Groundbreaking Reports Show Fracking is a Risky Short-Term Bubble
Energy Policy Forum and Post Carbon Institute have released two groundbreaking reports that belie energy industry claims of U.S. energy independence as a result of newly accessible shale gas and shale (tight) oil.
The report findings are based on an unprecedented analysis of more than 60,000 U.S. shale oil and gas wells and an investigation of the role of Wall Street investment banks in the explosive growth of fracking for natural gas.
Drill Baby Drill: Can Unconventional Fuels Usher in a New Era of Energy Independence? by J. David Hughes takes a critical look at the prospects for shale gas, shale/tight oil and other unconventional fuels.
Shale & Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Orchestrated? by Deborah Rogers uncovers the role of Wall Street investment banks in inflating the natural gas bubble to their advantage.
"The main point for me is that the investment bankers heavily promoted shale and put pressure on the companies to meet production targets," said Rogers. "This in turn helped create a glut in the market as we didn't have demand in place. Prices then plunged which opened the door for large transactional fees for the banks. It is highly unlikely that market savvy bankers didn't recognize such an opportunity very early on. In fact, I think they created it.
"Exporting is a last ditch effort to shore up a failing balance sheet. Exportation will drive the price higher in the U.S. There's no doubt about it. The question is how high will it go. When you are producing a commodity and have produced it to such a high extent, you want to find someone who will buy it, and in this case, it will be the Asians.
"The irony of this is that we used to exploit other areas of the globe to provide energy security for the U.S. and now the U.S. is being exploited to provide energy security to Asia."
Together, the independent reports reassess current common wisdom about the tight oil and shale gas booms that are sweeping America. The reports comprise a thorough and up-to-date analysis of data on U.S. oil and gas wells, and a comprehensive review of the financial status of the companies leading the charge.
What emerges from the data:
- Overall field decline rates are so steep that 30-50 percent of shale gas production and 40 percent of shale oil production must be replaced annually to offset declines.
- High productivity shale plays are not ubiquitous. Just six plays account for 88 percent of shale gas production and two plays account for 80 percent of shale oil production. Furthermore the most productive areas constitute relatively small sweet spots within these plays.
- Maintaining production requires high rates of high-cost drilling—8,600 new wells annually for shale gas and oil. This will increase as sweet spots are drilled off.
- High drilling rates require extremely high rates of investment—$48 billion a year to maintain shale gas and oil production considering drilling costs alone—much more if full cycle costs are included. These costs will increase dramatically as plays age.
- Wall Street promoted the shale gas drilling frenzy, which resulted in prices lower than the cost of production and thereby profited [enormously] from mergers & acquisitions and other transactional fees.
- Shale gas has become one of the largest profit centers in some investment banks, in direct parallel with the decline of natural gas prices.
- Due to extreme levels of debt, stated proved undeveloped reserves (PUDs) may have been out of compliance with SEC rules at some shale companies because of the threat of collateral default for some operators.
Hughes and Rogers suggest the fracking boom may be a costly, risky, short-term “fix” for America’s long-term dependency on depleting oil and gas. Rather than offering the nation a century of cheap energy and economic prosperity, fracking may instead present us with a short-term bubble that comes with exceeding high economic and environmental costs.
For more information visit the new Shale Bubble website.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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