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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from William James more than a century ago:

The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present, and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.

We’re spending countless hundreds of billions of dollars each year to extract every last drop of oil from deep below the oceans, or from shale formations trapped thousands of feet below us, or disguised as some reasonable approximation of conventional crude oil buried amid tar sands in western Canada, or hidden below the formidable Arctic landscape (among other endeavors).

We do so for a simple reason: that’s pretty much all that’s left to us now.

Our wisest strategy?

When does the madness begin to register with industry—and government officials too steeped in ignorance, self-preservation, and denial to understand what’s at stake?

Nothing changes about simple facts: fossil fuels or their presumed replacements/substitutes are finite resources. The more we extract, the less we have … not exactly astrophysics or NASA-level math. The resources left to us are more difficult and expensive to produce now for any number of reasons. Their quality is inferior to the conventional crude oil supply we’ve relied upon more more than 150 years now—in ever-increasing amounts and for ever-increasing needs.

And so the headlong rush to squeeze out whatever is left dominates our planning, policies, and activities. If we aren’t taking significant and immediate steps to drastically reduce what we consume, engage in meaningful dialogue to plan for a different energy future, and stop allowing a select group of spokespeople to mislead, shade truths, or raise irrelevancies, we’re in for one hell of a ride right up to the point we smash headfirst into the realities of geology’s and technology’s and economics’ limitations.

That won’t be nearly as much fun as it seems.

~ My Photo: Ana Nuevos, the California coast – 09.15.04

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In yesterday’s post—as I and many others have shared on dozens of prior occasions—I discussed the seemingly limitless capacity of energy abundance cheerleaders to carefully select a few choice morsels from the fact tableau. Doing so affords them another chance to weave an impressive-sounding story designed to sway an already over-burdened public which has too little time or inclination to devote to energy and environmental matters.

The latest entry into that club came courtesy of this article, which relied exclusively on “expertise” from the same group of boosters referenced all the time. Their game plan is well-rehearsed, and opinions or evidence from other experts presenting a more well-rounded, evidence-based perspective won’t be found. Can’t have any contrary facts or even reality itself intrude on a script with a pre-determined conclusion, Right?

As annoying as these one-sided efforts can be, what really got (what’s left of) my hair standing on end was this casual throwaway comment [my bold/italic]:

Horizontal drilling is not new but the widespread application of it is. When combined with fracking, which uses highly pressurized water and sand to break through rock formations, usually shale, and ‘stimulate’ the movement of hydrocarbons, it has made recoverable billions of more barrels of oil and vast stores of natural gas.

“Water and sand” … that’s it?! That observation was one of those rare times when I actually uttered an out-loud “What the fuck?!”

Upon what theory does the omission of “and chemicals” from that description of fracking seem okay? Any citizen new to the topic would surely read the “water and sand” comment and utter their own “WTF?” in reply. “All the liberal-wacko-enviros are making all this noise about a process involving water and sand? Are they kidding?!”

How can one suggest that that very response and belief was anything other than precisely the reaction intended? Who cares if it’s misleading and a gross misrepresentation of this oil production process, Right?

What possible justification can be offered for the failure to mention chemicals—the third “ingredient” of fracking? Experts may disagree on the significance or consequences, but to deny the casual and understandably uninformed reader the opportunity to learn of that basic fact in the first instance? Seriously?

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]

A subsequent comment in the article: “Others are worried that the drilling, most of which is occurring on private land, will create environmental problems and be blocked or stymied by new regulation,” was the only indication of any kind that fracking might involve some other issues. That’s so pathetic it almost defies description!

Repeating the nonsense about a “century’s” worth of natural gas supply and a complete failure to explain the important distinction between reserves and resources is by now par for the course. And what’s a good piece of largely fact-free story-telling without the obligatory vague-as-can-be assertion about production totals, (as evidenced by this quote: “But in many cases, he said, wells are producing more than anticipated”)? This article did not disappoint.

When the public is finally able to appreciate how much information affecting their well-being has been consistently withheld or deliberately misstated, there will be some serious hell to pay.

If a richly-deserved comeuppance was the only outcome, it would be a delightful show to observe. Unfortunately, the longer the public is denied important information about the reality of fossil fuel production and supply, the more difficult it will be for society, government, and industry to develop appropriate plans and responses. So we’ll suffer the long-term consequences of strategies with a small, select group of short-term beneficiaries—at our collective expense. Wonderful!

Duly acknowledged that fracking has generated impressive production increases of late, but “water and sand?” Awful!

I recently concluded a seven-part series on fracking/natural gas in which I cited a wide range of experts—easily Googled—whose assessments (with facts and everything; such a concept!) on fracking and energy potential tell a different story about the realities of energy supply and production. (Here’s the link to the last post of that series; links to the other six are contained therein.)

Just a couple of other facts from that series of mine which didn’t make it into this ridiculous piece of propaganda:

Evelyn Nieves and Nicholas Kusnetz in particular (here and here) offered wonderful overviews of what residents in North Dakota have been dealing with since fracking became a prime industry there. The titles of those two articles each offer a glimpse of the storylines: ‘The North Dakota Oil Fracking Boom Creates Clash of Money and Devastation’ and ‘North Dakota’s Oil Boom Brings Damage Along With Prosperity.

“Devastation” and “damage” are probably not good things, one could safely assume. Also left unmentioned (of course) are the investment concerns of fracking and the effects of the financial difficulties encountered by oil producers; the extensive damage to the communities (e.g., infrastructure, financial burdens to companies and organizations); the rapid depletion of fracked wells; the millions of gallons of water required per well, and the actual environmental and property damage left in the wake of exiting producers….

Trivial considerations when profits are to be made before it’s too late, I realize, but couldn’t this article have at least mentioned them? I guess that depends on the objective: attract investors, or provide readers with all of the relevant information.

Tough choice, Right?

* My Photo: from Salt Island at Good Harbor Beach, MA – 07.05.08

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

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Curious how things work out sometimes….

Last Sunday, the always-insightful Kurt Cobb posted at his Resource Insights blog [on my Blogroll and one which should be on yours as well], a collection of observations whose title said it all: “Depletion: The one word oil optimists refuse to utter.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post which was then published last Tuesday, lamenting/wondering for the zillionth time why industry/media personnel who should (and surely do) know better share with the general public much less fossil fuel-related information, facts, and truths than citizens deserve.

A nice statement from an article written by David Ropeik prompted my piece, which included this observation:

It may take more cognitive effort to think critically and independently rather than just parrot our tribal leaders … but that simply can not excuse people knowingly and selfishly putting themselves and their self interests above others in their community and as a result putting the rest of us at risk.

And nice enough to oblige Mr. Ropeik, Kurt, and I was this latest entry in the Cornucopian pursuit of barely-there truth-telling. A nearly 3,000 word article on the “miracle” of our “energy boom” and nowhere did the word “depletion” appear. (“Decline” didn’t make the final cut, either.)

Facts, as I’ve noted on many occasions before, can royally screw up an attempt to mislead or mis-direct. So it’s of course perfectly understandable why an article clearly intending to convince readers that energy nirvana is close at hand would omit facts which tarnish the luster on energy abundance Happy Talk or suggest the Magic Technology Fairy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Such is the nature of political, environmental, and economic dialogue these days.

One side works damned hard to make sure only a carefully-selected group of marginally-truthful statements are offered to the public, which are then massaged vigorously according to the established, disingenuous criteria of its Playbook.

Those of us on the other side of these discussions are actually willing to cross the line and admit to at least the basic premises on which those others operate in their curiously-scripted world. But damn us, we then just have to add facts, other evidence, and reality-based analyses to round out the conversations—presenting all the information we believe citizens should have.

Some of us don’t always do it very well or often enough, to be sure. But on balance we’re very confident we act in that manner a whole hell of a lot more than does the other party to our public discourse. We’re even willing to do so if the Happy Ending is not so happy.

It’s not a perfect strategy by any means—the ideal or its implementation. Perfect eludes us, too. But speaking at least for myself, more information is usually better. Nothing noble about it, actually. Just some common courtesy and respect.

Fools that we are, we think the public has a right to know both sides of a story, especially when an issue is of great importance to them and their well-being. Some surprises are good; others … not so much. So we’re even foolish enough to think the public should be allowed to have all the pertinent information—what we and “the other side” are offering. That way, citizens can both understand and then make their own decisions on matters directly affecting them. Such a concept….

It sucks when it’s not all Happy Talk and Technology Fairy pixie dust, but we just can’t help ourselves. We actually believe that facts and truth matter … still.

[And it bears noting again: I’m NOT Peak Oil’s poster child. We’re among the fortunate ones; my family enjoys a very nice lifestyle which energy supply disruptions will screw up big-time. I want to believe the optimists! But those damned facts….]

Rounding out last week’s nicely-arranged set of coincidences was an interview Mason Inman conducted with ecologist Charles Hall of SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. Mason jumped right in:

‘Drill, baby, drill’ has become a slogan of those who want to produce more oil and gas and who scoff at alternatives to petroleum. But rarely mentioned is the expense required to get that oil and gas—and still more rarely mentioned is the energy required to access those resources.

It is awfully curious, isn’t it? Wonder why that is? Wonder who’s benefitting from that approach? I know who isn’t….

I’ll get it into this some more in tomorrow’s post.

* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 08.22.09

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I have offered several posts on Jeffrey J. Brown’s Export Land Model [here, here, and here]. The ELM is a too-often overlooked yet critically important aspect of (declining) global oil production.

I will be the very first person to acknowledge that my math skills and my understanding of economics hover somewhere just about the “pitiful” marker. I am among the last people anyone should turn to for explanations about even simple concepts. My brain simply does not work that way, and long ago I made the decision that the investment needed to develop a reasonable level of understanding was not worth the potential benefits, and so I rely on many others to offer information and explanations.

Having said that, even I appreciate that in its simplest form, the ELM provides detailed analysis and explanations for an obvious and simple mathematical principle: Oil-exporting nations, whose own economies are growing—or hoping to—require for their own use ever-increasing amounts of the very same fossil fuels they traditionally export.

So when they keep more of what they have to offer, what’s left is less for the rest of us to divvy up. Those of us who “get,” thus get less.

I’m duly acknowledging the production increases from shale, the potential for Arctic production, and the tar sands of Canada. But the Happy Talk and Magic Technology Fairy won’t make up for depletion from existing crude oil fields, so that argument has a limited shelf life once facts are added to the discussion.

Dr. Brown recently published a detailed [and to my way of thinking, quite wonky] explanation and analysis of current trends and clear warnings about the future of fossil fuel availability for nations such as our own. If I was able to understand most of it, mostly everyone else who reads the article will understand it even more.

It’s well-worth the read [graphs, charts, and all]. Sobering to be sure, but more information is always a good thing, and Dr. Brown’s article offers us all not only a great deal of that, but of perhaps greater benefit, he provides us all with stronger reasons to start making plans based on the realities of fossil fuel supplies. Facts still suck, but we ignore them at our increasing peril.

* My Photo: Key Largo, FL – 02.20.05

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from David Ropeik. [Written in regards to climate change and the vile Heartland Institute, its sentiments have just as much applicability to peak oil….]

[D]enial which arises out of the innate subconscious urge we all have to adopt views that agree with our tribe, because of the importance of social cohesion, does not seem unethical. That sort of denial is a product of subconscious motivations, to a large measure beyond our free will. But the deniers who are consciously trying to sow doubt, and block action on what could be an existential threat to human life as we know it, not purely as a matter of ideology but to protect their profits and power and personal interests, clearly are behaving unethically, and we should be outraged….
We are all responsible to some degree for our choices and behavior, responsible not only to ourselves, but to each other. That’s the very idea of ethics, isn’t it? It may take more cognitive effort to think critically and independently rather than just parrot our tribal leaders … but that simply can not excuse people knowingly and selfishly putting themselves and their self interests above others in their community and as a result putting the rest of us at risk.
It is fair to call unethical, and be enraged by, the conscious actions of those who would put the rest of us in serious danger in order to protect their safety and profits and power….

Last month, Forbes published an article which offered pretty much the same loosely fact-based arguments contained in another piece by that same author in December of 2011.

The writer is certainly no dummy. The author’s bio attached to the Forbes piece is quite impressive. Among the highlights: CEO, author, research fellow, MA in economics, PhD in political economics … not exactly a flimsy CV.

Given his credentials and presumed expertise in at least the basics of energy supply and production, I was astounded by the stream of nonsense this gentleman once again shared with readers about our nation’s presumed energy “resources.”

The comments following this most recent article—including smackdowns by Robert Rapier and Jeffrey Brown—are more than sufficient on their own to rebut the stated claims. I won’t repeat or expand on them here. [See this post of mine for a discussion of that 2011 article. I could have cut most of the commentary from that one and pasted it here.]

The question I’m more curious about is: Why?

The Forbes contributor is certainly far from the only well-credentialed professional disseminating much the same context-free, borderline factual observations about supply and production. Surely he must know that the “astounding 1.4 trillion barrels of recoverable oil, the … oil shale in the Rocky Mountain West” is astounding mostly because many decades of effort and expense have yet to realize even remotely reasonable commercial production status, with absolutely no indications we’ll see any change for decades more.

Surely he must know that the resource is not actually oil at all, as was thoroughly explained in the Comments. Tellingly, he apparently considers the oil shale to be “reserves.” A resource is not a reserve. There’s a big difference. Very big, actually. [See this.]

Reserves and resources are two fundamental terms in the energy field easily explained by anyone with even passing knowledge. Anyone with his expertise and experience should know the distinction as readily as your family doctor knows the difference between a sprained ankle and a head cold.

It’s almost comical how similar the arguments have become, as I noted several months ago:

So by repeatedly raising Peak Oil advocates’ alleged doom and gloom position that we’re running out of oil, the deniers instantly create fear among those who rely on their ‘leadership.’ Shameless, but give ‘em credit: it works—if misleading or lying is one’s preferred strategy. To what end is a different story, but deniers don’t seem terribly concerned with consequences so long as their interests are being protected today. Ugly, but that seems to be the primary rule.
With fear aroused, the smooth transition to the deniers’ preferred argument: ‘but we have several bazillion barrels of reserves that will last us for at least a kajillion years,’ wipes away the concerns of the uninformed. Life goes on. One of two scenarios are likely: (1) They really don’t know what they are talking about, or (2) They do and realize that telling the truth and sharing all the facts is not in their best interests. Which is worse?
Of course, it is by now standard fare for the deniers to omit any discussion or explanation of factual consequences or even some basic facts about ‘reserves.’ That would surely screw up everything for them, and we cannot have that! Nope. Just tell ‘em we’ve got vast quantities, and end the discussion there.

So I’ll ask again: Why?

The pattern is easily recognized by now, and this questionable behavior is by no means restricted to the energy arena (hello, Republican leadership!). In a consequence-free world, these shameful displays would be annoyances and nothing more. Not all of us have the luxury—as apparently they do—of living in that world.

That’s a problem….

* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 08.21.09

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The Senate’s top Republican on energy issues, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has crafted a blueprint for U.S. energy policy that calls for increased drilling while opposing laws to cap greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming….
Murkowski, the top ranking Republican on the Senate energy committee, argues energy is too often seen as a necessary evil rather than embraced for what it brings.
‘We like to be comfortable in our temperatures. We like to be able to move around. This is the mark of a successful and an economically healthy world. Where you have energy these are the prosperous areas,’ she said in an interview.
Her proposal opposes ‘any policy that would increase the price of energy or limit consumer choice.’ [1]

As a fellow consumer, I appreciate the sentiment. [I’ve written about the Senator previously.] But as long as our fearless leaders continue to suck-up to their wealthy benefactors while spouting empty but hot-button platitudes in the general vicinity of their constituents, the primary strategy of drill at all costs so costs stay low is not just a losing strategy, it’s one sure to cause far more harm in the years to come.

That sentiment was nicely expressed here:

The common element between the Keystone Pipeline and Arctic drilling is a willingness to jettison our children’s future in return for keeping our oil addiction slightly cheaper for slightly longer. In the American psyche, the right to cheap gas is as much a psychological phenomenon as an economic one. [2]

We elect leaders to lead, to use their presumed expertise and judgment to present policies addressing challenges and concerns that just might last beyond the next election. Go figure! Imagine if Congress actually decided to try that theory out….

The questioning of assumptions is a critical part of the creative process. Faced with a problem, most of us are so eager to find a solution, and thus end the uncertainty and frustration of not knowing what to do, we tend to rush into the first solution that comes to mind. Only later, often when we are in trying to put our solution into practice, do we realize that we had not fully thought through our solution, and probably had made some invalid assumptions….
Most people find the process of challenging their assumptions very difficult. It is not just that the assumptions are hard to see; we usually do not want to see them. We become emotionally attached to our beliefs, and to question them can feel very threatening. Nevertheless, uncomfortable as the process may be, it nearly always pays dividends. It usually leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of the problem, and often to better solutions….
What has emerged from our questioning is a critical psychological aspect. One major impediment to sustainability is not ‘out there’ in the complex global system we are trying to manage; it is inside ourselves. It is our greed, our love of power, our love of money, our attachment to our comforts, our unwillingness to inconvenience ourselves. In one way or another human self-interest is either creating the problem or preventing us from solving it. [3]

While we should not only expect more from our leaders, so too will critical problems affecting us all demand more courageous and informed actions from each of us as well. Fossil fuels are finite resources; industry is no longer extracting the easy stuff because that ship has sailed. They’re not drilling miles below the ocean’s surface or spending millions per shale wells just to keep themselves entertained.

So while one “solution” is to just keep doing more of what they’ve always done, the end results won’t be pretty. Whether the efforts become either unprofitable in the extreme or simply too technologically challenging given the demands of the time, devoting more time, effort, and money to a game certain to end—to the exclusion of efforts to transition away from fossil fuel dependency—simply makes no sense.

Better solutions will come from asking better questions. More knowledge, greater acceptance of facts and reality—harsh though they may be—and the honesty and integrity to think, understand, and focus on the future and not what is good today … those are the ingredients needed to provide our future generations with the best opportunities they’ll need for successful living. Short-term thinking, planning, and acting produces short term solutions.

‘There’s a reality out there people don’t want to recognize,” concludes Kaufmann. [Robert Kaufmann, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University]. ‘Clearly technology has improved. Oil prices are higher. We deregulated the industry. We’ve done almost everything. There are a few areas offshore that are closed off. It’s not going to make a difference. The sooner people realize that and stop dreaming about energy independence or one huge undiscovered field that’s going to solve all our problems, the better off we’ll be.’ [4]

A five-year old quote with all its wisdom intact, and still a worthy pursuit.

* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 09.05.05

Sources:

[1] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/02/03/181876/republican-energy-plan-calls-for.html; Republican energy plan calls for more drilling, nothing to rein in greenhouse gases by Sean Cockerham – 03.03.13
[2] http://ssppjournal.blogspot.com/2012/03/real-bridge-to-nowhere-oil-drilling-in.html; The Real Bridge to Nowhere: Oil Drilling in the Arctic by Ethan Goffman – 03.20.13
[3] http://www.peterrussell.com/Speaker/Talks/WBA.php; Who’s Kidding Whom? Is Sustainable Development Compatible with Western Civilization? by Peter Russell – November 2010
[4] http://www.salon.com/2008/08/18/oil_myths/; Did You Hear That Alaska Has More Oil Than The Middle East?: Busting the myths about cheap and unlimited oil being broadcast by Rush Limbaugh, Jerome Corsi and other ignoramuses by Peter Dizikes – 08.18.08

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This is the seventh and final 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.

As is the case in other areas of our business, our ability to operate depends on public confidence in our operations. This trust can only be earned through open, honest and timely dialogue with surrounding communities and operating at a high standard.
Natural gas from shale can provide the U.S. with reliable, affordable, cleaner and responsibly produced energy – but we must have a supportive policy framework to encourage this development. Doing so will help enhance the country’s energy security, strengthen local and state economies, and fuel job growth.

Nice sentiments, to be sure, and undoubtedly well-intentioned. If the shale gas production envisioned by Chevron and its peers could be realized as they describe, benefits would surely accrue to us all. But facts can screw up even the best of intentions.

How much gas is there, really?
There is deep uncertainty about the amount of natural gas in the ground and what it will ultimately cost to extract it. Despite this, drillers typically operate on unwavering optimism that borders on hubris: The common refrain about oil and gas men (they are indeed almost always men) is that they are ‘often wrong but never doubting.’
After attacking anyone who questioned the irrational exuberance surrounding shale gas, these oil and gas men have had to reckon with several new batches of data — first from the U.S. Geological Survey and then from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) —  that offer a more sober picture of this resource. Countless market analysts and news venues … [citing multiple sources – my comment] have also started corroborating doubts about the industry’s prospects and its early optimism.
The source of the industry’s tank-half-full optimism isn’t baseless: No one can deny that there is a helluva lot of gas in this country. But there isn’t nearly as much as the industry and federal regulators initially predicted — despite the fact that President Obama and others continue to cite overly optimistic figures. It’s also patently obvious that drillers have miscalculated how much of this gas can be extracted without going bankrupt. [1] [ links/other references and sources are in the original article ]

[T]he shale gas industry was motivated to hype production prospects in order to attract large amounts of needed investment capital; it did this by drilling the best sites first and extrapolating initial robust results to apply to more problematic prospective regions. The energy policy establishment, desperate to identify a new energy source to support future economic growth, accepted the industry’s hype uncritically….The stuff seemed too good to be true—and indeed it was.
The biggest losers in this misguided rush to anoint shale gas as America’s energy savior are members of the public, who need sound energy policy based on realistic expectations for future supply, as well as sound assessments of economic and environmental costs. [2]

Part 6 of this series [ link below] highlighted several economic consequences to local and state economies which continue to get too little attention (road and infrastructure damage, increased demands for social and municipal services on already overburdened providers, etc.), and which never seem to find their way into the exuberant pronouncements by the fossil fuel industries.

Tara Lohan described some of the lesser known, infrequently-considered risks now being assumed by residents who’ve committed their properties to drilling:

Homeowners may also stand to lose. The Huffington Post reported, ‘Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has become the first major insurance company to say it won’t cover damage related to a gas drilling process that blasts chemical-laden water deep into the ground.’ The company released a memo that said:
After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.
While the fracking industry promises to create jobs, those like Tish O’Dell, co-founder of the Cleveland-area group Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods, wonder about what jobs will be lost from impacts to farming, tourism and dairies. She told Midwest Energy News, ‘If you were going to do a really serious study you would look at these things,’ she said. ‘If water is contaminated and fish die, what are the fishermen going to do? If you have parks where people go for peace and quiet, what happens when you turn it into an industrial landscape? If you have an organic dairy and the soil is polluted, what does that mean? These are all valid questions.’ [3] [ links/other references and sources are in the original article]

Kurt Cobb also enlightened us about a related and potentially quite drastic financial burden likewise assumed by homeowners:

One fact ought to tell you all you need to know about the risks faced by homeowners signing leases for natural gas drilling on their property: Wells Fargo & Company, both the largest home mortgage lender in the United States and a major lender to the country’s second largest producer of natural gas, Chesapeake Energy Corp., refuses to make home loans for properties encumbered with natural gas drilling leases.
This salient fact comes from an article (PDF) written for the New York State Bar Association Journal by attorney Elisabeth N. Radow. Written in the form of an even-tempered legal brief, Radow relates one astounding finding after another. Perhaps most relevant to homeowners who either have signed drilling leases or who may be asked to sign them in the future is this: ‘Signing a gas lease without lender consent is likely to constitute a mortgage default.’ You read that right. Default. [4] [ links/other references and sources are in the original article]

These last two observations sum it up much better than I could:

[S]cientific studies are not the only indications that something is deeply wrong with the IEA’s assessment of prospects for shale gas production and accompanying economic prosperity. Indeed, Business Insider reports that far from being profitable, the shale gas industry is facing huge financial hurdles. ‘The economics of fracking are horrid,’ observes US financial journalist Wolf Richter. ‘Production falls off a cliff from day one and continues for a year or so until it levels out at about 10 per cent of initial production.’ The result is that ‘drilling is destroying capital at an astonishing rate, and drillers are left with a mountain of debt just when decline rates are starting to wreak their havoc. To keep the decline rates from mucking up income statements, companies had to drill more and more, with new wells making up for the declining production of old wells. Alas, the scheme hit a wall, namely reality.’ [5] [ links/other references and sources are in the original article]

‘It looks like we’re finally kind of coming to the end of that story. All of the reasons companies had for continuing to drill [gas] wells are beginning to come off.’ [Comment by Adam Sieminski, Administrator of the U.S. EIA.]

Facts … and reality. Perhaps we should give them greater consideration going forward?

* My Photo: a wild turkey in Gloucester, MA – 06.02.12

[ links to the first six 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/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/02/28/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/03/07/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-6/

Sources:

[1] http://grist.org/natural-gas/natural-born-drillers-why-shale-gas-wont-end-our-energy-woes/; Natural born drillers: Why shale gas won’t end our energy woes, by Sharon Kelly – 03.09.12
[2] 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 2
[3] http://www.salon.com/2013/01/11/5_reasons_natural_gas_wont_save_us/; 5 reasons natural gas won’t save us – 01.11.13
[4] http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2012/05/how-fracking-mess-is-about-to-make.html; How the fracking mess is about to make the mortgage mess worse – 05.20.12
[5] http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/13629-age-of-cheap-oil-abundance-a-myth; Rosy Forecast of Cheap Oil Abundance, Economic Boom a Myth, by Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed – 12.31.12

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Sara Robinson:

We are so deeply invested in oil, in so many ways, that it’s almost impossible for us to envision a world beyond it. We stand to lose so much that it’s hard to fathom it all.

It is! No one who advocates for planning and education about the challenges we’ll face in the wake of Peak Oil’s onset suggests anything to the contrary.

Our entire infrastructure, most of our transportation options, and our individual as well as industrial lifestyles have been built on the back of affordable, always-at-the-ready fossil fuels. There’s not much we own or make use of in at least some fashion that is not dependent in large or small part on that energy supply.

To envision a future without that fundamental building block is not just “hard to fathom,” it’s both surreal and frightening. What the hell will we do? is not an inappropriate question to ask.

Truth be told, it’s precisely the question all of us need to start asking all the time about every facet of our daily lives—individually and collectively. At the risk of a major “Duh!”, if we’re not asking the proper questions, we’re not getting the correct answers, either. And we need correct answers—lots of them. Soon would be good.

It’s been a consistent theme of mine that we’re all at risk and thus we all have a stake in how we organize and plan for a future whose energy supply may be drastically different from the one we’ve taken for granted for so long. Everyone has a role to play. Relying on political or industrial leaders is not the first choice.

And it would be nice if those who know better yet insist on selling the public stories about abundance and independence to protect their narrow interests find the courage to admit to the truth and pitch in. Their expertise will be crucial in developing new means of supplying the energy sources we’ll need in the years to come.

When the hell do we start asking what the hell will we do?

~ My Photo: Gloucester MA Harbor – 08.30.12

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Two years ago, I offered a brief comment about well-known and well-respected journalist David Frum:

I don’t usually agree with David Frum’s politics, but I always respect his approach. He’s a conservative whose proffered opinions—and those of most of his contributors—show no signs that his eyes are bulging out of his head as he critiques the Left. I’m confident the only tin foil in his home is found in a kitchen drawer and not on his hat rack. We could use a few hundred more on the Right just like him.

That was then. While I still respect his work and his usually well-reasoned approaches to the divisive issues of the day (probably a prime reason why the Right has disowned him), he has gone off the rails in a recent commentary he shared about Peak Oil. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume (hope) it’s a one-time event. His is too influential and important a voice to be joining the cornucopian nonsense crowd.

Frum first raises the “running out of oil” accusation against those of us seeking to explain the reality of oil production and supply unadorned by the good wishes of the Magic Technology Fairy.

As I stated here:

The instant a criticism of Peak Oil and/or its proponents is prefaced by an assertion that Peak Oil proponents are claiming that ‘the world is running out of oil’ meme, any credibility is lost. Repeating that nonsense makes it clear those authors do not understand even the most basic of issues regarding Peak Oil. The deniers are nonetheless quite determined in their insistence that we (who believe that Peak Oil is an imminent reality and great challenge to future prosperity) are always raising alarms that ‘the world is running out of oil.’
The problem is that anyone who has any working knowledge of the facts about Peak Oil and oil production in general never makes that claim! But again, why let facts get in the way of opinion?
I have repeatedly stated, as have others far more knowledgeable than me (Jeff Rubin, Kjell Aleklett, Richard Heinberg, among dozens of other leading lights) that the issue for us is not and has never been the notion that ‘the world is running out of oil.’
It’s not! We agree on that point.

His curious observation that “For all practical purposes, the world’s supply of oil is not finite. It is more like a supermarket’s supply of canned tomatoes,” suggests something less than a full understanding of our concerns about decline, depletion, rates of production, inferior quality, fracking, etc., etc.

He mentions fracking as having “made available vast new supplies of cheap natural gas,” but like every other claim about this process [see my discussion here], nettlesome facts about the many drawbacks of fracking weren’t raised by Frum, either.

Citing context-free discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico or expectations about peaceful, infrastructure-solid, well-developed industrial powerhouse Iraq’s production capabilities doesn’t help. [My bad. Looks like there was no mention about Iraqi production issues at all.]

Peak Oil isn’t fun to discuss or anticipate. But when important, reasonable voices start repeating talking points with tenuous connections to the realities of fossil fuel supply and production, the task becomes that much harder. If that were the only consequence, few would lament the challenge.

Unfortunately, anyone who relies on fossil fuel supplies for whatever reason (which would be … ah, almost everyone) isn’t being helped when they’re getting only wisps of the facts and the truth. It’s worse when the source is someone who enjoys so much well-deserved credibility as David Frum.

* My Photo: Gloucester, MA – 09.06.10

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This is the sixth 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.

Once again making the fracking process start to finish sound like not much more than a walk in the park, the Chevron official then said:

Once a well is completed, a pipeline is built to take the natural gas to market to be used for electricity generation, home heating and other energy needs.  We then work with the landowner to remediate the drill site and restore the land with minimal impact to its original contours.
After the well site has been remediated, the remaining footprint of a producing natural gas well is typically less than one acre. It includes a well head, a gas processing unit and one or two water tanks. Natural gas wells that produce from shale rock are typically expected to have a long production life spanning many years.

If only if were that simple….

Fracking is not limited to shale gas production. It is also being used extensively to produce “tight” oil from shale formations. In fact, its relative success is largely responsible for the recent upticks in U.S. production totals. The process itself is not significantly different, and thus the same issues and concerns experienced in other areas of the country (primarily in the Bakken formation whose principal drilling locations are in North Dakota and Montana) apply here.

Evelyn Nieves and Nicholas Kusnetz in particular (here and here) offered wonderful overviews of what residents in North Dakota have been dealing with since fracking became a prime industry there. The titles of those two articles each offer a glimpse of the storylines: “The North Dakota Oil Fracking Boom Creates Clash of Money and Devastation” and “North Dakota’s Oil Boom Brings Damage Along With Prosperity.”

The stories they shared are strikingly similar to accounts regarding residents in the Marcellus formation here in eastern portions of the U.S. I’ve previously mentioned Ms. Nieves’ piece, and found one description particularly telling, so much so that I’ll repeat it here:

No one imagined tanker trucks barreling up and down Main Street, back-to-back like freight trains, seven days and nights a week. No one predicted construction zones that grind traffic to a halt as far as the eye can see, the deafening clatter of semis, the dust kicked up by 10,000 vehicles pulverizing the two-lane road every day or the smell and taste of diesel. No one anticipated the accidents, two or more a week on Main Street and all over the rutted reservation roads, costing lives and shattering families.
In fact, Fort Berthold, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, or Three Affiliated Tribes, did not reckon on a lot when North Dakota invited the energy industry to Drill Baby Drill. No one knew that energy companies in search of housing for their workers would buy private property and evict some of the reservation’s poorest residents from their homes. No one planned on police and fire calls multiplying. No one guessed that on a reservation of nearly one million acres, all the deer would disappear

Tara Lohan introduced a description of several truck accidents with accompanying fracking fluid leaks by observing this:

One of the main complaints you’ll get from people living near fracking operations is truck traffic, whether it’s North Dakota or Pennsylvania or any other gasland state. People have seen their rural roads and quality of life decimated by thousands of daily truck trips. They worry about diesel emissions, relentless dust on dirt roads, accidents and spills — and they have every reason to be concerned. Here’s a little sampling of what people in West Virginia experienced last weekend.

In another article I cited in a prior post of this series, Roberta Brandes Gratz shared 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.

And then there’s this:

A surge in hydraulic fracturing to get gas and oil trapped in rock means drillers need to haul hundreds of truckloads of sand, water and equipment for a single well. Drilling that added jobs and tax revenue for many states also has increased traffic on roads too flimsy to handle the 80,000-pound (36,300 kilogram) trucks that serve well sites.
The resulting road damage will cost tens of millions of dollars to fix and is catching officials from Pennsylvania to Texas off guard. Measures to ensure that roads are repaired don’t capture the full cost of damage, potentially leaving taxpayers with the bill, according to Lynne Irwin, director of Cornell University’s local roads program in Ithaca, New York. [1]

And a few other minor inconveniences. Earthquakes, for one, as Joe Romm explained. There are some other not-so-obvious consequences, also.

In addition to the environmental impacts of oil and gas production, including dangerous air and water contamination and destruction of wildlife habitat, NRDC is concerned about other impacts to communities that have been documented, such as increased crime, infrastructure burdens that require massive repair, and the growing demand for social and municipal services. Another serious impact is a large increase in the need for health care services. Communities with oil and gas development can see increased emergency room visits in particular, from traffic and occupational accidents. [2] [ links in the original article.]

(Ms. Mall has also written about the influx of hundreds of new children into school systems, with all the challenges associated, and how public safety officials are likewise inundated with significantly greater demands.)

And as for “long production life spanning many years” comment? Not quite. I’ll discuss that in Part 7.

* My Photo: Manhattan skyline – 09.05.09

[ links to the first five 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/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2013/02/28/peak-oil-natural-gas-truth-v-the-truth-pt-5/

Sources:

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-15/taxpayers-pay-as-fracking-trucks-overwhelm-rural-cow-paths-1-.html; Taxpayers Pay as Fracking Trucks Overwhelm Rural Cow Paths by Jim Efstathiou Jr. – 05.15.12
[2] http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/oil_and_gas_industry_takes_a_t.html; Oil and gas industry takes a toll on local health care providers by Amy Mall – 12.28.12