by RL Miller, cross posted from Daily Kos
Last week, the Obama administration gave what may be its first formal statement favoring hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of natural gas in a report, Investing in America (pdf). Until now, the Environmental Protection Agency has, generally, been moving slowly on the issue, with initial study results due out this year and a final report in 2014. However, the Investing in America report endorses the safe and environmentally responsible extraction of natural gas.
Since the mid‐2000s, however, the discovery of new natural gas reserves, such as the Marcellus Shale, and the development of hydraulic fracturing techniques to extract natural gas from these reserves has led to rapidly growing domestic production and relatively low domestic prices for households and downstream industrial users. Appropriate care must to be taken to ensure that America’s natural resources are extracted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner with the safeguards in place to protect public health and safety. Provided these precautions are taken, the potential benefits to the U.S. economy are substantial.Of the major fossil fuels, natural gas is the cleanest and least carbon‐intensive for electric power generation. By keeping domestic energy costs relatively low, this resource also supports energy intensive manufacturing in the United States. In fact, companies like Dow Chemical and Westlake Chemical have announced intentions to make major investments in new facilities over the next several years. In addition, firms that provide equipment for shale gas production have announced major investments in the U.S., including Vallourec’s $650 million plant for steel pipes in Ohio.
An abundant local supply will translate into relatively low costs for the industries that use natural gas as an input. Expansion in these industries, including industrial chemicals and fertilizers, will boost investment and exports in the coming years, generating new jobs. In the longer run, the scale of America’s natural gas endowment appears to be sufficiently large that exports of natural gas to other major markets could be economically viable.
Obama’s jobs panel will also call for an “all-in,” aka “all of the above,” energy strategy: “The Jobs Council recommends expanding and expediting the domestic production of fossil fuels – including allowing more access to oil, gas, and coal opportunities on federal lands – while ensuring safe and responsible development of those sites.”
The Obama administration seems to have bought the mythos of abundant shale gas – a mythos that has completely shoved aside all discussions of peak oil. Remember peak oil – the idea that we would eventually (i.e., in 2006) peak our ability to extract oil? Smart peak oil folk speak knowledgeably about proven and probable reserves and predict that, sooner or later, oil would become too expensive to extract. That meme is being replaced by a new one: thanks to fracking and other technologies, we have an abundance of shale gas, shale oil, and other relatively hard-to-extract, costly-to-extract products. And they’re sitting under American soils.
A sampling of stories: David Brooks, in the New York Times, on the shale gas revolution; the Wall Street Journal reports that oil and gas bubble up all over – “You’ll know the U.S. energy industry is really on the rebound when North Dakota’s newfangled Bakken oil field starts pumping more crude than Alaska’s stalwart Prudhoe Bay. Energy experts expect it to happen in 2012”; and Nathan Myhrvold, in Bloomberg, on the energy revolution that keeps carbon on top:
The new resources are so vast that they would last for a century at current rates of gas consumption. And this cheap form of energy isn’t under the control of a foreign dictator, stuck in the Arctic or submerged miles below the sea — it lies in the farmlands of New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.
A lengthy discussion of each potential problem with natural gas fracking would be, well, lengthy. Suffice to say that academics dispute whether shale gas is cleaner than coal; a glut of natural gas is deterring wind investment; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulations don’t go far enough to protect workers and water; fracking chemicals have been detected in a Wyoming aquifer; and fracking has been implicated in cow deaths, earthquakes, and most recently an oil well blowout.
At least one observer hasn’t bought the hype. Chris Nelder, a peak oil expert, asks What the frack? and concludes that reserves are grossly overstated:
Assuming that the United States continues to use about 24 tcf per annum, then, only an 11-year supply of natural gas is certain. The other 89 years’ worth has not yet been shown to exist or to be recoverable….
One complicating factor here is recoverability, because we are never able to extract all of an oil or gas resource. For oil, a 35 percent recovery factor is considered excellent. But recovery factors for shale gas are highly variable, due to the varied geology of the source rocks. Even if we assume a very optimistic 50 percent recovery factor for the 550 tcf of probable gas (536.6 tcf from shale gas plus 13.4 tcf from coalbed gas), that would still only amount to 225 tcf, or a 10-year supply. That plus the 11-year supply of proved reserves would last the United States just 21 years, at current rates of consumption.
Natural-gas proponents aren’t advocating current rates of consumption, however. They would like to see more than 2 million 18-wheelers converted to natural gas, in order to reduce our dependence on oil imports from unfriendly countries. They also advocate switching a substantial part of our power generation from coal to gas, in order to reduce carbon emissions. Were we to do those things, that 21-year supply could quickly shrink to a 10-year supply, yet those same advocates never adjust their years of supply estimates accordingly.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) queries why America is rushing to export natural gas, focusing both on the cost of energy and natural gas’ role as an alleged bridge fuel in reducing carbon emissions.
[Some] natural gas can’t be separated from oil – about a quarter of natural gas comes from oil wells, and the price glut is partly because, with oil at $100 a barrel, oil companies have every incentive to keep drilling for both.
We’re at the beginning of an American natural gas boom/glut/bubble. The Obama administration seems to be making an awfully big assumption that shale gas can be extracted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, and it’s presumptuous to be pushing shale gas as an investment in America before the EPA weighs in.
RL Miller is an attorney and environment blogger with Climate Hawks. This piece was originally published at Daily Kos and was reprinted with permission by the author.
I haven’t read Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land yet, but her appearance on On Point yesterday, particularly her breathtaking condescension to Salon’s Irin Carmon about the latter’s high school dating life, has to be heard to be believed. During the hour, she spends a lot of time defending the idea that brutish teenaged boys are out to take advantage of teenaged girls. And while I’m in absolute agreement with Irin that if we want to keep girls physically and sexually safe, it makes as much sense to focus on boys as on girls, and with critics who argue that Flanagan has absolutely no insights into non-straight girls, I think there’s another broad exception to that dynamic. Flanagan seems to have no sense whatsoever that boys and girls can be friends, and that encouraging those relationships could help women build better relationships with male bosses, and male coworkers, and male friends.
My male friends are among the most important in my life. The friend I’m most in touch with from high school is a man, who introduced me to action movies and hung out with me after work and at debate team practices. There’s no question my love of campy movies like Starship Troopers and Hackers is a legacy of our friendship, and part of the reason I’m a critic. My best friends in college were the guys I worked on political campaigns with, lived with during my summer in New Haven (contra Flanagan’s domestic ideals, we survived mostly on fried chicken, pancakes, and deeply terrible takeout Chinese), and argued about movies and music with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have female friends — the women I met in college have been critical to my adult life — but there’s no question that these men were formative to my artistic, social, and moral development.
At one point during the interview, Flanagan says, “Girls are hugely interested in boys. That isn’t ever going to change.” But what she — and a lot of the culture she decries — misses is that there are a lot of different ways to be interested in boys. I would hope she’s raising her sons not just to avoid being sexual predators, but to see women as potential friends as well as lovers and wives. And I hope she wouldn’t see their adolescence as failed if they emerged from it with female friends who would last a lifetime instead of having had a bunch of girlfriends.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has backed away from past comments he’s made about vetoing a same-sex marriage bill, promising he’ll make a “deliberate” and “thoughtful” decision if it passes in the legislature:
I’ve been very clear on my view on this since I ran for office that I’m not a supporter of same-sex marriage. But on the other hand, the fact is that this is a huge societal change that they’re talking about here and I think that we need to do this in a very deliberate and thoughtful way and get the most input from the public we can before we overturn hundreds of years of societal legal and religious tradition.
Listen to it:
This “we’ll see what happens” approach is quite a change from his 2009 comments that he would return a same-sex marriage bill to the legislature “with a big red veto across it.” The National Organization for Marriage has been writing feverishly that Christie should honor that years-old promise.
But Christie is right to heed more input from the public, given a new Quinnipiac poll shows a majority of New Jersey voters — 52 percent — support marriage equality while only 42 percent oppose it. Likewise, 65 percent believe same-sex marriage is not a threat to traditional marriage, 53 percent agree that denying same-sex marriage is a form of discrimination, and 66 percent adoption rights for same-sex couples. Perhaps Christie senses that a veto of marriage equality would be not only offensive and discriminatory, but politically unpopular as well.