2 / f  2 )

And the possible eigenvalues  of  Ñ 2 turn out to be the numbers:   

 – j (j + 1) for j = 0, 1, 2, 3……so that:

-          Ñ F  =  - j (j + 1) F

Where  F   is the corresponding eigenfunction.  These eigenfunctons, e.g.

 F = 1, for j = m = 0

F = cos q (for j = 1, with m = 0)

Fexp(+  if) sin q (for j = 1, with m = + 1))

F = 3 cos 2  q  - 1   (for j = 2, m = 0)

Are the spherical harmonics and it is standard to demand that these harmonics double  as the eigenfuynctions of the operator

   / f  

Which commutes with  Ñ and for which we have:

    F / f   =  imF

Where the possible eigenvalues are (im) with the integer m in  the range:

 -j  <  m   <  j

From the preceding we see the eigenvalues, i.e. j(j + 1) are consonant with those for the total angular momentum in quantum mechanics,

J 2      =   L 1 2  +     L 2 2      +     L 3 2

Such that:  J 2     =   - Ñ 2   And: L 3  = -i   / f  

Any given combination of the numbers n, m and   allows a unique frequency n to be computed. For example, if we have n= 14, m = 16 and ℓ = 20 one gets a period of 340.61 s  which would be peculiar to solar frequencies.

Radial oscillations alone have ℓ  =  0 and we see in this case the associated Legendre function (P ℓm (q )) has:

P ℓm (q )  =  (1 – z2) m/2 / ℓ! 2   d (ℓ+m) / dz(ℓ+m)  (z2   -1)

Recall m= 2 ℓ + 1 = 2(0) +1 = 1


P ℓm (q )  =  (1 – z2) 1/2 / 0! 20   d / dz  (z2   -1) 0

=  (1 – z2) ½  =   (1 – cos 2 q)½   =  (sin 2 q)½     = sin q

For q = p/2  , P ℓm (q )  =  1

And: P ℓm (q ) exp (i m j)  =  (1) exp (i (1) 0)  = 1

If  n nℓm =   1 c/s  then:  Y ℓm (q,j) = 1 and y nℓm  =  R n (r)  

For practical assessment of solar vibrations we use k-  diagrams with w  along the ordinate and k (the wave number vector) along the abscissa. It is of interest to note that only waves with the longest horizontal wavelength ℓ  reach the core of the Sun while high ℓ-modes do not penetrate the convective zone. Given  ℓ = 100 we can expect the example chosen will be near the solar surface.  Also of interest in this context is the acoustic cutoff frequency, defined:

w ac   = g g/ 2c

This should not be confused with the plasma cutoff frequency, e.g. w c     for EM waves in plasmas. But there is one common attribute for both: a cutoff frequency is for any frequency for which the wave number k ® 0. In typical k -w diagrams, one would see the p-modes in the upper left lying above  w ac     and the g-modes (gravity modes) at lower right below a dotted line for N. Another line given is for ckh which represents the Lamb waves or f-modes.  
How many total modes, with n, ℓ and m distinct operate in the Sun? This is not difficult to estimate. Let’s take n first. According to diagnostic diagrams showing “ridges” for oscillatory power at each frequency,  at least 20 have been observed. In the diagram shown below, the spikes or ridges for the p-mode represent the first harmonic and the baseline smooth curve from which they project is the fundamental.
No photo description available.
This leads to a maximum radial order of n = 20 for the p-mode associated ridges.. Now, for each of these n values, at least 500 angular degrees ℓ have been observed. We also know that for each such ℓ there are at least 2 ℓ values (actually 2 ℓ + 1). So in this case: 2 ℓ = 2(500) = 1000. Then the total estimated modes at any given time works out to:
T n ℓm   =  20 x 500 x 1000 =  10 7

 Or, ten million modes, all overlapping in time and space. Because of this extreme multiplicity of modes, photographs of the solar surface appear featureless or more accurately like a disk of coarse sandpaper. Bear in mind also what we’d observe at the solar surface are reflections of the multitude of standing sound waves (p-waves) that fill the Sun’s interior. Not surprisingly, these match up quite well with the coarse solar granulation, e.g
No photo description available.

However, it has been Dopplergrams making use of the Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) that have given us the best observation portal on the rising and falling super cells known as supergranules.

Ultimately the problem of the solar 5-minute oscillations was resolved by treating the Sun as a resonant cavity.  In 1981, Leibacher and Stein showed that if one treated the Sun as a resonant cavity one could expect the relationship:

T = (n + ½)p / w
     In other words for the condition at which the sound speed c equals the horizontal phase velocity (w/k h ) one expects acoustic wave reflection.
 Duvall and Harvey[2]  reinforced this work by measuring the frequency spectrum of this » 300s  oscillation and found it applicable for ℓ-modes less than 140, and radial modes R with order n = 2 to 26. Posing the degree ℓ- in terms of  the reflection radius r:
ℓ =  -1/2  +  [ ¼ +    4p2 g2 r2 / c 2 ]
The modes were thus established as being deep in the solar interior by matching all the modes in a series of data using the above equation.
Comprehension Problems:

1) Take the ratio of specific heats g = 5/3    and  the acoustic speed c   = 900 m/s
 with  r = 2650 km.

Find the   =value using the  Duvall –Harvey equation and explain why  it does not make  physical sense.

2)For the spherical surface with  mode values m = 0 ,  ℓ = 2, find the associated Legendre function: P ℓm (q )  

3) Explain the basis for the spherical surface with the mode values m, ℓ shown below, and find the associated Legendre function:  (P ℓm (q )):
No photo description available.

[1] Menzel, Donald H.: 1959, Mathematical Physics, Dover Publications, , Eqn. 17.17. 

[2] Duvall, T.L. and Harvey, J.W.: 1984, Nature, 310, 19.