Spills, midnight dumping, illegal workers, lot’s of out of state plates and some very dirty people and money. Add it up and there is a fortune to be made. If we could just get Government off the backs of business, the things we could do.
While the extent of the fracking-induced geopolitical tremors are still to be felt, the shaking up of the Middle East’s tyrannical oil policies is moving the regional tectonic plates as politics never could
Forget the Arab Spring. Islamists have already hijacked it. But, as if internally extinguishing the hope of democracy isn’t enough, dark clouds are now gathering to blot out the economic ‘sun’ for the oil-powered Middle East states, ushering in - courtesy of the West’s technological fracking ‘miracle’ - a new Arab winter.
The trouble is, as we know, the economies of many Arab states rely almost exclusively on massive oil revenues. Without them the leading lights of OPEC know it is only a question of time before the global export of US fracking technology reduces many Arab states to their familiar basket case economic status.
Saudi Arabia currently ranks as the world’s leading oil producer, but not for much longer. The Saudis are getting desperate. While the scale of its reserves may be hotly debated, the collapse of Saudi and OPEC oil power isn’t a matter of conjecture, it’s inevitable.
Realising the days of its oil-fuelled energy domination are numbered, the Saudis are busy exploring for shale gas resources (but lack the water necessary for the fracking production process). And grasping at other energy ‘straws’, the desert kingdom is even investing in expensive and dubious solar initiatives to offset the fast-rising, revenue-reducing domestic demand for the country’s oil.
The other regional producers will have to think like-wise. But what has pretty much sealed the energy fate of Saudi Arabia, as other OPEC members, is the global game-changer that the US shale revolution is proving to be.
An unusual and widely felt 5.6-magnitude quake in Oklahoma in 2011 was probably caused when oil drilling waste was pushed deep underground, a team of university and federal scientists concluded.
That would make it the most powerful quake to be blamed on deep injections of wastewater, according to a study published Tuesday by the journal Geology. The waste was from traditional drilling, not from the hydraulic fracturing technique, or fracking.
Not everyone agrees, though, with the scientists’ conclusion: Oklahoma’s state seismologists say the quake was natural.
The Nov. 6 earthquake near Prague, Okla., injured two people, damaged 14 houses and was felt for hundreds of miles in 14 states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was the largest quake in the central part of the country in decades and largest in Oklahoma records, experts said.
The study by geophysicists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and the USGS says that a day earlier there was a slightly smaller quake in an old oil well used to get rid of wastewater, right along a fault line. That smaller quake triggered the bigger one, and a third smaller aftershock.
The location of the tremors right at the spot where wastewater was stored, combined with an increased well pressure, makes a strong case that the injections resulted in the larger quake , they said.
News outlets are reporting that Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will not return for the second term of the Obama administration.
Jackson will probably be remembered as the point person for the first US attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It wasn’t necessarily a position that she—or Obama—chose. But partisan gridlock ensured that there would be no legislation addressing emissions, and Jackson inherited a Supreme Court decision from the Bush administration that indicated the Clean Air Act required some sort of action. Within months of the inauguration, Jackson’s EPA used Bush-era research to issue an endangerment finding on greenhouse gasses. Three years later, that finding led to the first limits imposed on carbon dioxide emissions by large sources, limits that would severely curtail the construction of new coal plants.
By the time they were issued, however, a sharp fall in the price of natural gas was already doing more to limit the use of coal than any EPA regulation could. (Fracking, which led to the plunge in prices, was also the subject of some initial EPA oversight.)
The people who run U.S. Steel have not had much reason to celebrate in a long time. Once the icon of American manufacturing, the company became shorthand for the country’s industrial decline. For decades, it ignored innovation and was undercut by cheaper Asian producers and outflanked by U.S. start-ups. Its brief glory in the mid-2000s turned out to be fueled by housing-bubble excess; and its stock price has dropped nearly 90 percent since late 2008. A few months ago, John P. Surma, the company’s chairman and C.E.O., addressed a Steel Hall of Fame event at which all the inductees were either long dead or retired. He noted that, given the business climate, his own generation of steel C.E.O.’s might have trouble getting the big prize themselves.
Deep thoughts this week:
1. Love it or hate it, fracking will redefine the U.S. economy.
2. Yes, there are serious environmental issues to address.
3. But the worst hazards may be political.
4. And even economic.
Fortunately, Surma went on, this misery is about to change. The American steel industry recently received the economic equivalent of a gift from the heavens: natural gas extracted by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves a whole lot of long steel pipes being sunk into rock formations thousands of feet beneath the ground in search of hydrocarbons. U.S. Steel, which is based in Pittsburgh, also happens to be right on top of the Marcellus Shale, the oil-rich formation that stretches from New York to Ohio. No one knows exactly how much gas is down there, but modest estimates suggest it’s at least 100 trillion cubic feet. Given this bounty, U.S. Steel recently spent $100 million on a facility whose entire purpose is to make “tubular product” for gas companies.
For Surma, an even bigger gift should come over the next few decades. The switch from coal to cheaper natural gas will save U.S. Steel hundreds of millions of dollars a year. These savings will be amplified by the fact that the company’s competitors in Europe and Asia will need to pay much more. In fact, many economists say that fracking will soon fundamentally shift global economic logic to uniquely benefit the United States. Ed Morse, an influential energy analyst at Citigroup, argues that the natural-gas industry will bring around three million new jobs to the United States by the end of this decade. He also expects that fracking will add up to 3 percent to our G.D.P. and trillions in additional tax revenue. Along the way, it will turn around perennial stragglers, like steel and manufacturing. For millions of workers, there could not be any better news.
Despite all the hopes of sun and wind enthusiasts, the real revolution in the energy world has been driven by old-style fossil fuels. Shale gas now dominates global energy policy.
Despite all the hopes of sun and wind enthusiasts, the real revolution in the energy world has been driven by old-style fossil fuels, not by renewables. Shale gas changed power relations in the fossil fuel world, and its impact is going to affect economies and geopolitics. Unlike traditional natural gas, shale gas is not trapped in large reservoirs but in smaller rock formations that have to be penetrated through hydraulic “fracking.” The drilling technology has been refined in the last twenty years and has allowed for extensive gas production in North America.
The price difference between (lower) American oil prices and (higher) European oil prices can be explained by the presence of shale gas in the US. The American WTI blend is some twenty dollars cheaper than the old continent’s Brent blend.
Gas is no direct substitute for oil: it takes time and money to switch energy sources. You might want to get a good run out of your old car before switching to a new (and possibly gas-powered) model with better mileage. Or you might wait before switching your heating system at home from oil to gas.
But the fact that US oil reserves can only cover some 45 more years of domestic need has already impacted the price of oil. The “Energy Information Administration” believes that the US may even become a natural gas exporter by 2021. For the past five or six years, shale gas has been the new mantra of “energy independence” supporters. This is no GOP propaganda either. President Obama clearly included energy independence as a goal when he began his (first?) term in office, although the boom of shale gas is due to policies that had been introduced years before.
The dream of shale gas - which environmental activists would describe as an ecological nightmare instead - has also attracted the interest of other countries. China is thought to have large shale gas reserves, but the problem is the availability of water for fracking and extraction. Estimates put global shale gas reserves around 6600 trillion cubic feet, most of it outside North America and much of it recoverable.
Ask someone like Jon Entine, a science writer for Ethical Corporation, to describe the sort of person who claims hydraulic fracturing presents a pollution nightmare in waiting, and you quickly find yourself pummeled with talk radio invective: “ideological blowhard,” “leftist loony,” and “upper-middle-class lefties.”
But none apply to Fred Mayer.
When a reporter arrives at his 200-year-old farmhouse on a cloudy June day, one of the first things Mayer asks is: “Do you know who Glenn Beck is? You should really listen to him. Now that man knows what he’s talking about.”
The 62-year-old Vietnam vet’s yard in Newark Valley, New York, is full of patriotic flags. His rotund body is covered in tattoos, with barbed wire wrapped around his thick arms and an Iron Cross on his left fist.
The first time he heard of fracking was in 2008. It’s a natural gas drilling process in which millions of gallons of water—mixed with sand and more than 596 toxic chemicals—are pumped into shale formations 8,000 feet belowground, the pressure fracturing them to release the natural gas they hold inside.
Decades ago, Shell Oil attempted to drill on Mayer’s property in hopes of retrieving the river of black crude that resides just under the rock formation. “They never were able to do it,” he says. “They couldn’t get through the rock, so they gave up.”
A new race for water is rippling through the drought-scorched heartland, pitting farmers against oil and gas interests, driven by new drilling techniques that use powerful streams of water, sand and chemicals to crack the ground and release stores of oil and gas.
A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.
That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.
And this summer’s record-breaking drought, which dried up wells and ruined crops, has only amplified those concerns.
“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. “I don’t think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”
But industry officials say that critics are exaggerating the effect on water supplies.
Santa Barbara surfer Chadd Konig is currently finishing off a paddle from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara to raise awareness about “fracking.” What’s fracking, you say? That’s exactly the question Chadd wants you to ask. Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is an increasingly common technique in the oil production process in which water, sand, and (hazardous) chemicals are used to fracture geological formations, most often shale rock, and stimulate the flow of oil or gas. Fracking has been linked to severe instances of water and air pollution, as well as earthquakes and ground subsidence. Chadd’s mission is to provide information-to both local residents and beyond-needed to make a difference.
The Journey: The coastline between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara is home to some of the most magical and raw landscapes, sea life, and nature California has to offer. Chadd will be traveling down the coast on a paddle board for approximately 300 miles. Many regions of this coastline are only accessible by water and will be explored during this journey. The journey will go from July 24th, 2012 to August 20th, 2012. The goal is to direct people’s attention to petitions and legislation that will aim to stop “Fracking” in California.
The Issue: In Santa Barbara County, Venoco, Inc. has already fracked two oil wells without alerting local authorities or neighboring landowners. It looks as if Venoco Inc. hopes to exploit the Monterey Shale formation, hailing it as the most productive “shale play” in the United States. The formation goes from Santa Barbara to Sacramento and passes through some of the largest aquifers in the state. In other parts of the country, people living near fracking projects are experiencing unbelievable consequences to their water supplies, including severe health problems like intense body pain and brain tumors. Another effect of Fracturing was recently documented by Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey who stated that for three decades until 2000, seismic events in the nation’s midsection averages 21 a year. They jumped to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow recently covered the topic of fracking on her television show. (The video segment is embedded at the bottom of this post.) She framed the issue as a struggle between satisfying our nation’s energy demand and maintaining public safety. That might sound reasonable, but what transpired was an unscientific, selective reporting of the facts.
She began her segment with that favorite boogeyman of the progressive anti-nuclear left, Three Mile Island, saying, “People began to feel like whatever its potential upside was, it was maybe too dangerous to be worth it to pursue more nuclear power.”
Yes, that’s true, but it’s because of people like Rachel Maddow.
Three Mile Island was indeed scary, but it was nowhere near the catastrophe the anti-nuclear movement made it out to be. In fact, the natural background radiation posed a bigger threat to the residents than the small amount of radioactive gas that was purposefully vented following the meltdown. Did Maddow remind her viewers of that fact? No.
Clearly fearmongering, she went on to explain that powerful images are what cause people to turn against allegedly dangerous sources of energy. She then proceeded to show the now infamous footage of some guy in Colorado lighting his tap water on fire, and of course, she tied these images to natural gas drilling. Did she mention the University of Texas study which concluded that methane in water wells was probably natural and likely was present in the water prior to shale gas operations? No.
Maddow then got to the main point of the segment: that fracking causes earthquakes. “Over a span of 40 days, between June and July, north Texas was rocked by an astonishing eleven separate earthquakes,” she said, while showing a map overlaying earthquake epicenters with gas drilling sites.
But a paper published in PNAS, also from the University of Texas, provided more information. Did fracking cause earthquakes? Yes, probably small ones. Maddow enthusiastically reported this. But, many injection wells (where waste water was injected) did not have any earthquakes at all. The author hypothesizes that earthquakes can only occur if there is a suitable fault nearby. Did Maddow report that? No, of course not.