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Fracking in Water-Stressed Zones Increases Risks to Communities – and Energy Producers – News Watch

Fracking in Water-Stressed Zones Increases Risks to Communities – and Energy Producers – News Watch.

Posted by Sandra Postel of National Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative in Water Currents onFebruary 6, 2014

Nearly half of the wells hydraulically fractured (indicated by black dots) in the United States are located in areas of high or extremely high water stress (shown in red and dark red).  Graphic courtesy of Ceres.

Nearly half of the wells hydraulically fractured (indicated by black dots) in the United States are located in areas of high or extremely high water stress (shown in red and dark red). Graphic courtesy of Ceres

Even as concerns arise about the threats hydraulic fracturing poses to water quality and human health, a new study released yesterday finds that the water demands of the “fracking” process are adding considerably to localized water depletion, especially in parts of Texas, Colorado, and California.

Nearly half of the fracking wells in operation since 2011 are located in regions with high or extremely high water stress, according to the report by Ceres, a non-profit organization that works with investors and businesses to promote more sustainable practices.

Competition for water between cities, farms, and industries is already tight in those water-stressed areas, posing risks of supply disruptions during times of drought.  Rivers and wetlands often suffer from insufficient flows in such areas, and depletion of groundwater is common.

While agriculture is by far the biggest consumer of water in the western states, “fracking is the latest party to come to the table,” said Monika Freyman, author of the report and senior manager in Ceres’s water program, during a teleconference.  In some ways it’s “the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back.”

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture shale rock and release the oil and gas it holds.  Combined with the technique of horizontal drilling, it has made previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves economical to tap, and fracking operations have spread rapidly across the country and in many parts of the world.

Each hydraulically fracked well can use 2-8 million gallons of water, with 4-5 million gallons per well being fairly common.

To perform its analysis, Ceres overlaid data on the number and location of fracking wells from the FracFocus database (obtained via PacWest Consulting Partners’ FracDB) onto maps of water stress prepared by the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.

In addition to finding that nearly half of the 39,294 fracking wells analyzed were situated in high or extremely high water-stressed areas, Ceres found that more than 55 percent were in regions experiencing drought and more than 36 percent were in zones where groundwater is being depleted, including west Texas and California’s Central Valley, where depletion will intensify this year due to the record-breaking drought.

Even if the water used by fracking operators is a small percentage of a state’s total water use, it can account for a very high share in particular counties.

In Colorado, for example, 89 percent of the water used for fracking in the state’s two major shale energy plays is concentrated in just two counties, and both are categorized as extremely water-stressed – Garfield County, where fracking’s water use totaled 1.9 billion gallons in 2012, and Weld County, where it totaled 1.3 billion gallons.

Colorado and Texas counties with high water stress and high water use for fracking.  Graphic courtesy of Ceres.

Colorado and Texas counties with high water stress and high water use for fracking. Graphic courtesy of Ceres.

By 2015, Colorado’s statewide water demand for fracking is expected to double to 6 billion gallons, according to the report.

In drought-plagued Texas, which the report calls “ground zero” for water supply risks due to the rapid expansion of shale energy production in recent years, several counties with intensive fracking operations have declared water emergencies.

The Permian Basin shale play in west Texas overlaps parts of the Ogallala Aquifer, which has been undergoing steady depletion for decades, largely due to the water demands of irrigated farming.

These findings present some big challenges for both the water-stressed counties where fracking is expanding, and for the companies doing the fracking.  As competition for water intensifies, the risk of shortages – especially in drought-prone regions – increases.  The potential for supply shortfalls poses operational risks to the energy producers as well as risks of rationing and other emergency measures to the wider community.

The Ceres report comes none too soon.  With hydraulic fracturing expanding rapidly, the water risks posed by these rising demands will only increase.

Among the actions Ceres calls for is fuller disclosure by shale-energy companies as to how much water they use and from which sources, the development of plans (in conjunction with other stakeholders) to protect local water sources and watersheds, and more concerted efforts to reduce water use through investments in water efficiency and recycling.

The fracking train has long ago left the station, but the institution of enforceable procedures and practices to ensure the protection of water supplies has lagged badly behind.

Until that’s remedied, the public is right to take action to slow the train down.

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project, Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, and author of several books and numerous articles on global water issues.  She is co-creator of Change the Course, the national freshwater conservation and restoration campaign being piloted in the Colorado River Basin.

Energy Crunch: no end to the storms

Energy Crunch: no end to the storms.

by Energy Crunch staff, originally published by New Economics Foundation  | TODAY

Image via tim_d/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Three things you shouldn’t miss this week
  1. Big oil stagnates:

    Source: Wall Street Journal

  2. “We can expect growing pressure points around water, food, and energy scarcity as the century progresses…Hovering over all of this is the merciless march of climate change. Because of humanity’s hubris, the natural environment, which we need to sustain us, is instead turning against us.” – IMF’s Christine Lagarde delivers her Richard Dimbleby lecture
  3. Nuclear setback as EC attacks Hinkley Point subsidy deal – Nuclear plant in doubt as European Commission says subsidies of up to £17.6bn risk handing EDF excess profits and may constitute illegal state aid.


It took major storm damage and record floods to get energy prices off the front pages, but any ministers hoping for a brief respite on the turmoil over energy policy will be no doubt disappointed.
The government’s nuclear plans look shakier after the European Commission tore into its recent deal with EDF on Hinckley Point C. The EC warns that a guaranteed strike price of £92.50/MW – double the current market rate – risks handing EDF excess profits and falling foul of state aid laws. The Commission also questioned assumptions used to reach this figure, and points out the government’s own research showing that nuclear plants could be built by 2027-30, even without subsidies.
Two new test fracking sites in Lancashire were named by Cuadrilla this week, but the hyperbole around shale was dampened as even Chancellor George Osborne admitted it probably won’t deliver cheap gas. Cuadrilla Chairman and government advisor Lord Browne said that it will take five years to establish the viability of the resource (even longer to start producing gas), and Business Secretary and former Shell executive Vince Cable described shale gas in the UK as “a long-term possibility – no more than that.” Lord Browne was also dismissive of chances for carbon capture and storage, thus inadvertently adding to the climate case against new gas. Meanwhile the industry faces a legal blockade from Sussex landowners and challenges over disposal of radioactive waste water.
DECC did get some positive news this week with the announcement that the UK had met its first carbon budget. But a reality check – much of this was due to the economic crash, and emissions are on the rise again. Both the UK and US currently favour an ‘all of the above’ energy policy, pursuing both fossil and renewable energy sources. While progress on clean energy should be applauded, it will ultimately come undone without plans for an orderly reduction of fossil fuel production.

One such reduction seems likely from our chart of the week, though it’s far from intentional. Oil giants Exxon, Shell and Chevron have been spending at record levels, but production continues to stagnate. Is the industry now reaching a turning point? Commentary such as this from FT blogger Nick Butler would certainly suggest so.

Related Reports and Commentary
Macroeconomic impacts of oil price volatility: mitigation and resilience – Zoheir Ebrahim, Oliver R. Inderwildi, David A. King – final report link (paywall)review copy pdf download.
A Year of Cracking Ice: 10 Predictions for 2014 – Michael Liebreich, Bloomberg New Energy Finance
Nexus Guide: How Food, Water and Energy are Connected – GRACE Communications Foundation

US shale under fire over thirst for water  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

US shale under fire over thirst for water  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

Water shortages have put the US oil and gas industry on a “collision course” with other users because of the large volumes needed for hydraulic fracturing, a group of leading investors has warned.

Almost 40 per cent of the oil and gas wells drilled since 2011 are in areas of “extremely high” water stress, according to Ceres, a network of investors that works on environmental and social issues. It highlights Texas, the heart of the US oil boom, and companies including Chesapeake Energy, EOG Resources, ExxonMobil and Anadarko Petroleum as the heaviest users of water.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is essential for extracting oil and gas from the shale formations that have been responsible for the US boom of the past decade, and it requires large volumes of water: typically 2m gallons or more per well. The water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped underground at high pressure to open up cracks in the rock so the oil and gas will flow more freely. The water that flows back out again is often poured away into separate disposal wells.

Water shortages can create tensions with local communities and force companies into expensive solutions such as bringing the water to the wells by truck.

Monika Freyman of Ceres said water was a risk that was often overlooked. “People don’t worry about it until it’s gone,” she said. “If you are an investor in a company that is in a water-stressed area, you have to ask questions about how it is managing their water risks.”

Shareholders including the employee pension funds of New York city and state said this week they would file resolutions for the annual meetings of companies including Exxon, Chevron, EOG and Pioneer Natural Resources, calling for more detailed disclosure of their environmental impact, including water use.

Ceres identified Anadarko, Encana, Pioneer and Apache as the companies with the greatest exposure to water risk, meaning the greatest volume of water use in areas with extremely high stress. In those areas, 80 per cent or more of the available water has been committed for other users including homes, farms and businesses.

Exxon said XTO, its shale oil and gas subsidiary, “works with local authorities to ensure there is adequate supply.” It added that coal needed ten times as much water as gas produced through fracking for an equivalent energy content, and corn-based ethanol needing up to 1,000 times as much water.

Anadarko said it was “on the leading edge” of efforts to manage and conserve water, including recycling it wherever possible, and drawing on a range of sources such as municipal effluent and produced water from oil and gas wells. It is also working with environmental groups and others to develop best practices for water use.

Fracking accounts for a relatively small proportion of US water demand: less than 1 per cent even in Texas, according to a University of Texas study, compared to 56 per cent for irrigation. However, in some areas with the greatest oil and gas activity, such as the Eagle Ford shale of south Texas, it can be much more significant.

The potential problem in Texas is exacerbated by the protracted drought that has affected the state and the growth in its population caused by the strength of its economy.

Jean-Philippe Nicot of the University of Texas said the state’s farmers were using less water for irrigation and shifting to crops that could cope with drier conditions. “More and more water is needed for urban centres, and fracking is part of the picture,” he said.

“All the Texas aquifers are heavily taxed right now.”

Wood Mackenzie, the consultancy, argued in a report last year that the industry would need to address the issue to be able to develop shale oil and gas production around the world, with many of the most promising reserves in China, Africa and the Middle East in areas of water scarcity.

Jim Matheson of Oasys Water, a company that develops water treatment technology, predicted an “inexorable but slow” movement towards recycling.

“We’re very early in the evolution, but the future is one in which we’re going to have to figure out how to clean and reuse the same water resources,” he said.


The Archdruid Report: The Steampunk Future

The Archdruid Report: The Steampunk Future.


The Steampunk Future

For those of us who’ve been watching the course of industrial civilization’s decline and fall, the last few weeks have been a bit of a wild ride.  To begin with, as noted in last week’s post, the specter of peak oil has once again risen from the tomb to which the mass media keeps trying to consign it, and stalks the shadows of contemporary life, scaring the bejesus out of everyone who wants to believe that infinite economic growth on a finite planet isn’t a self-defeating absurdity.
Then, of course, it started seeping out into the media that the big petroleum companies have lost a very large amount of money in recent quarters, and a significant part of those losses were due to their heavy investments in the fracking boom in the United States—you know, the fracking boom that was certain to bring us renewed prosperity and limitless cheap fuel into the foreseeable future?  That turned out to a speculative bubble, as readers of this blog were warned a year ago. The overseas investors whose misspent funds kept the whole circus going are now bailing out, and the bubble has nowhere to go but down. How far down? That’s a very good question that very few people want to answer.
The fracking bubble is not, however, the only thing that’s falling. What the financial press likes to call “emerging markets”—I suspect that “submerging markets” might be a better label at the moment—have had a very bad time of late, with stock markets all over the Third World racking up impressive losses, and some nasty downside action spilled over onto Wall Street, Tokyo and the big European exchanges as well. Meanwhile, the financial world has been roiled by the apparent suicides of four important bankers. If any of them left notes behind, nobody’s saying what those notes might contain; speculation, in several senses of that word, abounds.
Thus it’s probably worth being aware of the possibility that in the weeks and months ahead, we’ll see another crash like the one that hit in 2008-2009: another milestone passed on the road down from the summits of industrial civilization to the deindustrial dark ages of the future. No doubt, if we get such a crash, it’ll be accompanied by a flurry of predictions that the whole global economy will come to a sudden stop. There were plenty of predictions along those lines during the 2008-2009 crash; they were wrong then, and they’ll be wrong this time, too, but it’ll be few months before that becomes apparent.
In the meantime, while we wait to see whether the market crashes and another round of fast-crash predictions follows suit, I’d like to talk about something many of my readers may find whimsical, even irrelevant. It’s neither, but that, too, may not become apparent for a while.
Toward the middle of last month, as regular readers will recall, I posted an essay here suggesting seven sustainable technologies that could be taken up, practiced, and passed down to the societies that will emerge out of the wreckage of ours. One of those was computer-free mathematics, using slide rules and the other tools people used to crunch numbers before they handed over that chunk of their mental capacity to machines. In the discussion that followed, one of my readers—a college professor in the green-technology end of things—commented with some amusement on the horrified response he’d likely get if he suggested to his students that they use a slide rule for their number-crunching activities.
Not at all, I replied; all he needed to do was stand in front of them, brandish the slide rule in front of their beady eyes, and say, “This, my friends, is a steampunk calculator.”
It occurs to me that those of my readers who don’t track the contemporary avant-garde may have no idea what that next to last word means;  like so many labels these days, it contains too much history to have a transparent meaning. Doubtless, though, all my readers have at least heard of punk rock.  During the 1980s, a mostly forgettable literary movement in science fiction got labeled “cyberpunk;” the first half of the moniker referenced the way it fetishized the behavioral tics of 1980s hacker culture, and the second was given it because it made a great show, as punk rockers did, of being brash and belligerent.  The phrase caught on, and during the next decade or so, every subset of science fiction that hadn’t been around since Heinleins roamed the earth got labeled fill-in-the-blankpunk by somebody or other.
Steampunk got its moniker during those years, and that’s where the “-punk” came from. The “steam” is another matter. There was an alternative-history novel, The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, set in a world in which Victorian computer pioneer Charles Babbage launched the cybernetic revolution a century in advance with steam-powered mechanical computers.  There was also a roleplaying game called Space 1889—take a second look at those numbers if you think that has anything to do with the 1970s TV show about Moonbase Alpha—that had Thomas Edison devising a means of spaceflight, and putting the Victorian earth in contact with alternate versions of Mars, Venus and the Moon straight out of Edgar Rice Burroughs-era space fantasy.
Those and a few other sources of inspiration like them got artists, craftspeople, writers, and the like  thinking about what an advanced technology might look like if the revolutions triggered by petroleum and electronics had never happened, and Victorian steam-powered technology had evolved along its own course.  The result is steampunk:  part esthetic pose, part artistic and literary movement, part subculture, part excuse for roleplaying and assorted dress-up games, and part—though I’m far from sure how widespread this latter dimension is, or how conscious—a collection of sweeping questions about some of the most basic presuppositions undergirding modern technology and the modern world.
It’s very nearly an article of faith in contemporary industrial society that any advanced technology—at least until it gets so advanced that it zooms off into pure fantasy—must by definition look much like ours. I’m thinking here of such otherwise impressive works of alternate history as Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt. Novels of this kind portray the scientific and industrial revolution happening somewhere other than western Europe, but inevitably it’s the same scientific and industrial revolution, producing much the same technologies and many of the same social and cultural changes. This reflects the same myopia of the imagination that insists on seeing societies that don’t use industrial technologies as “stuck in the Middle Ages” or “still in the Stone Age,” or what have you:  the insistence that all human history is a straight line of progress that leads unstoppably to us.
Steampunk challenges that on at least two fronts. First, by asking what technology would look like if the petroleum and electronics revolutions had never happened, it undercuts the common triumphalist notion that of course an advanced technology must look like ours, function like ours, and—ahem—support the same poorly concealed economic, political, and cultural agendas hardwired into the technology we currently happen to have. Despite such thoughtful works as John Ellis’ The Social History of the Machine Gun, the role of such agendas in defining what counts for progress remains a taboo subject, and the idea that shifts in historical happenstance might have given rise to wholly different “advanced technologies” rarely finds its way even into the wilder ends of speculative fiction.
If I may be permitted a personal reflection here, this is something I watched during the four years when my novel Star’s Reach was appearing as a monthly blog post. 25th-century Meriga—yes, that’s “America” after four centuries—doesn’t fit anywhere on that imaginary line of progress running from the caves to the stars; it’s got its own cultural forms, its own bricolage of old and new technologies, and its own way of understanding history in which, with some deliberate irony, I assigned today’s industrial civilization most of the same straw-man roles that we assign to the societies of the preindustrial past.
As I wrote the monthly episodes of Star’s Reach, though, I fielded any number of suggestions about what I should do with the story and the setting, and a good any of those amounted to requests that I decrease the distance separating 25th-century Meriga from the modern world, or from some corner of the known past.  Some insisted that some bit of modern technology had to find a place in Merigan society, some urged me to find room somewhere in the 25th-century world for enclaves where a modern industrial society had survived, some objected to a plot twist that required the disproof of a core element of today’s scientific worldview—well, the list is long, and I think my readers will already have gotten the point.
C.S. Lewis was once asked by a reporter whether he thought he’d influenced the writings of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. If I recall correctly, he said, “Influence Tolkien? You might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.” While I wouldn’t dream of claiming to be Tolkien’s equal as a writer, I share with him—and with bandersnatches, for that matter—a certain resistance to external pressures, and so Meriga succeeded to some extent in keeping its distance from more familiar futures. The manuscript’s now at the publisher, and I hope to have a release date to announce before too long; what kind of reception the book will get when it’s published is another question and, at least to me, an interesting one.
Outside of the realms of imaginative fiction, though, it’s rare to see any mention of the possibility that the technology we ended up with might not be the inevitable outcome of a scientific revolution. The boldest step in that direction I’ve seen so far comes from a school of historians who pointed out that the scientific revolution depended, in a very real sense, on the weather in the English Channel during a few weeks in 1688.  It so happened that the winds in those weeks kept the English fleet stuck in port while William of Orange carried out the last successful invasion (so far) of England by a foreign army.
As a direct result, the reign of James II gave way to that of William III, and Britain dodged the absolute monarchy, religious intolerance, and technological stasis that Louis XIV was imposing in France just then, a model which most of the rest of Europe promptly copied. Because Britain took a different path—a path defined by limited monarchy, broad religious and intellectual tolerance, and the emergence of a new class of proto-industrial magnates whose wealth was not promptly siphoned off into the existing order, but accumulated the masses of capital needed to build the world’s first industrial economy—the scientific revolution of the late 17th and early 18th century was not simply a flash in the pan. Had James II remained on the throne, it’s argued, none of those things would have happened.
It shows just how thoroughly the mythology of progress has its claws buried in our imaginations that many people respond to that suggestion in an utterly predictable way—by insisting that the scientific and industrial revolutions would surely have taken place somewhere else, and given rise to some close equivalent of today’s technology anyway. (As previously noted, that’s the underlying assumption of the Kim Stanley Robinson novel cited above, and many other works along the same lines.)  At most, those who get past this notion of industrial society’s Manifest Destiny imagine a world in which the industrial revolution never happened:  where, say, European technology peaked around 1700 with waterwheels, windmills, square-rigged ships, and muskets, and Europe went from there to follow the same sort of historical trajectory as the Roman Empire or T’ang-dynasty China.
Further extrapolations along those lines can be left to the writers of alternative history. The point being made by the writers, craftspeople, and fans of steampunk, though, cuts in a different direction. What the partly imaginary neo-Victorian tech of steampunk suggests is that another kind of advanced technology is possible: one that depends on steam and mechanics instead of petroleum and electronics, that accomplishes some of the same things our technology does by different means, and that also does different things—things that our technologies don’t do, and in some cases quite possibly can’t do.
It’s here that steampunk levels its second and arguably more serious challenge against the ideology that sees modern industrial society as the zenith, so far, of the march of progress. While it drew its original inspiration from science fiction and roleplaying games, what shaped steampunk as an esthetic and cultural movement was a sense of the difference between the elegant craftsmanship of the Victorian era and the shoddy plastic junk that fills today’s supposedly more advanced culture. It’s a sense that was already clear to social critics such as Theodore Roszak many decades ago. Here’s Roszak’s cold vision of the future awaiting industrial society, from his must-read book Where the Wasteland Ends:
“Glowing advertisements of undiminished progress will continue to rain down upon us from official quarters; there will always be well-researched predictions of light at the end of every tunnel. There will be dazzling forecasts of limitless affluence; there will even be muchreal affluence. But nothing will ever quite work the way the salesmen promised; the abundance will be mired in organizational confusion and bureaucratic malaise, constant environmental emergency, off-schedule policy, a chaos of crossed circuits, clogged pipelines, breakdowns in communication, overburdened social services. The data banks will become a jungle of misinformation, the computers will suffer from chronic electropsychosis. The scene will be indefinably sad and shoddy despite the veneer of orthodox optimism. It will be rather like a world’s fair in its final days, when things start to sag and disintegrate behind the futuristic façades, when the rubble begins to accumulate in the corners, the chromium to grow tarnished, the neon lights to burn out, all the switches and buttons to stop working. Everything will take on that vile tackiness which only plastic can assume, the look of things decaying that were never supposed to grow old, or stop gleaming, never to cease being gay and sleek and perfect.”
As prophecies go, you must admit, this one was square on the mark. Roszak’s nightmare vision has duly become the advanced, progressive, cutting-edge modern society in which we live today.  That’s what the steampunk movement is rejecting in its own way, by pointing out the difference between the handcrafted gorgeousness of an older generation of technology and the “vile tackiness which only plastic can assume” that dominates contemporary products and, indeed, contemporary life. It’s an increasingly widespread recognition, and helps explain why so many people these days are into some form of reenactment.
Whether it’s the new Middle Ages of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the frontier culture of buckskinners and the rendezvous scene, the military-reenactment groups recreating the technologies and ambience of any number of of long-ago wars, the primitive-technology enthusiasts getting together to make flint arrowheads and compete at throwing spears with atlatls, or what have you:  has any other society seen so many people turn their backs on the latest modern conveniences to take pleasure in the technologies and habits of earlier times? Behind this interest in bygone technologies, I suggest, lies a concept that’s even more unmentionable in polite company than the one I discussed above: the recognition that most of the time, these days, progress no longer means improvement.
By and large, the latest new, advanced, cutting-edge products of modern industrial society are shoddier, flimsier, and more thickly frosted with bugs, problems, and unwanted side effects than whatever they replaced. It’s becoming painfully clear that we’re no longer progressing toward some shiny Jetsons future, if we ever were, nor are we progressing over a cliff into a bigger and brighter apocalypse than anyone ever had before. Instead, we’re progressing steadily along the downward curve of Roszak’s dystopia of slow failure, into a crumbling and dilapidated world of spiraling dysfunctions hurriedly patched over, of systems that don’t really work any more but are never quite allowed to fail, in which more and more people every year find themselves shut out of a narrowing circle of paper prosperity but in which no public figure ever has the courage to mention that fact.
Set beside that bleak prospect, it’s not surprising that the gritty but honest hands-on technologies and lifeways of earlier times have a significant appeal.  There’s also a distinct sense of security that comes from the discovery that one can actually get by, and even manage some degree of comfort, without having a gargantuan fossil-fueled technostructure on hand to meet one’s every need. What intrigues me about the steampunk movement, though, is that it’s gone beyond that kind of retro-tech to think about a different way in which technology could have developed—and in the process, it’s thrown open the door to a reevaluation of the technologies we’ve got, and thus to the political, economic, and cultural agendas which the technologies we’ve got embody, and thus inevitably further.
Well, that’s part of my interest, at any rate. Another part is based on the recognition that Victorian technology functioned quite effectively on a very small fraction of the energy that today’s industrial societies consume. Estimates vary, but even the most industrialized countries in the world in 1860 got by on something like ten per cent of the energy per capita that’s thrown around in industrial nations today.  The possibility therefore exists that something like a Victorian technology, or even something like the neo-Victorian extrapolations of the steampunk scene, might be viable in a future on the far side of peak oil, when the much more diffuse, intermittent, and limited energy available from renewable sources will be what we have left to work with for the rest of our species’ time on this planet.
For the time being, I want to let that suggestion percolate through the crawlspaces of my readers’ imaginations.  Those who want to pick up a steampunk calculator and start learning how to crunch numbers with it—hint:  it’s easy to learn, useful in practice, and slide rules come cheap these days—may just have a head start on the future, but that’s a theme for a later series of posts. Well before we get to that, it’s important to consider a far less pleasant kind of blast from the past, one that bids fair to play a significant role in the future immediately ahead.

That is to say, it’s time to talk about the role of fascism in the deindustrial future. We’ll begin that discussion next week.

No pipe dream: Is fracking about to arrive on your doorstep?

No pipe dream: Is fracking about to arrive on your doorstep?.

by Ellen Cantarow, originally published by TomDispatch  | TODAY

For the past several years, I’ve been writing about what happens when big oil and gas corporations drill where people live. “Fracking” — high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale — has become my beat. My interviewees live in Pennsylvania’s shale-gas fields; among Wisconsin’s hills, where corporations have been mining silica, an essential fracking ingredient; and in New York, where one of the most powerful grassroots movements in the state’s long history of dissent has become ground zero for anti-fracking activism across the country. Some of the people I’ve met have become friends. We email, talk by phone, and visit. But until recently I’d always felt at a remove from the dangers they face: contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses. Under Massachusetts, where I live, lie no methane- or oil-rich shale deposits, so there’s no drilling.

But this past September, I learned that Spectra Energy, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in North America, had proposed changes in a pipeline it owns, the Algonquin, which runs from Texas into my hometown, Boston. The expanded Algonquin would carry unconventional gas — gas extracted from deep rock formations like shale — into Massachusetts from the great Marcellus formation that sprawls along the Appalachian basin from West Virginia to New York.  Suddenly, I’m in the crosshairs of the fracking industry, too.

We all are.

Gas fracked from shale formations goes by several names (“unconventional gas,” “natural gas,” “shale gas”), but whatever it’s called, it’s mainly methane. Though we may not know it, fracked gas increasingly fuels our stoves and furnaces. It also helps to fuel the floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and ever-hotter summers that are engulfing the planet. The industry’s global-warming footprint is actually greater than that of coal. (A Cornell University study that established this in 2011 has been reconfirmed since.) Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and an ecological nightmare due to its potential for dangerous leaks.

According to former Mobil Oil executive Lou Allstadt, the greatest danger of fracking is the methane it adds to the atmosphere through leaks from wells, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found leakage rates of 2.3% to 17% of annual production at gas and oil fields in California, Colorado, and Utah. Moreover, no technology can guarantee long-term safety decades into the future when it comes to well casings (there are hundreds of thousands of frack wells in the U.S. to date) or in the millions of miles of pipelines that crisscross this country.

The energy industry boasts that fracking is a “bridge” to renewable energies, but a 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that shale gas development could end up crowding out alternative energies. That’s because as fracking spreads, it drives natural gas prices down, spurring greater consumer use, and so more fracking. In a country deficient in regulations and high in corporate pressures on government, this cascade effect creates enormous disincentives for investment in large alternative energy programs.

The sorry state of U.S. renewable energy development proves the case. As the fracking industry has surged, the country continues to lag far behind Germany and Denmark, the world’s renewable-energy leaders. A quarter-century after the world’s leading climate change scientist, James Hansen, first warned Congressabout global warming, Americans have only bad options: coal, shale gas, oil, or nuclear power.

Living in Gasland

There’s been a great deal of reporting about “the drilling part” of fracking — the moment when drills penetrate shale and millions of gallons of chemical-and-sand-laced water are pumped down at high pressure to fracture the rock. Not so much has been written about all that follows. It’s the “everything else” that has turned a drilling technology into a land-and-water-devouring industry so vast that it’s arguably one of the most pervasive extractive adventures in history.

According to Cornell University’s Anthony Ingraffea, the co-author of a study that established the global warming footprint of the industry, fracking “involves much more than drill-the-well-frack-the-well-connect-the-pipeline-and-go-away.” Almost all other industries “occur in a zoned industrial area, inside of buildings, separated from home and farm, separated from schools.” By contrast, the industry spawned by fracking “permits the oil and gas industries to establish [their infrastructures] next to where we live. They are imposing on us the requirement to locate our homes, hospitals, and schools inside their industrial space.”

Wells, flanked by batteries of vats, tanks, and diesel trucks, often stand less than a mile from homes. So do compressor stations that condense gas for its long journey through pipelines, and which are known to emit carcinogens and neurotoxins.  Radioactive waste (spewed up in fracking flow-back and drill cuttings) gets dumped on roads and in ordinary waste sites. Liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals that move this energy source for export are a constant danger due to explosions, fires, spills, and leaks. Every part of the fracking colossus, it seems, has its rap sheet of potential environmental and public health harms.

Of all these, pipelines are the industry’s most ubiquitous feature. U.S. Energy Information Administration maps show landscapes so densely veined by pipelines that they look like smashed windshields. There are more than 350,000 miles of gas pipelines in the U.S. These are for the transmission of gas from region to region. Not included are more than two million miles of distribution and service pipelines, which run through thousands of cities and towns with new branches under constant construction.  All these pipelines mean countless Americans — even those living far from gas fields, compressor stations, and terminals — find themselves on the frontlines of fracking.

Danger Zone

The letter arrived in the spring of 2011. It offered Leona Briggs $10,400 to give a group of companies the right to run a pipeline with an all-American name — the Constitution — through her land. For 50 years Briggs has lived in the town of Davenport, just south of the Susquehanna River in New York’s Western Catskills. Maybe she seemed like an easy mark. After all, her house’s clapboard exterior needs a paint job and she’s living on a meager Social Security check every month. But she refused.

She treasures her land, her apple trees, the wildlife that surrounds her. She points toward a tree, a home to an American kestrel. “There was a whole nest of them in this pine tree out here.” Her voice trembles with emotion. “My son was born here, my daughter was raised here, my granddaughter was raised here. It’s home. And they’re gonna take it from us?”

Company representatives began bullying her, she says. If she didn’t accept, they claimed, they’d reduce the price to $7,100. And if she kept on being stubborn, they’d finally take what they needed by eminent domain. But Briggs didn’t budge. “It’s not a money thing. This is our home. I’m sixty-five years old. And if that pipeline goes through I can’t live here.”

The Constitution Pipeline would carry shale gas more than 120 miles from Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County through New York’s Schoharie County. This would be the first interstate transmission pipeline in the region, and at 30 inches in diameter, a big one. Four corporations — Williams, a Tulsa-based energy infrastructure company, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings — are the partners. Williams claims the pipeline “is not designed to facilitate natural gas drilling in New York.” But it would connect with two others — the Iroquois, running from the Long Island shore to Canada, and the Tennessee, extending from the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast into Pennsylvania’s frack fields. This link-up, opponents believe, means that the Constitution would be able to export fracked gas from New York, the only Marcellus state to have resisted drilling so far.

In 2010, a high-pressure pipeline owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. It was the same size as the proposed Constitution pipeline. What makes that distant tragedy personal to Briggs is her memory of two local pipeline explosions. In the town of Blenheim, 22 miles east of her home, 10 houses were destroyed in 1990 in what a news report called “a cauldron of fire.” Another pipeline erupted in 2004 right in the village of Davenport. From her front porch, Briggs could see the flames that destroyed a house and forced the evacuation of neighbors within a half-mile radius. “That was an 8-inch pipe,” she says. “What would a 30-inch gas line do out here?”

Carl Weimer, executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, a non-profit watchdog organization, says that, on average, there is “a significant incident — somewhere — about every other day. And someone ends up in the hospital or dead about every nine or ten days.” This begs the question: are pipelines carrying shale gas different in their explosive potential than other pipelines?

“There isn’t any database that allows you to get at that,” says Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert and consultant of 40 years’ experience. “If it’s a steel pipeline and it has enough gas in it under enough pressure, it can leak or rupture.” Many pipelines, says Kuprewicz, aren’t bound by any safety regulations, and even when they are, enforcement can often be lax. Where regulations exist, he continues, corporate compliance is uneven. “Some companies comply with and exceed regulations, others don’t.  If I want to find out about what’s going on, I may [have to] get additional information via subpoena.”

In 2013 alone, Williams, one of the partners in the Constitution pipeline, had fiveincidentsincluding two major explosions in New Jersey and Louisiana. These were just the latest in what an online publication, Natural Gas Watch, calls “a lengthy record of pipeline safety violations.” As for Cabot, its name has become synonymous with water contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Even that state’s Department of Environmental Protection, historically joined at the hip to gas companies, imposed sanctions on Cabot in 2010. (The corporation later settledwith 32 of 36 Dimock families who claimed contamination of their water supplies.)

About 40 miles northeast of Davenport lies the town of Schoharie, where James and Margaret Bixby live on a well-tended, 150-year-old farm. The day I visited, their 19-acre pond glimmered in the early fall sunlight. As we talked, Bixby listed all the wildlife in the area: bear, raccoon, beavers, muskrats, wood ducks, mallards, mergansers, cranes, skunks, and Canadian geese.  He began telling me about the last of these.  “Pretty soon they’re going to come in by the hundreds, migrating north. A dozen will stay, hatching their young. We have wild turkeys, just about everything. I don’t care to live no place else.”

The Bixbys were offered more money than Briggs — more than $62,000 — for a pipeline right of way and they, too, turned it down. He and his wife are holding fast and so, he says, are 60 neighbors. “They don’t want it to bust up this little valley.”  Pointing, he added, “There’s gonna be a path up our woods there as far as you can see, [and] there’s gonna be another one over there. That’s nothing nice to look at.”

Driving around New York and Pennsylvania you’ll spot odd, denuded stretches running down hillsides like ski jumps. On the crests of the hills, the remains of tree lines look like Mohawk haircuts on either side of shaved pipeline slopes. This is only the most obvious sign of pipeline environmental degradation. The Constitution pipeline would also impact 37 Catskills trout streams, endangering aquatic life. According to Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director atRiverkeeper, one of the state’s most venerable environmental watchdog organizations, the pipeline would “cross hundreds of streams and wetlands by literally digging a hole through them… Any project that jeopardizes multiple water resources in two states is clearly against the public’s interest.”

Holding the Line

Longtime residents aren’t alone in opposing the building of the Constitution pipeline. This tranquil region has been attracting retirees like Bob Stack, a former electrical engineer. In 2004, he and his wife, Anne, bought 97 acres near Leona Briggs’s home. Their dream: to build a straw bale house, a sustainable structure that uses straw for insulation. No sooner had engineers visited the land to start planning than the couple got a letter from Constitution Pipeline LLC. “We were absolutely clueless. We knew nothing about fracking or about pipelines. Fracking was about as remote from us as oil in Iraq or someplace else,” says Anne. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘What an outrage!’” The Stacks, who moved east from Nevada, are now living in limbo.

“Once you have this pulsing fossil fuel energy coming through, it will… industrialize the Susquehanna River valley,” says Anne Marie Garti, who in June 2012 co-founded a local activist group, Stop the Pipeline. (“The unConstitutional Pipeline” reads the organization’s website banner.) “They’re going to start building factories. There’s an interstate, a railroad, there’s cheap labor, and there’s a river to dump the toxins in.”

Garti, a small, quietly assertive former interactive computer software designer, is now a lawyer; her aim: helping people like Briggs and the Bixbys. She grew up in the town of Delhi, near Briggs’s home. In 2008, she found herself among a small group of activists who convinced New York’s then-Governor David Paterson to impose a moratorium on fracking. Under the measure’s shelter a powerful grassroots anti-fracking movement grew, using zoning ordinances to ban drilling in municipalities.

Mark Pezzati, a graphic designer, helped get his town, Andes, in New York’s Delaware County to enact a fracking ban. “Pipeline news wasn’t high on the radar [then],” he says. “Most people were concerned about drilling.” In 2010, Pezzati was shocked to discover that a pipeline called the Millennium had penetrated his state.

It turned out that local land use laws govern only drilling. Under the 1938 Natural Gas Act, pipelines and compressor stations represent interstate commerce. “Suddenly there was this frantic flurry of emails, where people were saying, ‘We’ve got to meet and make people aware.’” (The meeting took place and 200 people flocked to listen to Garti.) “As time went on,” adds Pezzati, “it became apparent that you really can’t frack without a pipeline. There’s no point in drilling if there’s nowhere for the gas to go. So a light bulb went on. If you could stop pipelines you could stop fracking.”

That was when Pezzati and his friends, used to arguing for bans at town board meetings, came up against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which, among other responsibilities, regulates interstate natural gas transmission. It tilts to corporations, and even Garti found the bureaucratic hurdles it posed daunting.  “I have some experience and training in environmental law and it took me a month to figure out the intricacies of FERC’s process,” she told me.

Because FERC refused to disclose the names of landowners in the pipeline’s path, Garti, Pezzati and about a dozen other volunteers had to pore over county tax databases, matching names and addresses to the proposed route. “First we sent letters, then we did door-to-door outreach,” says Garti. Her basic message to landowners along the right of way: “Just say no.”

“People are kind of impressed that you came all the way to their house,” Pezzati points out. “There’s not that many landowners in favor.”

Garti attributes local resentment against the pipeline corporations and their threats to exercise eminent domain to a “fierce” regional “independence” dating back to the anti-rent struggles of tenant farmers against wealthy landlords in the nineteenth century. “People don’t like the idea of somebody coming on their land and taking it from them.”

The activists drafted a letter refusing entry to corporate representatives and circulated it to local landowners. By October 2012, Stop the Pipeline was able to marshal a crowd of 800 for a public hearing called by FERC — “a big crowd for a sparsely populated rural area,” Garti recalls.  The vast majority opposed the pipeline’s construction. By January 2013, 1,000 people had sent in statements of opposition.

The organization has created a website with instructions about FERC procedures and handouts for local organizing, as well as a list of organizations opposing the pipeline. These include the Clean Air Council and Trout Unlimited. Among state and federal agencies expressing concerns to FERC have been the Army Corps of Engineers and New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, known in earlier fracking battles for its collusion with the gas industry.

“Just like we have a fracking story that’s different in New York State, we have a pipeline story that’s different,” says Garti. “The force of the opposition to pipelines is in New York State. And we have a shot at winning this thing.”

Coming Home

Having covered the environmental degradation of Pennsylvania’s shale gas fields, the wastelands that were Wisconsin’s silica-rich hills, and tiny New York towns where grassroots fracking battles are ongoing, I now have a sense of what it means to be in the crosshairs of the fracking industry. But it was nothing compared to how I felt when I learned Spectra Energy had its sights set on my hometown, Boston.

Fracking isn’t just about drilling and wells and extracting a difficult energy source at a painful cost to the environment.  Corporations like Spectra have designs on spreading their pipelines through state after state, through thousands of backyards and farm fields and forests and watersheds.  That means thousands of miles of pipe that may leave ravaged landscapes, produce methane leaks, and even, perhaps, lead to catastrophic explosions — and odds are those pipelines are coming to a town near you.

Spectra’s website explains that the Algonquin pipeline “will provide the Northeast with a unique opportunity to secure a… domestically produced source of energy to support its current demand, as well as its future growth.“ Translation: Spectra aims to expand fracking as long as that’s possible. And a glance at any industry source like Oil & Gas Journal shows other corporations hotly pursuing the same goal. (A new New-York-based group, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, is the center of opposition to this project.)

It remains to be seen whether the people of Massachusetts will undertake the same type of grassroots efforts, exhibit the same fortitude as Bob and Anne Stack and Leona Briggs, or demonstrate the same organizing acumen as Anne Marie Garti and Mark Pezzati. But Massachusetts citizens had better get organized if they want to stop Spectra Energy and halt its plans to run the Algonquin all the way from Texas northward to Boston and beyond. Fracking is on its way to my doorstep — and yours.  Who’s going to hold the line in your town?

Tom Dispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reported on Israel and the West Bank from 1979 to 2009 for the Village VoiceMother JonesInquiry, and Grand Street, among other publications. For the past four years she has been writing about the toll the oil and gas industries are taking on the environment.

Copyright 2014 Ellen Cantarow

America’s Energy Revolution Transforms International Relations  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

America’s Energy Revolution Transforms International Relations  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

North America’s energy revolution is remaking all aspects of the global economy and international relations in what has turned out to be the most profound shift in the second decade of the 21st century.

Policymakers and climate scientists prefer to talk about the transformational potential of clean technologies like wind, solar and electric vehicles.

But in reality the biggest shifts in economic relations and the balance of power at present stem from changes in the production of decidedly old-fashioned and polluting fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

Hydraulic fracturing, coupled with tougher fuel-economy standards and increased use of biofuels, has reversed the growing dependence of the United States on energy imports in less than 10 years.

If fracking has not yet made the United States “energy independent”, it has certainly created a crucial source of competitive advantage and given policymakers much more room to manoeuvre.

Trade Transformed

By the start of the century, the cost of importing energy was one of the largest burdens on the U.S. trade balance, and threatening to worsen in the medium term.

Crude oil and refined petroleum products such as gasoline accounted for most of the imported energy, but there was growing concern that the country would also become a big net importer of natural gas within a few years.

In 2008, the United States ran a net energy trade deficit with the rest of the world amounting to $411 billion, 2.8 percent of GDP.

Crude petroleum and refined products accounted for around one-third of the record trade deficits which the United States ran between 2004 and 2008.

But 2008 proved to be the high-water mark for the net cost of energy imports.

Since 2008, net energy imports have almost halved, to just $217 billion in the first 11 months of 2013.

There is no mystery about the cause of the U.S. energy revolution.

The quadrupling of oil prices between 2000 and 2008 was directly responsible for the biofuel-blending mandates and fuel efficiency standards contained in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and 2007 Energy Independence Security Act passed by the U.S. Congress.

It also indirectly supported the swift rollout of fracking technology, first in natural gas and from 2008 onwards in oil, as well.

But the consequences of the energy revolution are only now being felt fully.

Rippling Outward

For years, policymakers and commentators have played down the revolution’s impact, or even denied there is a revolution at all, because it clashes with climate policies and threatens to re-arrange international relations in ways that are uncomfortable to many of those concerned.

Sceptics first suggested the upsurge in energy production would prove temporary, then that it would be limited to gas, and now that it will be contained by restrictions on U.S. oil exports or environmental campaigns to keep fossil fuels underground unburned.

Doubters say it cannot be repeated in other countries because of their very different geological conditions as well as political and commercial environments.

But the revolution’s impact has spread far beyond the United States.

The United States is set to become a significant exporter of natural gas. It is already the world’s fastest-growing exporter of gas liquids such as propane.

Coal exports have risen as the country’s own power stations turn to cheaper gas. And U.S. refiners are becoming increasingly important exporters of diesel.

Energy trade is already finding ways around the patchwork of antiquated restrictions on exports of oil, gas and condensates.

Comparative Advantage

At the same time, the United States depends less and less on imported energy, especially from outside North America.

In 2013, the country is expected to have imported the fewest barrels of crude oil since 1994.

Even that probably understates the speed of the transformation and its impact on the trade deficit. In real terms, the trade deficit in petroleum and related items in November 2013 was the narrowest for well over two decades.

The economic impact has been profound. Abundant supplies of cheap domestic energy are now a crucial source of competitive advantage compared with rival economies in Europe and Asia.

A decade ago, U.S. policymakers and commentators were worrying about the loss of manufacturing to China based on cheap labour.

Now cheap energy is encouraging talk of bringing some of that manufacturing back. By contrast, expensive energy and inefficient fuel consumption are a seen as a growing threat to China’s competitiveness.

European manufacturers, too, worry they will be significantly disadvantaged by more expensive energy bills.

Loosening Ties

The energy revolution’s impact on international relations has been even greater, and nowhere is it more visible than in the Middle East.

For years, the foreign policy establishments in both the United States and in capitals around the Gulf have insisted shale production will not loosen the close ties between Washington and its regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia.

But the scale of the shift has become too obvious to deny.

Speaking to a security conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Israel’s outspoken Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon complained that the United States is “detaching” itself from the Middle East, according to reports carried in the Jerusalem Post.

Saudi Arabia’s leaders clearly fear their own alliance with Washington is being downgraded as the Obama Administration pursues detente with Iran.

Tensions between Washington and Riyadh erupted into the open last year when Saudi Arabia declined to take up its seat on the UN Security Council and undertook a series of other carefully calculated diplomatic moves to signal its displeasure with the White House.

Such an open breach between the two close allies would have been unthinkable in 2005 or 1995 let alone 1985 or even 1975, when the United States felt its dependence on Saudi oil exports keenly.

Even more remarkably, U.S. foreign policymakers have largely ignored the protests coming from Tel Aviv and Riyadh, and forged ahead regardless.

Ultimately, it is the energy revolution that has emboldened U.S. policymakers to pursue a very different course in the Middle East.

The idea of the United States exporting fossil fuels to the Persian Gulf would have laughable five years ago. But in what has to be the supreme irony, the United Arab Emirates is now openly talking about importing cheap shale gas from the United States to meet its surging electricity demand.

Energy Insecurity

Middle East oil producers are not the only countries that have been disconcerted by the shale revolution. It is also altering the relationship between China and the United States.

In effect, the two superpowers have swapped places. In 1973, the United States perceived its growing reliance on imported crude from the Middle East was a key strategic weakness, while China’s rapidly developing Daqing super-giant oil field promised greater energy independence.

Now U.S. reliance on the Middle East is loosening, while China is increasingly aware of the risks of relying on importing oil from unstable parts of the Middle East and Africa via long supply routes through the straits of Hormuz and Malacca and the South China Sea.

Once again, shale, and the energy revolution more broadly, lies at the heart of the fundamental shift in the balance of power.

China’s own policymakers attach the highest strategic priorities to developing their own domestic energy production (including from shale), cutting energy consumption through improvements in energy efficiency, and protecting foreign supplies by projecting diplomatic and military power into key supply regions and along supply routes.

Just like the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in the 1850s and the Middle East between the 1920s and 1950s, the North American energy revolution is remaking the world order.


Testosterone Pit – Home – From “Glut” To Panic: Natural Gas Soars

Testosterone Pit – Home – From “Glut” To Panic: Natural Gas Soars.

On Friday, when stocks were plunging, natural gas soared 9.6% to $5.18 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) at the Henry Hub. Up 20% for the week. The highest close since June 2010.

Back then, the “shale gas revolution” had turned into a crazy no-holds-barred land-grab and fracking boom that veered into overproduction and a “glut” – accompanied by a historic collapse in price. The US could not export its excess production due to export restrictions and the lack of major LNG export terminals. By April 2012, when the Japanese were paying around $17 per MMBtu for LNG on the world markets, natural gas in the US hit a decade low of $1.92 per MMBtu, and predictions that it would go to zero showed up in the mainstream media. That was the bottom.

But nothing can be priced below the cost of production forever. By Friday, natural gas was up 170% from the April 2012 low. Turns out, only a low price can cure a low price.

The low price caused demand to creep up.

Gas exports via pipeline to Mexico have been growing, especially since additional pipeline capacity went into service last year. Mexico is switching power generation from using its own oil to cheap US natural gas. This allows it to export its more valuable oil to the US. Ka-ching. But building gas-fired generating capacity is a slow-moving process.

Other exports are also moving forward – in people’s heads. There are pipelines between the US and Canada, but the US is a net importer. Exports of LNG are at this point still a pipedream, so to speak, though deals are being made, contingent on getting government approvals to export LNG. It’s going to take years before LNG can be exported in large quantities.

But the low price had short-term and structural impacts. Utilities dispatched electricity generation from their coal-fired plants to their gas-fired plants. And there have been structural changes: utilities have built gas-fired power plants and have retired – not mothballed! – their oldest, most inefficient, and most polluting coal-fired power plants. Global industrial companies have been building plants in the US for energy-intensive processes and for processes that use natural gas as feed stock. Even natural gas in transportation is picking up.

The low price destroyed the business model for drillers.

Thousands of unprofitable wells litter the land. Many billions were written off. Real money that had been recklessly thrown around during the boom disappeared into the ground. Investors were lured with false promises. The bloodletting in the industry was enormous. Some of the largest drillers have pulled back from drilling for dry natural gas. Most of the wells that are still being drilled are in fields that are rich in natural-gas liquids and oil, which sell for much higher prices and make wells profitable. Dry natural gas has become a byproduct. In the immensely productive Bakken shale-oil field in North Dakota, where gas occurs along with oil, 30% of it is flared – burned at the well as a waste product. The low price doesn’t justify building pipelines to haul it off.

But shale gas wells have sharp decline rates, and new wells need to be drilled constantly to make up for the decline in older wells. These days, not enough wells are being drilled, and production in all gas plays combined – except for the Marcellus – is already in slight decline. The only production boom left is in the Marcellus: the “shale gas revolution” in the US is now a one-pony show.

In January 2012, according to Baker Hughes, there were 143 rigs drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus – the most prolific parts of which are in Pennsylvania. Today, there are 86. But during the drilling boom, someone forgot to install sufficient pipeline infrastructure. So, wells were shut in, perhaps thousands of them, a giant reservoir waiting for takeaway capacity. That was 2012. Last year, part of a new pipeline network went into service, and bottlenecks were removed, and the gas started flowing to New York City and other places. Drilling is down. Production – the delivery of gas to the markets – is soaring!

How long can it last? Well decline rates in the Marcellus are as steep as elsewhere, and this sudden burst in production, if not supported by a new bout of drilling, will taper off as it has in other fields. And that’s today’s one-pony show of the US “shale gas revolution.”

Then cold fronts swept across the country.

These polar vortices, as they’re now referred to for additional flair, have caused demand for gas as heating fuel to spike to record highs. And more bitter cold weather is being forecast. Natural gas in underground storage dropped to 2,423 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the weekending January 17. The last time storage levels were this low during an equivalent week was in January 2005!

At the time, gas was selling for $12 to $14 per MMBtu and hit an all-time high of $15.40 in December that year. But demand has changed. In 2013, demand was over 18% higher than in 2005; this year, it might be over 20% higher [my article from nine days ago…. Natural Gas Squeeze? “Panic hasn’t ensued just yet”]. 

And the big money has jumped into the fray.

For years, the favorite game was to short natural gas, playing the glut for all it was worth, a sport that has gotten very complex and, if you get the timing wrong by a few hours, very expensive. Some of the spike late Friday, and some of the action all week, was due to a hard squeeze on these folks – as the big money arrived en masse.

On Wednesday, the big money went public. As reported by MarketWatch, Citi analysts wrote that, “With tight fundamentals, $5 gas is not impossible.” What had been obvious for a while, showed up in the media: “Strong demand is expected to push gas inventories to very low levels with cold weather lingering.” And the price took off once again.

Now everyone is bent over weather data, trying to figure out what nastiness the winter will still serve up, and they’re betting on the weather because cold snaps happen relatively fast and are observable. Watching the fundamentals is like watching paint dry. But it’s the fundamentals that have changed the equation. The polar vortices are merely speeding up the calculus.

Natural gas is famous for its head fakes, unexpected plunges when it should rise, and inexplicable rises when it should drop. It’s being manipulated in a myriad ways. It’s always a bet on the weather, except when it’s not. It can turn around in a second and cause whiplash. It’s a seatbelt-mandatory commodity. And once every few years, there is a panic, and it spikes to dizzying highs.

While natural gas was soaring on Friday, and all week, the rest of the markets were tanking, with emerging markets “trading in full-blown panic mode.” What gives? Read….  A Teeny-Weeny Bit Of Taper, And Look What Happened

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Drought Emergency Declared in California as Residents Urge Halt to Fracking

Drought Emergency Declared in California as Residents Urge Halt to Fracking.

The state of California formally declared a drought emergency today due to a lack of winter rainfall and water reserves at only 20 percent of normal levels. This is the third year of dry conditions across California, which poses a threat to the state’s economy and environment.


In addition to concerns about having an adequate water supply for food production, Californians are worried about Gov. Brown’s plan to increase fracking as oil companies are gearing up to frack large reservoirs of unconventional shale oil in the Monterey Shale. Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Last year was declared the driest year in recorded history in California and Gov. Jerry Brown recently described the state’s current condition as “a mega-drought.”

“The current historically dry weather is a bellwether of what is to come in California, with increasing periods of drought expected with climate change,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, climate scientist in the California office of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Because increasing demand and drought are straining our water resources, we need to adopt policies that address both the causes and consequences of climate change.”

With the drought declaration in place, the state can ease certain environmental protections and create more flexibility within the system to allow for changes in water diversions based on critical needs. The declaration also raises public awareness about the urgent need to conserve water.

“The entire Southwest U.S. is gripped in an extended drought, including Southern California, all of which depends on flows from the Colorado River,” said Gary Wockner at Save the Colorado River Campaign. “If this is the ‘new normal’ of climate change, then we need to develop a likewise ‘new normal’ of water conservation and efficiency that also focuses on keeping our rivers—as well as our communities—healthy and thriving.”

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated portions of 11 western and central states as primary natural disaster areas because of a drought, including 27 California counties. The disaster designation allows eligible farmers to qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA.

In addition to concerns about having an adequate water supply for food production, Californians are worried about Gov. Brown’s plan to increase fracking as oil companies are gearing up to frack large reservoirs of unconventional shale oil in the Monterey Shale.

“The Governor’s drought declaration should be the final straw for fracking in the state. To frack for oil in California is to deny the facts of climate change, which tell us we have to leave this oil in the ground if we want a safe future,” said David Turnbull, campaigns director for Oil Change International and the BigOilBrown.orgcampaign. ”Our state cannot afford to waste more water digging up oil causing the very climate changes that will lead to more droughts like these in the future.”

Fracking wells generally consume between 2 and 10 million gallons of water in their lifetime. If every potential well in California identified by the U.S. Energy Information Agency were to be fracked, some 5 billion gallons of water would be required, according to Oil Change International.

Polls show Californians oppose expanded fracking in the Golden State and 65 percent of Californians say the state should act immediately to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“While Governor Brown cannot make it rain, he can prevent wasteful and harmful use of our water by placing an immediate moratorium on fracking and other extreme methods of oil and gas extraction,” said Adam Scow, Food & Water Watch California campaign director.

America’s Feel-Good Oil Bonanza

America’s Feel-Good Oil Bonanza.

Think back to early 2004. Oil cost around $40 per barrel1—on the high side compared to the previous few decades but not much out of the ordinary. Gasoline still cost under $2.00 a gallon for most of the country. The evening news was more concerned with wardrobe gaffes by Janet Jackson (too little, at the Super Bowl) and President Bush (too much, on the USS Abraham Lincoln) than with energy prices.

In retrospect, these were the last days of “normal.” Most everyone in business, the media, and government assumed that the world had plenty of cheap oil.2 And hardly anyone outside the fossil fuel industry had heard of peak oil, the idea that we were nearing physical limits to global oil production and a new period of oil price and supply volatility.

We now know that the world’s conventional oil production would effectively stop growing the very next year, setting off a sickening global economic rollercoaster ride. The complacency of 2004 would change to worry by 2005 as the price of oil surged past historic highs, and to outright panic in 2008 when it crossed the once-unthinkable $100 barrier. It would spark massively increased investment in alternatives like tight oil, tar sands oil, shale gas, renewable energy, and nuclear power—all while the global economy made painful adjustments to the new normal of $80-plus oil.

By now you’d think we’d be chastened by the last ten years, and would be planning cautiously and conservatively for our nation’s energy future. Instead, almost everyone is once again assuming that we’ve got plenty of (admittedly more expensive) oil, and that there’s nothing to worry about.

Such shortsightedness isn’t necessarily surprising for Wall Street, where only the current quarter’s figures matter; nor for the news media, where energy-literate journalists are sadly few and far between. But it’s quite another matter to see it in a federal government agency, especially one whose most important functions include projecting the future of the country’s energy needs and resources.

In this respect, the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) recently releasedAnnual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO 2014), which foresees impending and long-term US oil abundance, is not just surprising—it’s a dangerous return to a 2004 way of thinking.

California Dreaming

Lest you think the projections issued by a relatively small government agency are immaterial to real-world decisions about the world’s most important resource, consider the case of the Monterey shale. Two years ago the EIA released a 105-page assessment of technically recoverable shale gas and tight oil in the lower-48 states.3 Among other things, it estimated a massive amount of tight oil in California’s Monterey formation: 15.4 billion barrels, or over 64% of the country’s projected total tight oil resource base.

America’s supposed new oil nest egg was quickly accepted as unquestionable fact. The New York Times4Wall Street Journal5, CNN6, and countless other media outlets reported it uncritically. It became a central argument in the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to influence California’s regulations on drilling and new technologies like fracking.7 And one can only assume that the 15.4 billion barrel worm made its way into the ears of politicians and policymakers across the country, whispering, “We’ll have decades of American energy independence!”

Of course, a deus ex machina like this raised more than a few eyebrows, including here at Post Carbon Institute; so we looked into it.8 We found that the EIA report’s authors9 had tallied up 15.4 billion barrels simply by assuming that every square mile of the Monterey would be more productive than practically all the best areas in America’s two best tight oil plays, the Bakken shale (in North Dakota) and the Eagle Ford shale in Texas. That’s it. No consideration of the Monterey’s significant geological complexity compared to the two plays, nor of data from actual Monterey oil production. In other words, our new cornerstone of energy independence rested on a back-of-the envelope calculation that any first-year petroleum geology student would recognize as unrealistic.

But simply because it was published by the EIA, the 15.4 billion barrel worm went on to influence some of America’s most important policy and planning decisions for over two years—unquestioned and unchallenged.

So, what the EIA says matters—regardless of its veracity or substantiation. In this light, let’s take a look at what the EIA is now saying in AEO 2014.

Saudi America

The most-repeated nugget from AEO 2014 is the projection that US oil production will reach 9.61 million barrels per day (mbd) by 2019, matching its historic peak of 1970.10 Less-repeated but just as important is the projection that after 2021 US oil production will start a very gradual decline, leaving us in 2040 with daily production at a respectable 7.48 mbd (which happens to roughly be 2013’s average daily production).11 It’s an energy patriot’s dream come true—an imminent, rapid rise in domestic production to give a boost to the economy, followed by a gradual tapering-off that will allow for an orderly transition to alternative energy sources.


This rosy projection is driven by significant and sustained production of tight oil from shale formations (enabled by fracking and other technologies)—a cumulative total of 42.8 billion barrels by 2040. Anyone who’s not a petroleum geologist might be forgiven for assuming this means the EIA has a pretty good idea where that 42.8 billion barrels is and how it will realistically be produced. As we’ll see, this is not the case.

Most of America’s tight oil—about 74%—currently comes the aforementioned Bakken and the Eagle Ford plays. These look set to peak as soon as 2016-2017, although they could possibly recover a total of 11 billion barrels by 2035 if 48,000 new wells can be drilled (five times the current total).12 However, the Bakken and the Eagle Ford are the best we’ve got; none of America’s other tight oil plays look to have such high-producing wells over such large areas. Producing an additional 31 billion barrels by 2040 from increasingly marginal (and thus more expensive) plays is a real stretch.

A quick look behind the EIA’s numbers further undermines confidence. According to the assumptions underlying last year’s Annual Energy Outlook (the equivalent background material is not yet available for 2014), the EIA sees total recoverable tight oil resources of 13.7 billion barrels from the Monterey (a recent downward revision from the original 15.4 billion mentioned earlier), 7.3 billion barrels from the Austin Chalk, 5.3 billion barrels from the Permian Basin, and the remainder from a scattering of other plays. They’re impressive numbers…until one remembers the flimsy case behind the Monterey projections.

The EIA also says nothing about the rate of production from wells in these plays, which is critical to profitability and has proved to be an Achilles Heel in other tight oil plays. Production in Eagle Ford tight oil wells, for example, declines 60 percent on average in their first year; in the Bakken it’s 69 percent.13 This means more wells must constantly be drilled to keep overall production from collapsing. But there is a physical limit to the number of wells that can be usefully drilled in an area; once that limit is reached (in the Bakken and Eagle Ford it could be within the next 10-12 years depending on drilling rates14), production will decline sharply.

A perennial argument against such pessimism is that more oil resources will become accessible as rising oil prices make the more technically challenging oil economic to produce. However, in AEO 2014 the EIA actually expects the price of oil to drop to as low as $88 per barrel by 2018, and thereafter rise at a meager 1.5-2.5% per year15—about the rate of inflation the last few years.

Is the forecast that the United States will hit 9.61 million barrels of day of oil in 2019 credible? Perhaps, if everything goes right and capital inflows don’t falter; the forecast is largely driven by measurable results from the most productive areas of the Bakken and the Eagle Ford.16 But once those are tapped out, there’s scant evidence for a future in which the oil produced from the remaining tight oil plays will amount to nearly four times as much as from the Bakken and Eagle Ford—let alone that tight oil production will decline only gradually over the following 20 years. Indeed, one must conclude that the EIA’s projection assumes that future technological innovations will make it economical to produce currently unprofitable oil despite oil prices hardly changing.

Reality Check

A more prudent, conservative US oil forecast would look very different. It would consider that, although surprises are always possible, the most productive fossil fuel resources do tend to be discovered first and produced first. It would take note of the fact that production in fracked wells declines extremely quickly, requiring an accelerating drilling treadmill to maintain—let alone grow—production, with associated collateral environmental impacts. It would assume that most tight oil plays producible at current oil prices have already been discovered and put into production, and that major new resources—if they exist—are unlikely to be forthcoming unless there is a significant rise in oil prices.17 In short, the forecast would be based on actual data from existing and legitimately forthcoming plays, and leave the feel-good speculation about future resource abundance to Wall Street.

This is no small matter. The projected availability and price of future oil directly impacts decisions being made today about everything from factory expansions to multi-billion dollar transportation projects. It influences federal government policy on encouraging (or discouraging) gas mileage standards, electric vehicles, building efficiency, and renewable energy. And it certainly colors the debate around regulating the exploration and production of fossil fuels in communities and public lands across the country.

That last debate is playing out in California right now, as the fossil fuel industry pushes legislators to relax environmental laws to allow more development of tight oil in the Monterey shale via fracking and acidization. The heightened risk of environmental damage caused by developing Monterey tight oil may seem acceptable to legislators who believe 15.4 billion barrels of oil, $24.6 billion per year in tax revenue, and 2.8 million jobs18 are in the offing—though far less so if the recoverable oil is actually a small fraction of that (which our report Drilling California concluded is likely the case19).

The stakes are also sky-high with respect to the national economy. The EIA sees US oil imports remaining relatively low throughout 2040 thanks to the supposed windfall of domestic tight oil production. If they’re wrong, oil imports would have to make up the difference, adding to our already substantial monthly petroleum trade deficit of $20 billion per month.20 And, of course, the price of oil would go up—possibly significantly—until global demand balances with the new, reduced, global supply.21


The EIA’s yearly publication of the Annual Energy Outlook is, without a doubt, an enormously challenging undertaking. Each year’s AEO pulls together projections that involve extremely large sets of data, endless analysis of industries and economies, and—of necessity—significant assumptions and caveats. The EIA’s own retrospectives on the accuracy of its projections reveal, however, that it generally overestimates oil production and underestimates price.22 Nevertheless, once the EIA’s annual projections are released they’re inevitably treated as future fact by the media and the public.

Although few would disagree that the EIA’s data collection and dissemination activities are world-class, its projections in AEO 2014 are, like most of its previous projections, overly optimistic and unlikely to be realized. The risks to long-term American energy security are obvious if the EIA’s projections of low-priced energy abundance don’t work out.

Good news sells, and doesn’t rock any boats, but policy makers and politicians comforted by rosy forecasts are unable to understand the risks and properly prepare the country for long-term energy sustainability. It’s unfortunate—and yes, dangerous—that rosy forecasts are exactly what the government’s premiere energy fortuneteller continues to offer, despite its dismal track record.

1 In 2013 dollars.

2 The EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2005 reference case oil price for 2025 was around $30 (~$37 in 2013 dollars). http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/archive/aeo05/pdf/0383(2005).pdf

8 J. David Hughes, Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Oil (Santa Rosa, CA: Post Carbon Institute, 2013), http://montereyoil.org.

9 The report was authored by a contractor, INTEK, Inc., but published by the EIA with an EIA-written introduction.

10 Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (Early Release); figures include crude oil and lease condensate. These projections are not to be confused with those of the International Energy Administration’s World Energy Outlook 2013 which, because it includes natural gas liquids, sees the United States being the world’s top producer in 2015.http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-12/u-s-nears-energy-independence-by-2035-on-shale-boom-iea-says.html

11 Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (Early Release), Table 14. The EIA includes non-tight-oil liquids in these numbers that happen to come from tight oil plays.

12 J. David Hughes, “Tight Oil: A Solution to U.S. Import Dependence?,” presentation to Geological Society of America, Denver, Colorado, October 28, 2013,https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2013AM/webprogram/Handout/Paper226205/HUGHES%20GSA%20Oct%2028%202013%20-%20Short.pdf.

13 J. David Hughes, Drill Baby Drill: Can Unconventional Fuels Usher in a New Era of Energy Abundance? (Santa Rosa, CA: Post Carbon Institute, 2013), http://shalebubble.org/drill-baby-drill/.

14 J. David Hughes estimates this could happen within 10-12 years in the Bakken and Eagle Ford; seehttps://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2013AM/webprogram/Handout/Paper226205/HUGHES%20GSA%20Oct%2028%202013%20-%20Short.pdf.

15 Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (Early Release), Table 14.

16 According to J. David Hughes, $450 billion in capital expenditures (capex) will be required to drill the wells needed for the Bakken and Eagle Ford alone by 2025. The Permian Basin will also make a notable contribution to the 9.61 mbd figure.

17 See especially Art Berman’s comments on capital expenditures in Arthur Berman, “Reflections on a Decade of U.S. Shale Plays,” presentation at Shreveport Geological Society, Louisiana, December 17, 2013. http://www.jeremyleggett.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/SGS_Reflections-on-A-Decade-of-U.S.-Shale-Plays_17-Dec-2013.pdf.

18 Per this widely cited report: University of Southern California, USC Price School of Public Policy, The Monterey Shale and California’s Economic Future, (March 2013),http://gen.usc.edu/assets/001/84955.pdf.

19 J. David Hughes, Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale, (Santa Rosa, CA: Post Carbon Institute, 2013), http://montereyoil.org/report.

21 It’s unlikely that a significant amount of “lost” American tight oil would be compensated with increased production elsewhere without higher oil prices, as few areas of the world are expecting significant oil production growth outside of North America.

22 In his book Snake Oil Richard Heinberg notes that “during the past dozen years the [EIA] had underestimated oil prices and overestimated oil production most of the time” based on the EIA’s own AEO Retrospective Review published March 2013.http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/retrospective/

Shale gas, peak oil and our future

Shale gas, peak oil and our future.

The following interview with Richard Heinberg was originally published in Flemish at the Belgian website De Wereld Morgen. The interview was given in conjunction with the release of the Dutch translation of Richard’s Book Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. The Dutch title is Schaliegas, piekolie & onze toekomst.

Selma Franssen: Considering the shale gas and oil reserves in Europe, is there any sense in fracking here, all other objections aside?
Richard Heinberg: Until test wells are drilled, it’s very difficult to know what the actual shale gas and oil production potential is for Europe. All sorts of numbers have been cited, but they are simply guesses. Back in 2011, the US Energy Information Administration estimated that Poland’s shale gas reserves were 187 trillion cubic feet, but a little on-the-ground exploration led the Polish Geological Institute to downgrade that figure to a mere 27 TCF—a number that may still be overly optimistic. My institute’s research suggests that US future production of shale oil and gas has been wildly over-estimated too. So, without attempting to put a specific number to it, I think it would be wise to assume that Europe’s actual reserves are much, much smaller than the drilling companies are saying. We do know that the geology in Europe is not as favorable as it is in some of the US formations, so even in cases where gas or oil is present, production potential may be low—that is, it may not be possible to get much of that resource out of the ground profitably. That being the case, governments should undertake a realistic cost-risk-benefit analysis using very conservative assumptions about likely production potential.
One argument often heard in Europe is that fracking companies have gained knowledge and experience from extraction in the US and will cause less pollution and leaks when they start operating in Europe. Is there such a thing as safe fracking?
The petroleum industry has certainly been trying to clean up its act, and it’s true that progress has been made in improving operational safety. However it’s also true that the industry has systematically hidden evidence of pollution, and of environmental and human health impacts. The industry has often claimed that there are no documented instances of such impacts, and that’s arrant nonsense. Where environmental and health harms are clear, the industry typically offers a cash payment to the parties affected, but that is tied to a non-disclosure agreement, so that no one else will ever find out what happened. The industry also points to studies showing low methane emissions and no groundwater contamination. These studies tend to describe operations where everything is working perfectly, with no mistakes or malfunctions. But of course in the real world well casings fail, equipment breaks, pipes leak, and operators cut corners or make simple human errors. Take a look at regions of the US where fracking is happening right now, presumably with state-of-the-art equipment: have all the bugs really been worked out? Evidently not, because there is still a steady stream of reports of bad water and bad air.
Are unconventional gas and oil, as ‘transition fuels’, buying us extra time in the face of peak oil, or actually halting investments in renewables?
Unconventional oil and gas require enormous financial investments. The petroleum industry as a whole has doubled its rate of investment in exploration and production in the past decade. That’s because companies have run out of conventional production prospects—onshore fields of oil or gas that is easy and cheap to extract. The trend is clear: if we continue increasing our dependence on oil and gas, the levels of required investment will grow exponentially. Where will the money come from to develop renewable energy sources? Available energy investment capital will all have been spoken for. This is not hypothetical: it is exactly what we see in the US. A few years ago, it was understood that the nation had to transition away from fossil fuels, and there was a nascent effort to divert energy investment capital away from coal, oil, and gas and toward the renewables sector. But as shale gas and tight oil came into view, that effort largely stalled as private investors piled onto the shale bubble and government renewable energy programs were sidelined. Once the brief current shale boom is over (well before the end of this decade), America will be in a fix—it will have lost a decade in which it could have pursued the energy transition vigorously and insulated itself against a fossil energy supply crisis that is inevitable and entirely predictable.
Josh Fox, director of the Gasland documentaries, recently said that the fossil fuel industry is so powerful that “democracy in the 21st century is impossible as long as we rely on fossil fuels”. What are your thoughts?
I think there is some sense to Fox’s comment, though I would have to add that there are plenty of other threats to democracy in this century. It’s true that the fossil fuel industry represents an enormous concentration of capital, and money is power. The industry buys political advantage, tax breaks, advertising, public relations, foreign policy, and more. But at a more basic level it controls all of society. That’s because everything we do requires energy. No exceptions. Fossil fuels supply roughly 85 percent of the energy we use, so whoever controls those energy sources exerts a subtle but very real influence on nearly everything that happens in society. That’s why America is a nation of highways, a country designed and built for the convenience of petroleum-fueled automobiles. If, hypothetically, the US had spent the last century getting most of its energy from sunlight, you can bet it would be a very different place today.
Is it possible that fracking has a silver lining to it, in the sense that it is highly visible, comes very close to home and causes a lot of debate among locals, engaging more people in the energy debate and raising awareness around peak oil and the need to transition to renewables?
Possibly so, especially in Europe. There are at least three important factors that might limit fracking socially and politically in the European context. First is the number of wells needed. Because production rates in shale gas and tight oil wells tend to decline very rapidly, petroleum companies have to drill many wells in order to keep overall production levels up. In the US, the current total is over 80,000 horizontal wells drilled and fracked. If Europe says yes to shale gas, prepare for an onslaught of drilling.
The second factor is population density: Europe, of course, has a much higher population density than the US. So taking these first two factors into account, Europeans face a significant likelihood of living in close proximity to one of these future shale gas or oil wells.
The third factor is the legal status of ownership of subsurface mineral rights. In most of the US, landowners control mineral rights; therefore if a company wants to drill on your land, it must obtain your agreement, pay you an initial fee, and also pay a subsequent royalty for the oil or gas actually extracted. (Gas and oil companies actually avoid paying royalties in many instances, but that’s another story.) As a result, citizens have a financial stake in resource extraction, and they therefore have an incentive to overlook or even help cover up environmental and health impacts from fracking. This is especially true in poor communities, where a little lease or royalty money can go a long way. In Europe, national governments control mineral rights. Therefore there is no incentive for local citizens to take the industry’s side if there are disputes over pollution. There has been a strong citizen backlash to fracking in the US; in Europe it is likely to be overwhelming.
The message ‘peakists’ bring, namely that the party’s over, as you put it, is not popular with corporate backed media, for obvious reasons. Is there a media blackout on peak oil?
There is no formal blackout, but there is indeed an informal one. Peak oil is one of the defining issues of our time, yet it is treated as if it were either an esoteric controversy among petroleum engineers, or a conspiracy theory. This much is axiomatic: fossil fuels are finite resources, and we are extracting them using the “best-first” principle. We have bet our future on the continued availability of cheap oil, gas, and coal, but that is quite obviously a very bad bet. So where are the in-depth television, radio, and newspaper discussions of this? Very few programs and articles appear. I think that’s partly because commercial media outlets depend on the fossil fuel industry for advertising, and partly because the peak oil message is threatening to people’s sense of social equilibrium—it makes them start to question the basic premises of consumerism, among other things.
In Snake Oil, you write that we must reduce our dependency on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Which steps should be taken in this ‘project of the century’ and on what time scale? 
We really need a wartime level of mobilization, prioritization, and implementation. Obviously, one of the priorities must be to build renewable energy generation capacity. But we must also completely rethink transportation, agriculture, and building construction/maintenance. This isn’t just about how we get energy; it is also about how we use it. We have built entire societies to take advantage of the unique properties of energy sources that have no future. For example, oil is energy-dense and portable, making it a perfect transport fuel. Without oil, we will not have an airline industry in any recognizable form. Altogether, society will be less mobile. That means we have to start thinking about how to re-localize production of food and other basic necessities. We also need to redesign our cities so that people do not need cars in order to live. These are enormous projects, and we must accomplish them by mid-century. There is absolutely no time to waste.
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