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This is the fifth part of a series [ links below], discussing how the same “skate past the facts and hope no one notices” strategy typically employed by most Peak Oil deniers is not-so-surprisingly used by those cheerleading for shale gas development. What triggered this is a March 2012 article written by a Chevron Corporation executive, entitled “The Truth About Natural Gas From Shale.” [Quotes are from that piece unless noted otherwise.]

His stated purpose was quite clear:

Understandably, this natural gas boom has raised some questions and concerns about how this resource is developed, including questions about the process of hydraulic fracturing and the affects, if any, on the water table. While there is much debate and rhetoric surrounding this resource, often times a simple explanation of the process is left out of the discussion. In an effort to help raise awareness of how natural gas from shale is extracted, here is a brief explanation.

Those of us concerned about our energy future believe it’s vital to provide the public with information. It’s not enough to offer vapid assurances that all is well with energy supply and production. Yes, there’s certainly been some good news in the last year or so, and we readily acknowledge that. But that’s only one part of the story. Without context, a great disservice is being extended to the public.

We certainly respect that the vast majority of citizens cannot make or do not have the time or interest or inclination to understand what’s at stake. There is an ongoing, determined effort by too many to at best muddle the issues enough to draw little or no attention from the public to the challenges we face. “Public interest” does not appear to factor into their motivations. Too few are benefiting at the expense of too many. Sound familiar? (It’s not a coincidence.)

Being prepared, understanding the issues, knowing both the positive and the negative aspects of energy supply and production affords citizens their best opportunity to either contribute meaningfully as we address and adapt to the looming problems, or to engage their leaders in more substantive dialogue in order to direct more specific actions. Not knowing there are any problems makes it a wee bit difficult to accomplish any of this. The consequences will thus only be worse. Not a good option.

If nothing else, citizens should easily appreciate that there are two sides to most stories. Too many are telling too many others only one side of the story—and facts tend not to play much of a role.

A topic of particularly contentious dispute concerns the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

To his credit, the Chevron executive was very clear in stating that he supports the disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. He also wanted to downplay their significance, stating that the process includes “less than 1 percent chemical additives.”

The problem, however, is that his personal support of disclosure is not shared by most in the industry, and certainly not by the companies doing the fracking. This suggests more than a casual problem, unless undisclosed and unknown chemicals being pumped into and on your property (and a distinct possibility of radioactive waste) are not a concern of yours. Some are troubled by this, however. Imagine!

Frack fluid that is injected into the wells contains a toxic soup of hundreds of chemicals, including carcinogens and volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Companies aren’t required to disclose what chemicals they’re using either — so it makes it difficult to test for leaks and spills, and for people to be treated for health problems that may arise from exposure.
Oh yeah, and fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act — thanks Dick Cheney! [1]

By now you likely know that most states (and the federal government) don’t require companies that frack oil and gas wells to disclose the multitude of chemicals in the toxic slurry that gets pumped underground. This is problematic for so many reasons, and here is just the latest. Ben Elgin, Benjamin Haas and Phil Kuntz reported for Bloomberg that, ‘A subsidiary of Nabors Industries Ltd. (NBR) pumped a mixture of chemicals identified only as ‘EXP- F0173-11’ into a half-dozen oil wells in rural Karnes County, Texas, in July.’
The problem?
‘Few people outside Nabors, the largest onshore drilling contractor by revenue, know exactly what’s in that blend. This much is clear: One ingredient, an unidentified solvent, can cause damage to the kidney and liver, according to safety information about the product that Michigan state regulators have on file. [2] [ links in the original quote]

What is clear is that the production of shale gas involves extraordinary environmental impacts compared with conventional gas drilling. these include …:
Contamination of surface water, and potentially drinking water, through improper disposal of toxic produced drilling fluids containing salts, radioactive elements, and other toxins. Toxic produced drilling fluids, which amount to 15% to 80% of the 2 million to 8 million gallons of water injected during hydraulic fracturing for each well, are disposed of through either reinjection, surface disposal and treatment at wastewater treatment facilities, or, less commonly, recycling. Recycling involves distilling purified water from the drilling waste, which still leaves a residue of toxins and is very energy intensive. The surface disposal of toxic drilling fluids and the fluids’ potential to contaminate drinking water with radionuclides and other contaminants has recently been documented by the New York Times. Indeed, efforts by shale gas producers to remain exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act are surely
counterproductive and counterintuitive if the production of shale gas is really as benign as the industry contends. [3] [footnotes are included in the original quote]

That last comment alone speaks volumes about the “safety” of hydraulic fracturing. Claims that disclosures would reveal “trade secrets” or otherwise “proprietary” information and practices may be protected under law, but what of the citizens exposed to potential hazards? Shouldn’t their well-being carry a bit more weight than sketchy business concerns? [Hard to believe that disclosing chemicals used will open the floodgates to new competition, given the tens of millions of dollars required just to drill a few wells.]

A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that the majority of states where fracking occurs have no disclosure laws at all, and that those that do are woefully behind when it comes to revealing behind-the-scenes details of their operations. While the Obama administration has put some new rules in place, many decisions about what drillers are allowed to hide are left to the states; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complained to Reuters that state-level regulation is ‘not good enough for me, because states are at very different levels — some have zero; some have decent rules.’
That’s a problem, study author Amy Mall said, because unlike coal plants and other large-scale energy operations, fracked natural gas wells are often in close proximity to houses, schools, or other high-traffic areas.
At stake is a trove of information: exact ingredients of the chemical cocktail used to frack a particular site, when and where drillers plan to frack, how toxic wastewater is to be dealt with, and many more basic details, all of which could be useful to local politicians and residents concerned about health impacts, groundwater and air pollution, and seismic activity associated with fracking.
‘The state laws on the books aren’t anywhere near where they need to be for the public to have information to protect their communities,’ Mall said. [4] [ links in the original quote]

This is a good thing? This is what we’re doing in order to maintain fossil fuels supplies? Might be a great time to consider some different options … and a lot more sharing of facts.

Back next week with more.

* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 07.05.10

[ links to the first four posts of this series]:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/01/31/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-1/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/02/07/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-2/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/02/15/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-3/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/02/21/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-4/

Sources:

[1] http://www.salon.com/2013/01/11/5_reasons_natural_gas_wont_save_us/; 5 reasons natural gas won’t save us by Tara Lohan – 01.11.13
[2] http://www.alternet.org/fracking/4-scary-new-finds-about-fracking-week; 4 Scary New Finds About Fracking This Week by Tara Lohan – 12.06.12
[3] http://www.postcarbon.org/report/331901-report-will-natural-gas-fuel-america; Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21st Century? – May 2011 report by J. David Hughes (Post Carbon Institute); p 27
[4] http://grist.org/climate-energy/the-secrets-drillers-can-hide-about-the-fracking-in-your-backyard/; The secrets drillers can hide about the fracking in your backyard by Tim McDonnell – 08.01.12

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Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

For those of us in northern climes, winter’s cold and its effects must be addressed in a variety of ways. It’s not always just us and family members who require adaptation when the temperatures plummet. Ignoring basic auto maintenance can prove to be costly—and a serious inconvenience.

Science lesson: water freezes when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. You’re welcome. Internal combustion engines (i.e., your cars) require water in the cooling system to keep the engine from … bursting into flames and other annoying behaviors. (Antifreeze of course also allows for water to reach temperatures above the normal point of boiling.) But if we recall our science lesson, in winter water freezes. And that’s why we have antifreeze, and why we need to purchase a container or two and have it on hand during the winter. Antifreeze + water = no freezing of said water.

Also worth noting is that antifreeze’s usefulness is not limited to automobile engines.

According to the EPA: “Ethylene glycol is the most widely used automotive cooling-system antifreeze, although methanol, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, and propylene glycol* are also used. In automotive windshield-washer fluids, an alcohol (e.g., methanol) is usually added to keep the mixture from freezing; it also acts as a solvent to help clean the glass. The brine used in some commercial refrigeration systems is an antifreeze mixture.”

* Antifreeze is also quite toxic, and disposal is typically regulated by state laws. The good news, as Wikipedia adds, is that propylene glycol, much less toxic than ethylene glycol, is gradually replacing the ethylene. “As confirmation of its relative non-toxicity, the FDA allows propylene glycol to be added to a large number of processed foods, including ice cream, frozen custard, and baked goods.” Yum!

As the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry helpfully informs us: “Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. Propylene glycol is also used to make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing solutions. Propylene glycol is used by the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries as an antifreeze when leakage might lead to contact with food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. It is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is a solvent for food colors and flavors, and in the paint and plastics industries. Propylene glycol is also used to create artificial smoke or fog used in fire-fighting training and in theatrical productions. Other names for propylene glycol are 1,2-dihydroxypropane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol, and trimethyl glycol. Propylene glycol is clear, colorless, slightly syrupy liquid at room temperature. It may exist in air in the vapor form, although propylene glycol must be heated or briskly shaken to produce a vapor. Propylene glycol is practically odorless and tasteless.”

If you follow Wikipedia’s links, it’s only a few clicks away from learning that the propylene glycol is derived from Propylene oxide which in turn is derived from Propene. “Propene is produced from fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and, to a much lesser extent, coal. Propene is a byproduct of oil refining and natural gas processing. During oil refining, ethylene, propene, and other compounds are produced as a result of cracking larger hydrocarbon molecules to produce hydrocarbons more in demand.”

And so once again I ask the very same question I’ve asked before: When the supply of depleting conventional crude oil continues to decline, and reliance turns to the inadequate supply of inferior quality, more expensive, harder to come by unconventional sources such as the tight shale formations in the U.S. and the Canadian tar sands cheered on by certain factions of the energy and media industries, what gets prioritized in such a way that every cog of these multiple supply chains are still supplied at current levels and relative costs?

If that does happen, what gets sacrificed as a result?

How much more difficult is it going to be in the years to come to sort all of this out and develop alternative means of providing these goods and services if we’re not having the conversations now with real-life facts to guide us—before we’re having serious problems? Waiting is a strategy, but it’s usually not a very good one.

 ~ My Photo: A 1952 Packard which the owner won on a $2.00 raffle ticket

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/15/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-iv/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/07/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-i/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/12/13/thoughts-on-peak-oil-planning/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/02/14/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/

 

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Two observations worth noting … and pondering, from another terrific report by J. David Hughes/Post Carbon Institute. [1]

Just think about these for a moment, and the implications….

In the next 24 years world consumption is forecast to grow by a further 44 percent—and U.S. consumption a further 7 percent—with fossil fuels continuing to provide around 80 percent of total demand. Fueling this growth will require the equivalent of 71 percent of all fossil fuels consumed since 1850—in just 24 years. [From the Introduction]

Each human inhabiting this planet now consumes on average nearly nine times as much energy as individuals in 1850 did, and more than 80 percent of this energy is provided by fossil fuels. Given that fossil fuels are non-renewable and hence finite, two critical questions arise: To what extent and on what timeframes can these rates of energy throughput be maintained? And what are the implications if they cannot? [From Production and Consumption: Key Takeaways]

Actually, might be worth more than a moment or two of consideration….

~ My Photo: Gloucester, MA – 09.01.08

Source:

[1] http://www.postcarbon.org/drill-baby-drill; Drill, Baby, Drill: Can Unconventional Fuels Usher in a New Era of Energy Abundance? by J. David Hughes [Feb. 2013]
© 2013 by Post Carbon Institute [Santa Rosa, CA]

 

 

 

 

An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Richard Heinberg:

The Peak of Peak-Oil Denial
Costs of production are rising inexorably—and fairly rapidly—as a result of replacement of conventional crude with oil produced from horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing, ultra deepwater drilling, and tar sands. … Today, most new projects look uneconomic if oil prices are anything shy of $85. Ironically, pundits often depict this shift as a miraculous new development that promises oil aplenty till kingdom come.
During the past few months, op-eds and talking heads have announced the death of ‘the peak oil theory’ even as actual world crude production rates remain stagnant and oil prices soar. The fallacy in this thinking arises from a confusion of reserves with production rates. With oil prices so high, staggering quantities of low-grade hydrocarbons become theoretically profitable to produce. It is assumed, therefore, that the scarcity problem has been solved. If we extract enough of these low-grade resources, that will bring oil prices down! But of course, if the oil price goes down then these unconventional sources become uneconomic once again and effectively cease to be countable as reserves.

That was written back in March, and not much has changed. Recent posts of mine have discussed this over-exuberant cheerleading and the reasons why the news about our “vast abundance” is not actually all that good in the long-term. Facts tend to change the dynamics of feel-good stories when those messages aren’t accompanied by … all the facts! What a concept….

The fact that oil prices are still high (recent drops notwithstanding) is usually positioned as good news by those in the industry and the gushing media personnel who are determined to tell a happy tale no matter what the truth. As Richard suggested in the quote above, high prices make it economically feasible for oil producers to invest in “advanced” technologies such as the not-so-new fracking efforts.

These good-news articles, however, never mention that high prices are not nearly such good news for consumers. So when we respond by cutting back, thus dropping prices in the market [Supply and Demand 101], the high prices that made drilling and exploration and production (and all the other aspects needed to get the fossil fuels from there to us and our automobiles) such a good deal for the oil industry are no longer such a good deal.

And just like us lowly consumers, when prices rise for goods, raw materials, etc., etc. needed by business and industry to do what they do, they stop doing as much of what they had been doing. And the other basic component of Supply and Demand 101 in this little story is that if the great god Oil Industry wants to keep its doors open, prices have to come down so we buy what they sell.

They can’t have it both ways: if high prices are good for them, low prices cannot also be good for them. And when they are in the low prices phase of this cycle, invest and production slows down or stops. And when that happens, guess what? There’s less for us to use until those prices kick into gear once more, and on and on it goes.

One problem rarely mentioned is that the investments and efforts needed to extract the already more-expensive unconventional sources don’t turn themselves back on at the flick of a switch. However ready the industry may be to rush back in and resume drilling and fracking and extracting, it takes some time, and more expense, which of course means….

And have I mentioned we’re dealing with finite resources to begin with, and/or that these vast and abundant reserves praised to the high heavens aren’t exactly located a couple of inches below some loose topsoil, all bundled up in neat little pods of oil pools? Think the facts about extracting these unconventional tight oil/tar sands reserves suggest some additional time, money, and effort might be required? None of that is free, either.

Is this is our best long-term strategy?

~ My Photo: Louisiana bayou – 03.17.10

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This is the fourth part of a series [here, here, and here], discussing how the same “skate past the facts and hope no one notices” strategy typically employed by most Peak Oil deniers is not-so-surprisingly used by those cheerleading for shale gas development. What triggered this is a March 2012 article written by a Chevron Corporation executive, entitled “The Truth About Natural Gas From Shale.” [Quotes are from that piece unless noted otherwise.]

His stated purpose was quite clear:

Understandably, this natural gas boom has raised some questions and concerns about how this resource is developed, including questions about the process of hydraulic fracturing and the affects, if any, on the water table. While there is much debate and rhetoric surrounding this resource, often times a simple explanation of the process is left out of the discussion. In an effort to help raise awareness of how natural gas from shale is extracted, here is a brief explanation.

Those of us concerned about our energy future believe it’s vital to provide the public with information. It’s not enough to offer vapid assurances that all is well with energy supply and production. Yes, there’s certainly been some good news in the last year or so, and we readily acknowledge that. But that’s only one part of the story. Without context, a great disservice is being extended to the public.

We certainly respect that the vast majority of citizens cannot make or do not have the time or interest or inclination to understand what’s at stake. There is an ongoing, determined effort by too many to at best muddle the issues enough to draw little or no attention from the public to the challenges we face. “Public interest” does not appear to factor into their motivations. Too few are benefiting at the expense of too many. Sound familiar? (It’s not a coincidence.)

Being prepared, understanding the issues, knowing both the positive and the negative aspects of energy supply and production affords citizens their best opportunity to either contribute meaningfully as we address and adapt to the looming problems, or to engage their leaders in more substantive dialogue in order to direct more specific actions. Not knowing there are any problems makes it a wee bit difficult to accomplish any of this. The consequences will thus only be worse. Not a good option.

If nothing else, citizens should easily appreciate that there are two sides to most stories. Too many are telling too many others only one side of the story—and facts tend not to play much of a role.

I’ll continue with more of the explanations of how fracking takes place, using the author’s version first:

Because the gas is trapped in dense shale rock, we use the process of hydraulic fracturing to allow the gas to be extracted more easily. In hydraulic fracturing, a fluid comprised of more than 99 percent water and sand and less than 1 percent chemical additives is pumped down the well at a high pressure for a short period of time, usually a few hours. This creates a network of cracks in the shale rock that allows trapped natural gas to flow to the well. The sand helps keep the fractures open and gas flowing.  This is not a new practice.  It has been safely used since the 1940s in more than 1 million wells in the United States.  After the shale rock has been fractured, some of the hydraulic fracturing fluid is returned to the surface through the well pipe, treated and either recycled or disposed of in regulator-approved underground water injection wells.

Seems fairly peaceful, doesn’t it? An apparently insignificant amount of innocent “chemical additives,” good old American sand and water, a “short period of time,” some “regulator-approved” treatment of fluid, and presto: natural gas!

How about a few more details? Some elaboration, perhaps?

To extract the gas, companies use a combination of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, also called ‘fracking.’ They drill down vertically until they hit the shale layer. Then the bit moves horizontally to follow the bed of gas-bearing rock. A ‘perforation gun’ is fed through the bored hole, which uses small projectiles to puncture holes in the casing that lines the well. Millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand are then injected under high pressure to fracture the shale and release the gas for pumping to the surface. [1]

Abram Lustgarten wrote a fascinating (disturbing) assessment of the chemical additives side of industrial waste disposal—including fracking—which I would highly recommend. There’s a hint in the title: “Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us.”

There are other considerations and concerns which not-surprisingly did not find their way into the Chevron executive’s explanation. Water usage is one. Of course, if a community and/or its citizens don’t need water for anything, then that would not be a problem.

Fracking is water intensive. It can take anywhere from 2 million to 13 million gallons of water to frack a single well and more water is needed to drill the well. Additionally wells are often fracked multiple times, some times as many as 18 times. Where does all that water come from? The Pacific Institute reports:
Water for hydraulic fracturing is typically withdrawn from one location or watershed over several days. Additionally, in some cases, the water is taken from ‘remote, often environmentally sensitive headwater areas’ (Beauduy 2011, 34), where even small withdrawals can have a significant impact on the flow regime. As a result, while fracking may account for a small fraction of a state’s or even a basin’s water supply, there can be more severe local impacts.
Additionally, much of the water injected underground is either not recovered or is unfit for further use once it is returned to the surface, usually requiring disposal in an underground injection well. This water use represents a ‘consumptive’ use if it is not available for subsequent use within the basin from which it was extracted. In some cases, water is treated and reused for subsequent fracking jobs, although this is still fairly uncommon, and no national estimate on the prevalence of this practice is available.
Already states like Texas and Pennsylvania have run into conflicts with fracking due to water shortages. And things are likely to get worse, as the Pacific Institute states, ‘In many basins, the application of fracking is still in its infancy and continued development could dramatically increase future water requirements and further intensify conflicts with other uses.’

As for the Chevron official’s assertion that fracking “has been safely used since the 1940s,” Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineer, offers a bit more information:

So the practice of pumping small volumes (1,000 to 10,000 gallons) of toxic fluid into vertical wells (2,400 feet) using about 600 horsepower of pressure is indeed 60 years old.
But that’s not what is happening in Pennsylvania, Texas or northern British Columbia today. Now industry injects millions of gallons of water into wellbores two miles deep that then angle or deviate horizontally another kilometre underground. They then break up the rock with up to 40,000 units of horsepower onsite and at pressures so extreme that the practice triggers small earthquakes….
Only in the last two decades have four different technologies made it possible to fracture deep shale rock formations one to two kilometres underground. They include directional drilling (wells that go down a kilometre and then extend horizontally for another kilometre): the use of millions of litres of fracturing fluids including sand, water and toxic chemicals; slick water (the use of gels and high fluid volumes at 100 barrels a minute) and multi-well pad and cluster drilling (the drilling of six to nine wells from one industrial platform).
‘All four of these technologies had to come together to allow shale gas fracturing,’ says Ingraffea.
The first horizontal shale gas well was drilled in 1991; the first slick water fracture took place in 1996; and the use of cluster drilling from one pad didn’t happen until 2007….
Expertise is also limited. Of 75 oil and gas firms that recently invaded Pennsylvania to develop the Marcellus shale play, only a half dozen had any experience combining all four technologies.
So the industry claim that hydraulic fracturing is a proven 60-year-old technology is just that: a provocative myth containing a pebble of truth….
As such current shale gas fracturing is an ongoing science experiment with few if any controls. Moreover research on its impacts remains scanty at best. [2]

So add this assessment by Arthur Berman, who has studied shale gas production quite extensively:

[O]nly a stunning 10-15% of the total area in which thousands of wells have been drilled turned out to be economically viable business ventures [3]

and consider this:

Wells typically range between $2 million and $10 million (or more), each one’s cost depending on location, depth, the number of hydraulic fracturing stages required, and other technical considerations [4]

combined with facts disclosed in David Hughes’ study:

Despite doubling this rate to more than 20,000 wells annually, gas production hit a post-peak summit in 2001 and began to decline. In the run-up to the Great Recession, gas drilling more than tripled from 1990s levels to 33,000 wells per year in the 2006–2008 time frame before falling back below the 20,000 level. This burst of drilling served to grow production modestly to near the 1973 peak, albeit at more than four times the 1973 drilling rate. This ‘exploration treadmill’ indicates the United States will need on the order of 30,000 or more successful gas wells per year to increase production going forward, which is triple the 1990s levels. [5]

the conclusion is fairly simple: there are some issues! A handful of simple little wells being drilled in faraway places at nominal costs with great success … not exactly. And did I mention leaking? Andrew Nikiforuk offered some information, in addition to what Abram Lustgarten’s study revealed (see above).

Back next week with more.

* My Photo: Peter Island, British Virgin Islands – 11.30.06

Sources:

[1] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0422/With-all-this-natural-gas-who-needs-oil; With all this natural gas, who needs oil? by Alexandra Marks – 04.22.12
[2] http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/01/07/Shale-Gas-Realities/; Shale Gas: Myth and Realities by Andrew Nikiforuk – 01.07.13
[3] http://citiwire.net/columns/the-hydrofracking-impact/; The Hydrofracking Impact by Roberta Brandes Gratz – 01.21.12

[4], [5] http://www.postcarbon.org/report/331901-report-will-natural-gas-fuel-america; Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21st Century?– May 2011 report by J. David Hughes (Post Carbon Institute); pp 24 and 18-19, respectively

 

 

Lately, President Obama has been talking up the frenzy of domestic oil drilling under his watch. ‘Right now,’ the president said in his [2012] State of the Union Address …, ‘American oil production is the highest it’s been in eight years.. Technically, that’s true. But it’s worth taking a longer view. Since 1970, U.S. oil production has actually been in severe decline — and the recent boom is nowhere near enough to reverse it.
Thanks to new shale oil drilling in North Dakota and offshore production in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. production has picked up recently and is at about 6 million barrels of oil per day. But that’s still way down from 1970, when production peaked at 10 million barrels per day [1]

The graph above, and the source, comes from any of dozens of fact-based articles verifying that United States crude oil production did in fact peak in 1970, just like M. King Hubbert predicted.

Reality and facts being optional as they are these days, yet another voice has been added to the fact-free-let’s-not-consider-reality chorus of peak oil deniers. The playbook is the same: optimistic statements; no facts except a few carefully excised-from-context cherry-picked ones; no explanations, and certainly no reality-based evidence which puts a very different spin on the Happy Talk.

It was only a few years ago that the prophets of doom were reviving their warnings about ‘peak oil.‘
That’s the notion, introduced by M. King Hubbert in 1956, that the world would some day reach its maximum level of petroleum extraction. Yields would then begin declining until we had sucked the last drop of oil from the earth.
Hubbert thought the U.S. would reach its peak oil point between 1965 and 1971.
He was wrong….

Actually, no he wasn’t, although that fact certainly screws up a perfectly nice argument. (The author does, however, get points for “sucked the last drop of oil from the earth”–a new variation on the ongoing nonsense about the “running out of oil” meme which deniers love to attribute to peak oil advocates.)

Simply put, Peak Oil is the point at which oil production reaches its maximum rate. Every single oil field on the planet goes through this cycle.
Now, let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about how much oil is left in the world. The problem has never been that we’re running out of oil…
Rather, Peak Oil refers to the rate at which we can produce it. [2]

Here’s the problem with this writer’s commentary: when members of your own denier team are already on record admitting that Hubbert was correct in his prediction of when U.S. oil production would peak [followed most often by a pivot to a pseudo-plausible nugget of irrelevant truth; statements indicating a deliberate attempt to mislead or—to be kinder—that they don’t know what they are talking about; gushing about our vast not-exactly-the-same-as-crude-oil resources—while neglecting to mention anything at all about actually being able to extract most of them; or the now-popular human ingenuity/technology to the rescue approach], perhaps you might want to try a different lame approach to see what kind of traction you can get with a new one.

[I]n 1956, another renowned expert called M. King Hubbert declared that oil reserves were far more limited than was generally recognised; in the US supplies would peak between 1965 and 1970. Sure enough US oil production did indeed peak in 1970. [3]

The Peak Oil hypothesis got its start in 1956 when M. King Hubbert, then a Shell Oil geologist, suggested that all oil fields were subject to peaks followed by inevitable, irreversible and predictable declines. U.S. oil production did peak in 1970. Hubbert’s prediction turned out to be correct, though not entirely for the right reasons….[4]

National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly seven million barrels by 2020.[5]

… US oil production did peak in 1970, the same time period which Hubbert suggested oil reserves would reach their half-way point and start an inevitable decline…[6]

The theory claims that production of oil rises then falls into terminal decline after hitting a level of maximum production. The theory can be used to describe individual oilfields, production in a specific country or, indeed, the world. The US hit peak oil production in the 1970s. [7]

From US conventional oil production peaking in 1970 to global conventional oil production peaking in 2006 the figures are indisputable. Even institutions such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and publications like The Economist that are not known for alarmism have admitted that oil production from conventional sources has peaked. [8]

From time to time, the theory of how oil was formed has been challenged but not successfully. In addition, in the 1950s, King Hubbert predicted that oil production would peak in the 1970s and then begin a steady decline. In fact that is what did occur. [9]

Of course, there’s always this, courtesy of our very own U. S. Energy Information Administration [although if you suspect this evidence is part of a nefarious scheme to convert us all to take-away-our-guns-while-taxing-us-forever-while-plotting-to-secretly-convert-us-all-to-godless-socialism, Dave Cohen had some thoughts worth pondering, too]:

U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil (Thousand Barrels per Day)
Decade Year-0 Year-1 Year-2 Year-3 Year-4 Year-5 Year-6 Year-7 Year-8 Year-9
  1850’s 0
  1860’s 1 6 8 7 6 7 10 9 10 12
  1870’s 14 14 17 24 30 33 25 37 42 55
  1880’s 72 76 83 64 66 60 77 77 75 96
  1890’s 126 149 138 133 135 145 167 166 152 156
  1900’s 174 190 243 275 320 369 347 455 488 502
  1910’s 574 604 609 681 728 770 822 919 920 1,037
  1920’s 1,210 1,294 1,527 2,007 1,951 1,700 2,112 2,469 2,463 2,760
  1930’s 2,460 2,332 2,145 2,481 2,488 2,723 3,001 3,500 3,324 3,464
  1940’s 4,107 3,847 3,796 4,125 4,584 4,695 4,749 5,088 5,520 5,046
  1950’s 5,407 6,158 6,256 6,458 6,342 6,807 7,151 7,170 6,710 7,054
  1960’s 7,035 7,183 7,332 7,542 7,614 7,804 8,295 8,810 9,096 9,238
  1970’s 9,637 9,463 9,441 9,208 8,774 8,375 8,132 8,245 8,707 8,552
  1980’s 8,597 8,572 8,649 8,688 8,879 8,971 8,680 8,349 8,140 7,613
  1990’s 7,355 7,417 7,171 6,847 6,662 6,560 6,465 6,452 6,252 5,881
  2000’s 5,822 5,801 5,744 5,644 5,435 5,186 5,089 5,077 5,000 5,353
  2010’s 5,479 5,648

Sure looks like a peak to me; but then again, I’m one of those crazies who believes that facts matter.

Sources:

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/oil-production-is-booming–but-for-how-long/2012/01/26/gIQApHGxSQ_blog.html; Oil production is booming — but for how long? by Brad Plumer – 01.26.12
[2] http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/burying-peak-oil/2037; Burying Peak Oil: The Secret Behind Report 117 by Keith Kohl – 02.01.12
[3] http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/all/7603773/peak-oil-really-could-destroy-the-economy-just-not-in-the-way-greens-think.thtml; Peak oil really could destroy the economy – just not in the way greens think by James Delingpole – 01.28.12
[4] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-06/peak-oil-scare-fades-as-shale-deepwater-wells-gush-crude.html; Peak Oil Scare Fades as Shale, Deepwater Wells Gush Crude by Joe Carroll – 02.06.12
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/business/energy-environment/inching-toward-energy-independence-in-america.html; U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence by Clifford Krauss and Eric Lipton – 03.22.12
[6] http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/29/the-myth-of-peak-oil/; The Real Problem is Not Too Little Oil, But Too Much: The Myth of Peak Oil by George Wuerthner – 03.29.12
[7] http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/peak-oil-doomsayers-ignore-human-201614112.html; Peak oil doomsayers ignore human ingenuity by Garry White – 04.02.12
[8] http://wallstreetpit.com/91434-what-happened-to-peak-oil; What Happened to Peak Oil? by James Picerno – 04.24.12
[9] http://fuelfix.com/blog/2012/06/18/the-vanishing-peak/; The Vanishing Peak by William O’Keefe – 06.18.12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Richard Heinberg:

The great transition of the 21st century will entail enormous adjustments on the part of every individual, family, and community, and if we are to make those adjustments successfully, we will need to plan rationally. Implications and strategies will have to be explored in nearly every area of human interest—agriculture, transportation, global ware and peace, public health, resource management, and on and on. Books, research studies, television documentaries, and every other imaginable form of information transferal (sic) will be required to convey needed knowledge in each of these areas. [1]

As I’ve noted on numerous occasions (see this, for example), the Happy Talk about our surging production and a new energy revolution and energy independence at last, yadda, yadda, yadda is nonetheless subject to reality, facts, and evidence. As that referenced post of mine explains (with informative links worth reviewing), the exuberance some cling to desperately to ward off the truth that the touted shale/tight oil extravaganza is not quite the bonus careless urgings suggest.

And since we are (unfortunately) not likely going to be experiencing the bliss of more seemingly limitless supplies of oil to power us into the future under Business As Usual scenarios, we’re going to have come up with some different strategies and certainly a lot more plans a lot sooner by a lot more involved citizens for a lot more reasons in a lot more aspects of life as we know it.

No Peak Oil proponent delights in the prospects. No one wants to deal with such an apparently distant potential problem as some make it out to be. Understood. Human behavior is human behavior. But when the customary approaches of postponement and/or denial serve as the basic plan of action (i.e., doing nothing, ignoring facts, and hoping for the best), it’s time for all of us to consider more carefully—on our own—just what is at stake.

With that appreciation, more of us step to the plate and offer our own contributions in developing a more reasoned and practical strategy for a future which cannot and will not depend on the same fossil fuel resources we’ve all taken for granted for so long. Ceding that responsibility to others is no longer the fall-back position.

Do we want to have some say in how our future unfolds? Isn’t being prepared the wiser course?

~ My Photo: Tropical Storm Irene – Gloucester, MA 08.28.11

Source:

[1] Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines by Richard Heinberg [pp. 23-24]. New Society Publishers (2007)

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This is the third part of a series [here and here], discussing how the same “skate past the facts and hope no one notices” strategy typically employed by most Peak Oil deniers is not-so-surprisingly used by those cheerleading for shale gas development. What triggered this is a March 2012 article written by a Chevron Corporation executive, entitled “The Truth About Natural Gas From Shale.” [Quotes are from that piece unless noted otherwise.]

His stated purpose was quite clear:

Understandably, this natural gas boom has raised some questions and concerns about how this resource is developed, including questions about the process of hydraulic fracturing and the affects, if any, on the water table.  While there is much debate and rhetoric surrounding this resource, often times a simple explanation of the process is left out of the discussion. In an effort to help raise awareness of how natural gas from shale is extracted, here is a brief explanation.

Those of us concerned about our energy future believe it’s vital to provide the public with information. It’s not enough to offer vapid assurances that all is well with energy supply and production. Yes, there’s certainly been some good news in the last year or so, and we readily acknowledge that. But that’s only one part of the story. Without context, a great disservice is being extended to the public.

We certainly respect that the vast majority of citizens cannot make or do not have the time or interest or inclination to understand what’s at stake. There is an ongoing, determined effort by too many to at best muddle the issues enough to draw little or no attention from the public to the challenges we face. “Public interest” does not appear to factor into their motivations. Too few are benefiting at the expense of too many. Sound familiar? (It’s not a coincidence.)

Being prepared, understanding the issues, knowing both the positive and the negative aspects of energy supply and production affords citizens their best opportunity to either contribute meaningfully as we address and adapt to the looming problems, or to engage their leaders in more substantive dialogue in order to direct more specific actions. Not knowing there are any problems makes it a wee bit difficult to accomplish any of this. The consequences will thus only be worse. Not a good option.

If nothing else, citizens should easily appreciate that there are two sides to most stories. Too many are telling too many others only one side of the story—and facts tend not to play much of a role.

So let’s continue….

A seemingly ho-hum series of initial steps taken is our introduction to “the process:”

Once an area prospective for hydrocarbons has been determined, permission to drill is obtained from the landowner, a lease is signed, permits are secured, and environmental impact studies are conducted. Then seismic data is gathered to determine the best location to place the well in the shale that lies deep underground.
Once determined, a well site is constructed.  From the well site, we are able to drill multiple wells from a single site to minimize land use.  A drilling rig is then used to drill thousands of feet below the earth’s surface.  In the Marcellus Basin, wells are typically around 8,000 feet deep – nearly 7,000 feet below the water table.  The rig then drills horizontally, roughly 2,000 to 6,000 feet outward into the layer of shale rock.  Many companies use several layers of steel casing and cement to form a continuous barrier between the well and the surrounding formations.

Sounds simple enough. No fuss, no bother, no contentious discussions … just a kind-hearted corporation easing into mostly rural communities and going about its business in such a way that it seems no one even notices they’re there! And so thoughtful, too, “drill[ing] multiple wells from a single site to minimize land use.”

Here’s a slightly more detailed description from the Energy Information Agency:

Hydraulic fracturing (commonly called ‘fracking’ or ‘fracing’) is a technique in which water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into the well to unlock the hydrocarbons trapped in shale formations by opening cracks (fractures) in the rock and allowing natural gas to flow from the shale into the well. When used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing enables gas producers to extract shale gas economically. Without these techniques, natural gas does not flow to the well rapidly, and commercial quantities cannot be produced from shale. [1]

Duly noted, and at first glance, certainly understandable from a business standpoint. But let’s pause for a moment for another view of “the process.” Two months before “The Truth….” was published, Roberta Brandes Gratz offered a different perspective on this very same effort:

Hydrofracking involves injecting clean water, sand and an undisclosed combination of chemicals into the shale to free the gas from vast lateral reserves that are then brought to the surface. Each well site — known as as a pad — contains multiple wells on three to four acres of compacted gravel. The sites are spaced maybe 40 acres apart and connected by pipelines crisscrossing the land.

Ms. Gratz also managed to find space in her article to add these observations:

In the case of gas, the grid connection is a more complex piping system, indeed one so vast that it is difficult at this point to fully comprehend how many pipelines and multiple compressors will be required as wells proliferate, or how many farms, wetlands, woodlands and mountain tops they will cross. Gas makes windmills look benign in the impact on the land.
‘To connect to the larger, interstate pipelines’ companies are moving forward ‘on what is expected to be thousands of miles of smaller pipelines,’ Marc Levy of the Associated Press wrote in August. And that doesn’t include’ a possible network of water pipelines called for to avoid the current endless truck trips required to deliver water.
Pipelines require wide cleared swaths through forests, mountain tops, farm fields and wetlands.

By carefully spacing her words, Ms. Gratz also found room in her article to offer these facts:

Gas needs to be compressed at multiple points along a route to flow through a pipeline.  Compressor stations are required at close intervals. Compressors clean the gas of impurities before it is piped into peoples’ homes down the line. The noise from these compressors can be deafening.

In a prior article, Ms. Gratz offered this:

A recent visit to Bradford and Susquehanna Counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, currently a prime drilling target, revealed very troubling impacts that have received little attention so far. On scenic farm roads that never before bordered anything but farms — not even a gas station — industrial sites are sprouting left and right, representing the different segments of the gas production process — compressors, storage tanks, staging sites, maintenance operations and more.
Consider for example the situation in and near the towns of Wyalusing and Montrose. Both are small, historic towns, not quite fitting the description of ‘sleepy’ but, then again, not home to intense activity either. The library in Montrose is packed daily with gas company researchers poring over land deeds. The small hotel in Wyalusing is mostly filled with gas workers or deal makers. The coffee shop conversation on this short, storybook Main Street is filled with complaints about endless midnight truck traffic and news of residents trying to sell or move.
The road between these towns is a bucolic, windy, two-lane farm road. About midway is a staging area for trucks each carrying 50,000 lbs of sand. I observed roughly 30 trucks waiting to deliver to a nearby drill site under construction. The truckers report that each load had been trucked 80 miles from Wellesville, N.Y. One driver noted, that this typical site — a drill pad with six well holes — takes 480 million pounds of sand! At 50,000 pounds per truck driven 80 miles one-way — you do the math. Then calculate diesel fuel burned, exhaust released, road wear caused for that 80 mile trip for one pad of six wells. How could this be defined as clean energy? That doesn’t even begin to touch the controversy of the impact on global warming of the leaked methane during the drilling process.

[The Vargson family also has an interesting experience regarding “the process.]

While “The Truth….” version is certainly the one most residents would vote for, the unfortunate fact-based reality is that the rural inhabitants where most of these pads are found must deal with the realities described above. Good thing it’s them and not us, Right?

I wonder why none of those pesky little facts found their way into “The Truth…?”

And we’re just starting….

* My Photo: Provincetown, MA – 08.20.04

Source:

[1] http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/article/about_shale_gas.cfm; What is shale gas and why is it important? – Last Updated: December 5, 2012

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

Let’s start with a very, very minor consideration, now that the holiday season is mercifully at an end once again: greeting cards.

According to the Greeting Card Association, we purchase about 7 billion greeting cards every year (birthday cards account for about one-third of that total). The Association reports that (worldwide) an estimated 500 million electronic greeting cards are sent each year. In 2011, more than 2 billion Christmas cards were sold in this country (boxed and individual cards).

Safe to say that you and I have just learned more about greeting cards than we ever have!

How many people should we guess are employed by the publishers? How much fuel/energy is required to obtain the raw materials, process them, transport them, manufacture them, convert them into greeting card “stuff”, and then distribute them to the more than 100,000 retailers across the country?

I don’t have specific answers, but that’s not the point. When the price of oil remains high—higher, eventually—and when the availability of that all-important energy source is curtailed because supply diminishes as our resource pool is drawn down every minute of every day by a level of demand impossible to have envisioned just a few decades ago, how many people along that supply and production chain are going to be impacted because every company in that same chain is going to be curtailing its industrial/commercial activities?

What kind of ripple effect rolls out across the economy?

“Giving a greeting card creates a lasting impression and emotional bond between sender and receiver. In a national survey for the Greeting Card Association, nearly one-third of respondents said they keep the special cards they receive ‘forever.’”

You or may not lose much sleep if greeting cards aren’t available much, or at all, in the years to come. We’ll find new or expand the existing emotional bonds encouraged by this industry. The who-knows-how-many employees up and down the supply and production and distribution and retail chain, however, may have a different take. When cutbacks take place, how might other businesses suffer as a result? Who replaces those customers? How?

Who among us non-greeting card industry citizens every thought such a seemingly inconsequential industry had the potential to create so much havoc? Think that will be the only one affected by a declining/too-expensive energy source?

Opportunity, anyone? Plans? How about a simple public discussion?

~ My Photo: Monterey, CA – 09.15.04

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/15/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-iv/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/07/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-i/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/12/13/thoughts-on-peak-oil-planning/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/02/14/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/

 

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Abraham Lincoln:

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today

At some point, the realities of geology and economics will become unavoidable to all but the genuinely delusional among us.

Our oil production upswing has been occurring in recent months because oil prices have been high enough to justify the added investment expenditures by oil companies to extract from unconventional reserves.

Certainly ingenuity and technology have played their important roles. These harder-to-extract-and-produce fossil fuels would otherwise remain underground or underwater. That’s a given. But there are limitations built in to the exploration and production of oil—conventional or otherwise. No producer will make any investments without some reasonable assurances of profit.

Today, that happens because prices are high enough. The problem is that high enough prices for them is often too high for the rest of us. The only practical solution for them is to lower prices for us. And thus their quandary and our problem.

Perhaps we and they might consider our responsibilities to the future by giving more serious consideration to the relentless geological and financial restrictions we’re facing, and then engage in some just-as-serious conversations about what to do, how, and when.

Plan is not one those four-letter words.

* My Photo: Key Largo, FL – 02.21.05