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Peak Oil: “Show-Stoppers” – Peak Oil Matters

Peak Oil: “Show-Stoppers” – Peak Oil Matters.

IMGP1122_Watermarked

Freshly fracked wells sent U.S. oil production soaring 39 percent since 2011. That’s the steepest climb in history, and if production continues apace, the U.S. would become the world’s biggest source of oil by 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information  Administration.

Rapid well declines threaten to spoil that promise. The average flow from a shale gas well drops by about 50 percent to 75 percent in the first year, and up to 78 percent for oil, said Pete Stark, senior research director at IHS Inc.
‘The decline rate is a potential show stopper after a while,’ said Stark, a geologist with almost six decades in the oil patch. ‘You just can’t keep up with it.’ [1]

That’s an interesting comment, given that the company Mr. Stark works for is more commonly known for its sunny optimism about our future fossil fuel supply.

FRACKING ISN’T FREE OR EASY

The reality is that rapid decline rates are a common feature of fracked wells. Drilling faster, more, and at higher costs just to keep pace with current production is not exactly a winning strategy. Higher costs for them are supported by the higher costs we pay. At some point, consumers balk, and when they do, there goes a lot of investable funds for more production. Then what?

The article from which that quote was sourced describes some of the admittedly-fascinating overview of the artificial intelligence systems now being considered—and it some cases already deployed—to improve the drill results from fracking (the hydraulic fracturing of shale in order to facilitate the flow of “tight” oil trapped in those rocks.) The article notes that “four out of every 10 clusters of fractures in an average horizontal well are duds.” Given that each well can cost millions of dollars, much more than wells drilled in conventional crude oil fields, that can be a problem.

AN UNSPOKEN CHALLENGE OR TWO

The use of fiber-optics and 3D seismic imaging are among the technological advances now being used to aid scientists “scientists see and hear what’s going on two miles underground.”

An executive of Schlumberger Ltd is quoted in this same article announcing that the combination of their own scientists’ expertise with the “U-ROC” software program “has led to an almost 30 percent increase in production in some wells in the Eagle Ford [TX].”

An official from another petroleum company that after collaborating with Halliburton and using a “science-based approach,” his company’s “shares doubled in the five months after” a conference call with investors.

If that’s not enough good news, by last summer the company enjoyed its “best-ever results” in the shale formations of western Texas’ Permian Basis, “and that it was‘among the best’ among its competitors at that location. The improvements were attributed in part, as a spokesman noted, to the company’s “own internal efforts to pump more time and money into the science of drilling and production.”

A LOOK AT THE UNSPOKEN

Improved performance is improved performance. But for those of us interested in how depleting and finite fossil fuel resources—with a healthy concern that technology and economics will continue to make extraction and production feasible to begin with—will keep up with demand in the years ahead, the doubling of a company’s shares, “an almost 30 percent increase in production in some wells,” being “among the best,” and pumping “more time and money into the science of drilling and production” suggests that all is not well in Oil Production Land.

That’s precisely what those of us concerned about peak oil continue to stress to listeners and readers.

It’s probably safe to assume that none of those efforts or the technologies employed are inexpensive. It’s also a certainty that whatever costs are associated with developing, testing, supplying, and using those impressive advances get passed on to consumers.

The impressive technologies now in play, with their higher costs, to locate and produce a product harder-to-come-by and not of the same quality as the conventional crude oil we’ve used to power our civilization for more than a century all point to the fact that we clearly can no longer rely on Business As Usual in oil production itself and fossil fuel usage by all of us.

Taking a bit of a detour in the headlong pursuit of ever more expensive technologies in order to plan for what happens in years to come when that resource just doesn’t do what we all need it to do; or devote more resources to the alternatives which will be needed when it makes little sense to continue the fossil fuel chase; or even provide more information to the public now so that they can get into the game doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, does it?

~ My Photo: Corona del Mar, CA – 02.16.18

Fracking Waste Injection Wells Put Millions of Californians at Risk of Increased Earthquakes | EcoWatch

Fracking Waste Injection Wells Put Millions of Californians at Risk of Increased Earthquakes | EcoWatch.

Earthworks | March 13, 2014 10:37 am

Oil companies are increasing California’s earthquake risk by injecting billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater a year into hundreds of disposal wells near active faults around Los Angeles, Bakersfield and other major cities, according to a new report from Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Water Action.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.51.36 AM

A boom in hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in California would worsen the danger of earthquakes, the report finds, by greatly increasing oil wastewater production and underground injection. Extracting the Monterey Shale’s oil could produce almost 9 trillion gallons of contaminated wastewater, the report estimates. That could expose California to a surge in damaging earthquakes like those seen in Oklahoma, Texas and other states experiencing rapidly increased fracking and wastewater production.

The report, On Shaky Ground: Fracking, Acidizing and Increased Earthquake Risk in California finds that millions of Californians live in areas threatened by oil industry-induced earthquakes. Academic research and government experts conclude that wastewater injection can reduce faults’ natural friction and trigger earthquakes.

“This isn’t rocket science. We’ve known for decades that wastewater injection increases earthquake risk,” said report co-author Jhon Arbelaez of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “Since Gov. Brown resolutely refuses to learn from other communities’ experience with fracking across the country, our only option to protect California families is to prevent fracking altogether.”

State officials have not examined whether past earthquakes were triggered by fracking or disposal wells, and existing and proposed regulations do not adequately address the risk. Because of research and knowledge gaps and inadequate monitoring, state officials cannot protect Californians from induced quakes.

“An oil fracking boom in California could raise the risk of devastating earthquakes in some of our biggest cities,” said report coauthor Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., of the Center for Biological Diversity. “State officials are ignoring the problem, but as risky new oil production techniques spread, we could see trillions of gallons of wastewater shot into the ground near active faults. We need to nip this danger in the bud by halting fracking and acidizing.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.59.27 AM

“The risk of seismic impacts is yet another illustration that the massive wastestream resulting from oil production threatens California’s drinking water and public safety,” said report coauthor Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action. ”While threats to water, air and health have been well-documented, our emerging understanding of the risk of induced seismicity is yet another reason for a time-out on fracking. The findings in this report continue this troubling trend: the more we learn about California’s oil industry, the more cause we find for alarm.”

The On Shaky Ground report’s key findings:

  • A majority of California’s active oil industry wastewater injection wells are near recently active faults.
  • Millions of Californians are at risk for induced earthquakes: the oil industry operates hundreds of wastewater injection wells very close to active faults and near major California population centers, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
  • Research and monitoring are dangerously inadequate: the increased earthquake risk from California’s existing wastewater injection wells or fracked wells is unstudied. And state oil regulators require no seismic monitoring near wastewater injection wells.
  • Regulations don’t protect Californians: due to significant knowledge gaps, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources cannot safely regulate the earthquake risk from oil and gas production and wastewater disposal.
  • Other states have seen surges in wastewater-induced earthquakes: areas outside California where fracking and underground wastewater disposal have proliferated have suffered as much as a 10-fold increase in quake activity.
  • Halting fracking is the best solution: given the earthquake risk linked to wastewater disposal, as well as unconventional oil production’s other environmental risks, the best way to protect Californians is to halt fracking, acidizing and other dangerous oil and gas recovery techniques.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING pages for more related news on this topic.

Fracking Waste Injection Wells Put Millions of Californians at Risk of Increased Earthquakes | EcoWatch

Fracking Waste Injection Wells Put Millions of Californians at Risk of Increased Earthquakes | EcoWatch.

Earthworks | March 13, 2014 10:37 am

Oil companies are increasing California’s earthquake risk by injecting billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater a year into hundreds of disposal wells near active faults around Los Angeles, Bakersfield and other major cities, according to a new report from Earthworks, the Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Water Action.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.51.36 AM

A boom in hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in California would worsen the danger of earthquakes, the report finds, by greatly increasing oil wastewater production and underground injection. Extracting the Monterey Shale’s oil could produce almost 9 trillion gallons of contaminated wastewater, the report estimates. That could expose California to a surge in damaging earthquakes like those seen in Oklahoma, Texas and other states experiencing rapidly increased fracking and wastewater production.

The report, On Shaky Ground: Fracking, Acidizing and Increased Earthquake Risk in California finds that millions of Californians live in areas threatened by oil industry-induced earthquakes. Academic research and government experts conclude that wastewater injection can reduce faults’ natural friction and trigger earthquakes.

“This isn’t rocket science. We’ve known for decades that wastewater injection increases earthquake risk,” said report co-author Jhon Arbelaez of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “Since Gov. Brown resolutely refuses to learn from other communities’ experience with fracking across the country, our only option to protect California families is to prevent fracking altogether.”

State officials have not examined whether past earthquakes were triggered by fracking or disposal wells, and existing and proposed regulations do not adequately address the risk. Because of research and knowledge gaps and inadequate monitoring, state officials cannot protect Californians from induced quakes.

“An oil fracking boom in California could raise the risk of devastating earthquakes in some of our biggest cities,” said report coauthor Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., of the Center for Biological Diversity. “State officials are ignoring the problem, but as risky new oil production techniques spread, we could see trillions of gallons of wastewater shot into the ground near active faults. We need to nip this danger in the bud by halting fracking and acidizing.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.59.27 AM

“The risk of seismic impacts is yet another illustration that the massive wastestream resulting from oil production threatens California’s drinking water and public safety,” said report coauthor Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action. ”While threats to water, air and health have been well-documented, our emerging understanding of the risk of induced seismicity is yet another reason for a time-out on fracking. The findings in this report continue this troubling trend: the more we learn about California’s oil industry, the more cause we find for alarm.”

The On Shaky Ground report’s key findings:

  • A majority of California’s active oil industry wastewater injection wells are near recently active faults.
  • Millions of Californians are at risk for induced earthquakes: the oil industry operates hundreds of wastewater injection wells very close to active faults and near major California population centers, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
  • Research and monitoring are dangerously inadequate: the increased earthquake risk from California’s existing wastewater injection wells or fracked wells is unstudied. And state oil regulators require no seismic monitoring near wastewater injection wells.
  • Regulations don’t protect Californians: due to significant knowledge gaps, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources cannot safely regulate the earthquake risk from oil and gas production and wastewater disposal.
  • Other states have seen surges in wastewater-induced earthquakes: areas outside California where fracking and underground wastewater disposal have proliferated have suffered as much as a 10-fold increase in quake activity.
  • Halting fracking is the best solution: given the earthquake risk linked to wastewater disposal, as well as unconventional oil production’s other environmental risks, the best way to protect Californians is to halt fracking, acidizing and other dangerous oil and gas recovery techniques.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING pages for more related news on this topic.

Richard Heinberg: Why The Oil ‘Revolution’ Story Is Dead Wrong | Peak Prosperity

Richard Heinberg: Why The Oil ‘Revolution’ Story Is Dead Wrong | Peak Prosperity.

Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Richard Heinberg: The Oil ‘Revolution’ Story Is Dead Wrong

The data tell a vastly different tale than the media
by Adam Taggart
Sunday, March 9, 2014, 1:45 PM

With all the grandiosity of the media headlines touting our destiny as the new “Saudi America”, many pundits have been quick to pronounce Peak Oil dead.

Here at PeakProsperity.com, one of the most frequent questions we’ve received over the past two years is: will the increased production from new “tight” oil sources indeed solve our liquid fuels emergency?

Not at all, say Chris and this week’s podcast guest, Richard Heinberg. Both are fellows at the Post Carbon Institute, and you are about to hear one of the most important and most lucid deconstructions of the false promise of American energy independence:

I recently went back and reread the first edition of The Party’s Over because it was the tenth year anniversary. And I was actually a little surprised to see what it really says. My forecasts in The Party’s Over were really based on the work of two veteran petroleum geologists—Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère. So they were saying back before 2003, because it published in 2003, so it was actually written in 2001 and 2002. So they were saying back in 2000 and 2001 that we would see a peak in conventional oil around 2005—check—that that would cause oil prices to bump higher—check—which would cause a slowdown in economic growth—check. But it would also incentivize production of unconventional oil in various forms—check—which would then peak around 2015, which is basically almost where we are right now and all the signs are suggesting that that is going to be a check-off, too. So amazing enough, these two guys got it perfectly correct fifteen years ago.

The big news right now is that the industry needs prices higher than the economy will allow, as you just outlined. So we are seeing the major oil companies cutting back on capital expenditure in upstream projects, which will undoubtedly have an impact a year or two down the line in terms of lower oil production. That is why I think that Campbell and Laherrère were right on in saying 2015, 2016 maybe, we will also start to see the rapid increase of production from the Bakken and the Eagle Ford here in the US start to flatten out. And probably within a year or two after that, we will see a commencement of a rapid decline.

So you know, on a net basis, taking all those things into account, I think we are probably pretty likely to see global oil production start to head south in the next year or two.

But this change in capital expenditure by the majors, that is a new story. You know, just a couple of years ago, they needed oil prices around $100 a barrel in order to justify upstream investments. That is no longer true. Now they need something like $120 a barrel but the economy cannot stand prices that high. So you know, if the price starts to go up a little bit, then demand just falls back. People start driving less. And so the economy is unable to deliver oil prices to the industry that the industry needs. I think Gail Tverberg is saying this is the beginning of the end. I think she’s right.

If we [continue along with our current policies and dependence on petroleum] then everything will eventually change — as a result of the economy coming apart, the debt bubble bursts, you know, agriculture declines because of the expense of oil and because of depletion of topsoil and because you cannot trust the weather anymore. And we have a very dystopian future if we do not do anything.

So it has never been more important for the average person to understand energy issues than it is right now. But I doubt if there has ever been a time when energy issues have been so deliberately confused by the people who should be explaining it to us.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Richard Heinberg (49m:43s):

TRANSCRIPT

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson, and today, I am really excited to introduce a man who needs no introduction, Richard Heinberg, author, educator, speaker, writer now of eleven books including Party’s Over, the one that got me started on the peak oil story, The End of Growth, and Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future.

Richard Heinberg: Try say that fast five times.

Chris Martenson: [Laugh] I did, and that is the best I could do [laughter]. Welcome, Richard.

Richard Heinberg: Good to be with you, … read more

SHARE

ABOUT THE GUEST

Richard Heinberg
Richard is a Senior Fellow of thePost Carbon Institute and is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost Peak Oil educators. He has authored scores of essays and articles that have appeared in such journals as Nature, The American Prospect, Public Policy Research, Quarterly Review, The Ecologist, Resurgence, The Futurist, European Business Review, Earth Island Journal, Yes!, and The Sun; and on web sites such as Resilience.org, TheOilDrum.com, Alternet.org, ProjectCensored.com, and Counterpunch.com.
He has been quoted in Time Magazine and has spoken to hundreds of audiences in 14 countries, including members of the European Parliament. He has appeared in many film and television documentaries, including Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour, is a recipient of the M. King Hubbert Award for Excellence in Energy Education, and in 2012 was appointed to His Majesty the King of Bhutan’s International Expert Working Group for the New Development Paradigm initiative.
Richard’s animations Don’t Worry, Drive OnWho Killed Economic Growth? and 300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Minutes (winner of a YouTubes’s/DoGooder Video of the Year Award) have been viewed by 1.5 million people .
Since 2002, he has delivered more than five hundred lectures to a wide variety of audiences—from insurance executives to peace activists, from local and national elected officials to Jesuit volunteers.
He lives in northern California with his wife and is an avid violin player.

Richard Heinberg: Why The Oil 'Revolution' Story Is Dead Wrong | Peak Prosperity

Richard Heinberg: Why The Oil ‘Revolution’ Story Is Dead Wrong | Peak Prosperity.

Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Richard Heinberg: The Oil ‘Revolution’ Story Is Dead Wrong

The data tell a vastly different tale than the media
by Adam Taggart
Sunday, March 9, 2014, 1:45 PM

With all the grandiosity of the media headlines touting our destiny as the new “Saudi America”, many pundits have been quick to pronounce Peak Oil dead.

Here at PeakProsperity.com, one of the most frequent questions we’ve received over the past two years is: will the increased production from new “tight” oil sources indeed solve our liquid fuels emergency?

Not at all, say Chris and this week’s podcast guest, Richard Heinberg. Both are fellows at the Post Carbon Institute, and you are about to hear one of the most important and most lucid deconstructions of the false promise of American energy independence:

I recently went back and reread the first edition of The Party’s Over because it was the tenth year anniversary. And I was actually a little surprised to see what it really says. My forecasts in The Party’s Over were really based on the work of two veteran petroleum geologists—Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère. So they were saying back before 2003, because it published in 2003, so it was actually written in 2001 and 2002. So they were saying back in 2000 and 2001 that we would see a peak in conventional oil around 2005—check—that that would cause oil prices to bump higher—check—which would cause a slowdown in economic growth—check. But it would also incentivize production of unconventional oil in various forms—check—which would then peak around 2015, which is basically almost where we are right now and all the signs are suggesting that that is going to be a check-off, too. So amazing enough, these two guys got it perfectly correct fifteen years ago.

The big news right now is that the industry needs prices higher than the economy will allow, as you just outlined. So we are seeing the major oil companies cutting back on capital expenditure in upstream projects, which will undoubtedly have an impact a year or two down the line in terms of lower oil production. That is why I think that Campbell and Laherrère were right on in saying 2015, 2016 maybe, we will also start to see the rapid increase of production from the Bakken and the Eagle Ford here in the US start to flatten out. And probably within a year or two after that, we will see a commencement of a rapid decline.

So you know, on a net basis, taking all those things into account, I think we are probably pretty likely to see global oil production start to head south in the next year or two.

But this change in capital expenditure by the majors, that is a new story. You know, just a couple of years ago, they needed oil prices around $100 a barrel in order to justify upstream investments. That is no longer true. Now they need something like $120 a barrel but the economy cannot stand prices that high. So you know, if the price starts to go up a little bit, then demand just falls back. People start driving less. And so the economy is unable to deliver oil prices to the industry that the industry needs. I think Gail Tverberg is saying this is the beginning of the end. I think she’s right.

If we [continue along with our current policies and dependence on petroleum] then everything will eventually change — as a result of the economy coming apart, the debt bubble bursts, you know, agriculture declines because of the expense of oil and because of depletion of topsoil and because you cannot trust the weather anymore. And we have a very dystopian future if we do not do anything.

So it has never been more important for the average person to understand energy issues than it is right now. But I doubt if there has ever been a time when energy issues have been so deliberately confused by the people who should be explaining it to us.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Richard Heinberg (49m:43s):

TRANSCRIPT

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson, and today, I am really excited to introduce a man who needs no introduction, Richard Heinberg, author, educator, speaker, writer now of eleven books including Party’s Over, the one that got me started on the peak oil story, The End of Growth, and Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future.

Richard Heinberg: Try say that fast five times.

Chris Martenson: [Laugh] I did, and that is the best I could do [laughter]. Welcome, Richard.

Richard Heinberg: Good to be with you, … read more

SHARE

ABOUT THE GUEST

Richard Heinberg
Richard is a Senior Fellow of thePost Carbon Institute and is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost Peak Oil educators. He has authored scores of essays and articles that have appeared in such journals as Nature, The American Prospect, Public Policy Research, Quarterly Review, The Ecologist, Resurgence, The Futurist, European Business Review, Earth Island Journal, Yes!, and The Sun; and on web sites such as Resilience.org, TheOilDrum.com, Alternet.org, ProjectCensored.com, and Counterpunch.com.
He has been quoted in Time Magazine and has spoken to hundreds of audiences in 14 countries, including members of the European Parliament. He has appeared in many film and television documentaries, including Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour, is a recipient of the M. King Hubbert Award for Excellence in Energy Education, and in 2012 was appointed to His Majesty the King of Bhutan’s International Expert Working Group for the New Development Paradigm initiative.
Richard’s animations Don’t Worry, Drive OnWho Killed Economic Growth? and 300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Minutes (winner of a YouTubes’s/DoGooder Video of the Year Award) have been viewed by 1.5 million people .
Since 2002, he has delivered more than five hundred lectures to a wide variety of audiences—from insurance executives to peace activists, from local and national elected officials to Jesuit volunteers.
He lives in northern California with his wife and is an avid violin player.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

How Much Energy are We Flushing Down the Drain? | Energy Economics Exchange

How Much Energy are We Flushing Down the Drain? | Energy Economics Exchange.

California is in the middle of a drought. In the Bay Area, that has meant day after day of glorious, uncharacteristically sunny winter weather. But, I am haunted by media images of dry creek beds and by my own mental images of driving by the Rim Fire near Yosemite last summer. Who knows what this summer will bring.

The drumbeat of media coverage on the drought had led me to think harder about the water-energy nexus. At a high level, that phrase encapsulates two profound facts: energy production is extremely water intensive and water provision is extremely energy intensive. (At this point, we can’t really say “water production,” but as we add more desalination capacity, production becomes more apt.)

I’ll focus on the second of those two facts, but this article on the water used for fracking relates to the first.

Providing Water to Homes, Businesses and Farms Requires A LOT of Energy

The energy intensity of water delivery hit home to me several years ago when my husband, who works for an electricity generator, spent the day at a California Public Utilities Commission workshop on low-flow toilets. Why would an electric generator care about toilets?! It turns out that pumping, conveying, heating, and treating water are all highly energy intensive.

An Energy Efficient Toilet?

An Energy Efficient Toilet?

In fact, several years ago, the California Energy Commission calculated that 19 percent of the state’s electricity and nearly 30 percent of its natural gas consumption went to moving, heating and treating water.

I’ve delved into these calculations, and not all of the energy attributed to water is in my view actually driven by decisions that we would normally think of as water-usage choices. For instance, the calculations include things like heating water for sterilization in food processing. I can imagine a sterilization technique that didn’t use water but still used energy, and sterilization is ultimately driven by decisions about processed food consumption.

A recent paper from the University of Texas similarly calculates the share of U.S. energy related to water. The authors distinguish between “Direct Steam Uses,” which includes things like sterilization and “Direct Water Services,” which are driven by what I think of as water-based decisions. The authors estimates that the two categories together account for 13 percent of the nation’s energy and Direct Water Services account for 8.5 percent of the nation’s energy.

The energy cost of H2O also depends on where you live. Californians use more energy-intensive water because we use more groundwater and less surface water, and we move it over longer distances. My water provider, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, charges an, “Elevation Surcharge,” which they describe as, “based on the energy costs of pumping water to higher elevations.” For households in the hills above 600 feet, the surcharge adds more than $1 per hundred cubic feet to a base price of roughly $2.50 per hundred cubic feet. Not all utilities have this adder.

Solutions?

As an energy economist, I hear a lot about positive  – in the sense of reinforcing – feedback loops that could result from climate change. Rising temperatures, for example, will require more electricity to power air conditioners, and, right now, electricity production is the country’s main source of greenhouse gas emissions. A drier California climate might be an example of a negative feedback: more droughts will force us to rationalize the ways we use water—and save energy, in the process.

But, how do we rationalize our water use? We should start by rationalizing water pricing. I know this might sound like the knee-jerk economist answer, but the water world has many examples that violate simple Econ-101 principles. In a nutshell, water is a scarce resource, and we treat it as though the basic input were free. In Los Angeles, for instance, the Department of Water and Power subsidizes houses on bigger lots by giving them more cheap water. Water usage in the agriculture sector, which accounts for 80% of California’s total water consumption, is a whole mess in and of itself, symbolized in my mind by the rice paddies in the Central Valley.

Rice Paddies in the Central Valley

The water economist, David Zetland, has made scarcity pricing for water his battle cry and has written a book on Living with Water Scarcity. As Timothy Egan in the New York Timeshas said, we cannot “out-engineer a fevered planet.” But, we can move towards rational pricing policies that help us make better decisions about our planet’s scarce resources.

About Catherine Wolfram

Catherine Wolfram is the Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration at the Haas School of Business, Co-Director of the Energy Institute at Haas, and a Faculty Director of The E2e Project. Her research analyzes the impact of environmental regulation on energy markets and the effects of electricity industry privatization and restructuring around the world. She is currently implementing several randomized control trials to evaluate energy efficiency programs.

Ukraine overthrows Yanukovych amid US/Russia power struggle over natural gas – National Environment | Examiner.com

Ukraine overthrows Yanukovych amid US/Russia power struggle over natural gas – National Environment | Examiner.com.

See also

February 22, 2014

The popular uprising in Ukraine has resulted in ex-President Yanukovych fleeing the capitol on Saturday, apparently retreating to the safety of Kharkiv, a city in Russia-friendly Eastern Ukraine. While it’s extremely historically significant that a popular uprising has overthrown a Russia-backed government, the events also illustrate a global power struggle centering on natural gas supplies, hydraulic fracturing, and Europe’s reliance on Russia for natural gas.

Ukraine is not only a key linkage point between Europe and Russia, the country also has significant shale deposits from which shale gas can be extracted through fracking (a.k.a. hydraulic fracturing). Coincidentally, the two regions of shale deposits, centered around Lviv in western Ukraine and Kharkiv in the east, happen to be key cities in Yanukovych’s overthrow. Lviv freed itself from rule by the central government months ago. Further, the platoon of police officers who “defected” on Friday, joining the protesters, were from Lviv. Kharkiv is the city to which Yanukovych has fled, and which was the scene of an assembly of regional political bosses who have voted to reject actions by the Parliament.

The crisis in Ukraine began a few years ago when Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe because Ukraine had raised trans-shipment fees. Ukraine houses several natural gas pipelines that have historically linked Russia and Europe, and through which Russia supplies Europe with most of its natural gas. Since then, Russia has begun work on two pipelines, Nordstream and South Stream, which are meant to bypass the pipelines going through Ukraine, letting Russia directly sell natural gas to Europe.

At the same time the US State Department set up a program, the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program, whose purpose is to export hydraulic fracturing technology to countries all around the world. One focus of the program is also to help Europe free itself from dependency on Russian natural gas. The pattern followed by the UGTEP is to start by educating governments about the benefits, downplaying hazards, while assessing regulatory requirements in each country. An example is a USAID document, UKRAINE SHALE GAS: ENVIRONMENTAL AND REGULATORY ASSESSMENT, assessing the possibility of exploiting shale gas deposits in Ukraine. The document was meant to prepare the Ukranian government to exploit their shale gas deposits, or specifically:

  1. Help the government of Ukraine to develop an environmentally sound framework for pursuing shale gas development
  2. Develop more refined environmental reviews for shale gas development
  3. Develop improved regulatory approaches
  4. Assist in the development of more transparent and efficient contract tendering

Therefore, the US Government’s goal is to develop shale gas in Ukraine using Hydraulic Fracturing. The task is very expensive, well beyond Ukraine’s financial capabilities, leading the country to seek financial aid from either the European Union or Russia. In January 2013, Ukraine signed a deal with Royal Dutch Shell allowing that company to begin exploratory work ahead of fracking operations, and in November 2013 Ukraine signed a similar deal with Chevron. Meaning that Western powers were making progress in Ukraine, until the country performed an about-face and embraced Russia.

The crisis began when Ukraine chose to partner with Russia rather than the EU. That pitted the West (US and EU) against Russia in a battle for dominance over Ukraine.

The protesters in the street were angered by that turn of events, preferring to partner with the EU rather than Russia. Now that the protesters have succeeded in removing Yanukovych from power, the door is open to Western powers reasserting the control necessary for Western oil companies to go about the job of Fracking Ukraine. Unless the country dissolves into a civil war.

Peak oil is not a myth | Chemistry World

Peak oil is not a myth | Chemistry World.

20 February 2014
One might have the impression that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale deposits is the answer to world energy security. Certainly fracking has received much attention and investment, but its prospects must be considered in a broader context.
In the US, where practically all such operations have been conducted to date, fracking now accounts for 40% of domestic gas production and 30% of oil production. The price of natural gas has plummeted, and overall US oil production has increased for the first time since 1970, which had otherwise been falling in accordance with the predictions M King Hubbert made in 1956.
© Shutterstock

However, this last point is the salient one. Sources of unconventional oil (listed below) such as tight oil (or ‘shale oil’ in popular discourse) are only commercially viable because the need to match the declining rate of conventional oil production has raised oil prices. It is the rate of production of oil that determines its supply, rather than the size of the reserves: ‘The size of the tap, not the tank.’

Oil check

Current data for the decline in oil fields’ production indicates that around 3 million barrels per day of new production must be achieved year on year, simply to sustain supply levels. This is equivalent to finding another Saudi Arabia every 3–4 years. In this context, fracking is at best a stop-gap measure. Conventional oil production is predicted to drop by over 50% in the next two decades and tight oil is unlikely to replace more than 6%.
Once conventional oil’s rate of loss exceeds unconventional oil’s rate of production, world production must peak. Production of sweet, light crude actually peaked in 2005 but this has been masked by the increase in unconventional oil production, and also by lumping together different kinds of material with oil and referring to the collective as ‘liquids’. (More recently, the term ‘liquids’ is often upgraded to ‘oil’, which is highly disinformative since the properties of the other liquids are quite different from crude oil.)
Fracking produces mostly shale gas (rather than oil), and the major growth in global ‘oil’ production has been from natural gas liquids (NGL; in part from shale gas). But the principal components of NGL are ethane and propane, so it is not a simple substitute for petroleum.

Energy in, energy out

The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) is worse for all unconventional oil production methods than for conventional oil.

‘Oil production is predicted to drop by over 50% in two decades’

This means that more energy must be invested to maintain output. As a rough comparison, conventional crude oil production has an EROEI in the range 10–20:1, while tight oil comes in at 4–5:1. Oil recovered from (ultra)deepwater drilling gives 4–7:1, heavy oil 3–5:1, and oil shale (kerogen) somewhere around 1.5–4:1. Tar sands is around 6:1, if it is recovered by surface mining, but this falls to around 3:1 when the bitumen is ‘upgraded’ by conversion to a liquid ‘oil’ substitute.

As conventional oil production has fallen, so has oil’s EROEI as we recover it from increasingly inhospitable locations, and with new technologies. The price of a barrel of oil has trebled over the past decade, but output has effectively flatlined. We may be close to the ceiling of global oil production, and the prospect of filling the gap with oil from alternative sources is daunting.

Different rocks

Although fracking has produced sizeable volumes of oil and gas in the US, there is no guarantee that a similar success will be met elsewhere, including the UK, in part because the geology is different. Even in the US, it is the sweet spots that have been drilled, and the shale plays elsewhere across the continent are likely to prove less productive.
The shale gas reserves in Poland have been revised down from 187 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 12–27 tcf: at best, a mere 14% of the original estimate. And most of the production is likely to be gas. Even if we can exhume large volumes of gas at a generous production rate, converting our transport system to run on it would be a considerable undertaking, particularly given the timescale imposed by conventional oil production’s rate of decline. And there are many uses for oil other than to provide liquid fuels, for which substitutes must also be found.
Renewables do not provide a comparable substitute for crude oil and the liquid fuels that are refined from it, since the potential contribution from biofuels is relatively minor. Replacing the UK’s 34 million oil-powered vehicles with electric versions is an unlikely proposition, given the limitations of time and resources such as rare earth metals. Mass transit is the more likely future for electric transport than personal cars. The end of cheap, personal transport is a real possibility and may seed changes in our behaviour, such as building resilient communities that produce more of their essentials, such as food and materials, at the local level.
There are many uncertainties, but it seems clear that the age of cheap oil is over. We are entering a very new and different phase of human experience.
Chris Rhodes is an independent consultant based in Reading, UK, and author of  University shambles
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