Friday, June 25, 2010

The End of the Fossil Fuel Era

We are witnessing the end of the fossil fuel era. As of yet few people are aware of the swift foot falls od doom, but it is comming and faster than anyone would believe. I will quickly present two witnesses to the doom of the fossil fuel era. First is the video "Gasland" from a recent PBS program. .Gasland reveals the technological bankruptcy of the natural gas industry, as it attempts to wrest natural gas from stubborn shale formations. Gasland reveals the extent that the natural gas industry has failed to control toxic pollutant byproducts of the fracking process, which it now uses to produce natural gas. Gasland producer Josh Fox states that hydraulic fracturing or fracking “was exempted by the Bush-Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005 from the United States’ basic environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Across the country, in states such as New York, and Pennsylvania, where drilling is slated to take place in the Delaware River Basin and New York City’s watershed in the Catskills, or in states where it is already occurring."

Fox adds "Natural gas companies have installed hundreds of thousands of rigs in 34 states, drilling into huge shale fields, tight sands or coal bed seams containing gas deposits trapped in the rock. Each well requires the use of fracking fluid – chemical cocktails consisting of 596 chemicals, including carcinogens and neurotoxins, as well as one to seven million gallons of water, which are infused with the chemicals.”.

Fox continued, “Considering there are approximately 450,000 wells in the U.S., Fox estimates that 40 trillion gallons of chemically infused water have been created by the drilling, much of it left seeping or injected into the ground.”

As bankrupt as the Natural gas technology is only exceeded by the moral bankrupcy of anti-nuclear environmental groups like Greenpease and the Sierra Club who are acting as cheerleader lobbyists for the natural gas industry. Anti-nuclear environmentalist Joe Romm did not flinch in the slightest, when he breathlessly announced
I asserted it now appears likely that, thanks to unconventional supplies, natural gas alone could meet a great deal of the Waxman-Markey CO2 target for 2020 — without requiring gobs of new power plants to be sited and built or thousands of miles of new transmission lines.
Environmental Guru Amory Lovins long has advocated natural gas fired micropower generators, claiming that they are cheaper than nuclear power plants. Lovins has never admitted that there are any bad environmental consequences to farking. The only explanation for why environmentalists would accept the carbon emissions of natural gas, and the environmental consequences of farking, is their ideologically driven opposition to nuclear power.

Here then is Josh Fox's Gasland:

Watch the full episode. See more NOW on PBS.

The unforlding environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is the second nail in the coffin of fossil fuels. As with natural gas, the easily tapped oil resources in the United States are tapped out. The remaining resources are reactively small fields, and deep underwater oil pools, that are exceedingly difficult to recover. It is the difficulty of that recovery which has lead us to the present situation, and it appears that things may well get a whole lot worse before they get better.

Hat tip to Jason of Pro-nuclear Democrat.


rks said...

I thought of a name for a political party: The Oil Addiction Rehab Party. Two policies: (1) electrification of transport, heating and everything else; (2) cheap electricity. Also we rename the Global Financial Crisis as the Oil Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms Crisis. The fact that renewables and other fossil fuels can never be cheap is the next thing, but you don't want to confuse people with too many new ideas at once.

jeremy bourreau said...

is jevon's paradox also applicable with internet bandwidth. It used to be the internet was solely used for email and stuff like that, but now we're downloading movies. However many new pipes are laid down, society just finds ways to use them up.

Am i making any sense?


Charles Barton said...

Jeremy, I suspect that there is a different rule at play for the internet. The growth of the ability of Fiber optic cable to carry increasing amounts of traffic,probably keeps pace with the growth of internet traffic.

DocForesight said...

@Charles -- Undoubtedly, the BP BOP malfunction, human error, corporate malfeasance, poor government regulation/oversight and response to the serious spill will have deleterious effects across a wide swath of life in the Gulf region.

But to say that "easily tapped oil resources ... are tapped out" may be less true since no one knows for certain what is available as many places in the USA have been deemed off-limits for exploration. We should be good stewards of all our resources, certainly, but to broadly declare the end of relatively easily-accessed crude may be an overstatement.

You're a numbers and perspective guy: what is the ratio of the oil spill to the entire Gulf water volume? I've seen it on another blog as 1 gallon oil:1.3B gallons water. Doesn't diminish the need to be vigilant and clean this mess up but does add perspective. No?

Charles Barton said...

doc, I can't believe that you have blamed the BP disaster on " poor government regulation/oversight". If there were "poor government regulation/oversight" exactly who was responsible? Is it not the political right, is it not the oilmans' Bush-Chaney administration who also turned the oil industry loose in the Gulf of Mexico ? Was it not the natural gas industry and there right wing political allies, who removed environmental protection constraints from the use of farking by the natural gas industry?

DocForesight said...

Charles, I think I clearly included a number of errors that brought this challenge to bear. Can you please identify the time frame for the letting of the leases and the drilling to commence; who has been in charge of Congress since Jan 2007 and would have oversight of the various agencies involved in our national energy programs?

And you didn't address my main point: the canard that easily accessed reserves have been "tapped out". I am not an apologist for Bush-Cheney and I hope you aren't one for Obama-Biden.

DocForesight said...

Charles, I watched the "Gasland" clip in its entirety. A couple observations: One, let's stipulate that PBS/NOW doesn't have a journalistic agenda, what are Josh Fox's scientific credentials that informs his contention regarding the "toxic chemical cocktail"? (I am not denying there may be a problem with them, just ascertaining some perspective).

Two, the techniques he employs would seem to closely mirror those of the anti-nukes like Wasserman. Chemical names are complicated to pronounce therefore they are dangerous. Does this remind you of the tritium scare at Vermont Yankee?

Is the answer to the fracking safety question better regulation and tighter oversight? I'm all for it.

Finally, if oil is bad and natural gas is equally so, what do we use for transportation fuel in the immediate future to replace them?

Always appreciate your informed thoughts.

Yogi said...

” We are witnessing the end of the fossil fuel era. “

I only wish you were right about that Charles, but I’m afraid some gas will be needed for electrical load balancing until cost-effective load following reactors like the LFTR become commercially available, and this could take several decades. Even then some form of liquid hydrocarbon fuel will still be needed for transport applications that cannot be converted to electric drive, and tar sands or coal-to-liquids are likely to make an increasing contribution to this as conventional oil production declines.

Anonymous said...

", the techniques he employs would seem to closely mirror those of the anti-nukes like Wasserman. Chemical names are complicated to pronounce therefore they are dangerous. Does this remind you of the tritium scare at Vermont Yankee?"

Hit the nail on the head. I don't think you will build up the nuclear case - rescuing it from a lecagy of unwarranted fear - by advertizing and boosting another example of such sloppy thinking. The main process is 'hydraulic fracturing' its no more complicated than it says - water is the main driver, applied at high pressure to crack rock. "chemical cocktail" the dnagerous stuff, if any, is already in the rocks (benzene etc), and can be managed. These structures are at depths and in geologic formations (tight rocks) that do not at all interact with water tables, etc. They ought not do anything to hurt water supplies, except to the extant that water used for this would take away from other uses. This all can be managed, and the upside is there is about $10 TRILLION worth of shale gas in the US, lower carbon footprint than oil or coal and enablesus to be 100% domestic in gas for many decades. Fearmongering about shale gas is no different than fearmongering about nuclear - take an ounce of risks/concerns, and blow it into a ton of fear. Let's not go there.

Anonymous said...

"the canard that easily accessed reserves have been "tapped out"."

If you add ANWR, offshore california, offshore elsewhere and land areas off-limits ... here in the US, we have put about 80 billion barrels of domestic oil and gas OFF LIMITS.

govt alone could make $1.7 trillion on it, increase production by several million barrels, and serve about 20 years of US consumption equivalent. If we opened up all these areas, it could replace many years of imports.

Charles Barton said...

1, significant questions have been raised about the environmental safety of fracking for natural gas. The natural gas industry, of course, hopes these questions will be ignored. I don't know with certainty hos serious the problems are, but concerns cannot and should not be dismissed.

Beyond that there are issues related to costs, and how long fracked gas supplies will last.

2. The industry makes big claims about how much oil they can find if the government permit them to look everywhere they want. Can this industry be trusted with deep off shore drilling? I don't think so. The issues from onshore drilling is not the existence of reserves, but the rate of return. It is quite clear that the oil production rate for the United States will never equal the current American demand for oil products. The issues then is the gap between an increasingly short supply of oil and the increasingly desperate and environmentally questionable measures a ruthless fossil fuel industry will take to feed that demand.

Anonymous said...

significant questions have been raised about the environmental safety of fracking for natural gas. The natural gas industry, of course, hopes these questions will be ignored. I don't know with certainty hos serious the problems are, but concerns cannot and should not be dismissed."

I agree on the concerns. Please dont misunderstand, I put out the other side of the issue to raise a flag that, like with nuclear, these are addressable concerns, not 'showstoppers' that should prevent shale gas production.

For example, if you read through the Scientific American article, it mentions some anecdotal cases of groundwater contamination, but you find out this is rare and 99% of wells drilled have no such issues, and only in those such anecdotal cases where there is an apparent issue they didnt line the borehole with cement, and if you do make that correction, it fixes such cases. So concerns can be addressed and mitigated, e.g., having a requirement that any borehole near groundwater MUST have cement casing to prevent contamination. this is not about trusting 'industry' since regulation of practices can be a part of it.

We see the same issues in nuclear civilian power. radiation is dangerous, but that doesnt make safe reactors impossible. We would both agree we MUST have containment vessels on reactors for example. But if we have them and other safe practices, why let fears stop building of nuclear plants? We should not let fearmongering prevent safe energy production; we should make necessary precautions and do it right. I think it is unwise to throw "desperate, "environmentally questionable" and "ruthless" around - there is nothing much different from a fossil fuel company or any other energy company - so that throws heat and not light on the situation.

2. On the claims of resources. There will be different estimates from different sources, usually depending on whether you are talking resources in toto for economically recoverable estimate - but this Govt EIA estimate is 18 billion unavailable, plus 77 TCF natural gas unavailable, in the lower 48 OCS (outer contintental shelf) alone, not counting close-in offshore, ANWR, and on-land.
The bottom-line is the same: A significant fraction of US oil and gas resources are currently off-limits to exploration due to legislation and regulation.

the rate of production domestically cannot meet our 20 million barrel a day use, but if we halved our oil use and doubled our oil production, we'd be free of oil imports. something to ponder.

Anonymous said...

1. I agree that concerns should not be 'dismissed'. My point was not about dismissing concerns, but also a caution not of overstate them in a way that fails to acknowledge that safe energy production is possible, just as with nuclear. Not about 'trusting' industry, since practices can and should be regulated.(eg most of contamination concerns are fixable with cement-lined boreholes; that may/should end up being a regulation put in place to address concerns).

Again, think of the analgoy to nuclear - dangerous substances that can be handled safely under certain circumstances. The 'concerns' should encourage good practices, but not prevent safe energy production.

2. There are different estimates. Here is a Govt estimate of the OCS (outercontintental shelf) resources not available due to govt limits: 18 billion barrels.
Add in ANWR, close-in offshore, on land, etc. and the bottom-line is: there are a lot of resources currently unavailable.

Shale gas estimates are pretty significant, ie several decades worth of US consumption of nat gas.


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