How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future
By Tom Whipple
Richard Heinberg has been following and writing about peak oil for a long time. In the last decade, he has published 10 books on peak oil and related resource depletion topics as well as given some 500 lectures warning about the hard times ahead. The subtitle of his recent book, “How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future” captures the theme of Snake Oil in a lucid phrase. This is an angry book, for it is intended as a rejoinder to the avalanche of half-truths and optimistic estimates concerning the future of our energy resources which have filled our media in the last few years.
As the evidence accumulates that man is destroying the atmosphere by ever-increasing carbon emissions and bankrupting his economic systems by continued reliance on increasingly expensive oil, realistic appraisals of our true energy situation are being lost. In recent years, numerous institutions that should know better, major universities and widely respected publications have joined the chorus talking about “energy independence for America” and a century of oil and gas just waiting to be tapped.
Snake Oil starts with a review of the fundamentals that most “peakists” have come to understand and accept. Peak oil is about the rate of supply, not estimated size of underground resources. There is a lot of oil and gas still in the ground, but only a small percentage will ever be extracted at prices people can afford to pay. Production from existing oil fields is declining by 4-5 percent annually and demand is increasing by about a million barrels per day (b/d) each year. To keep the lid on costs, the world will have to come up with 5 million b/d of new oil production each year for the foreseeable future.
It takes energy to produce energy, so when you spend more than you get back it is time to quit extracting. As the Middle East gets hotter, both physically and politically, oil exporters are consuming an increasing share of their own production to keep their people cool and off the streets. These and other underlying realities are largely ignored by those enamored with recent (admittedly impressive) gains in U.S. oil production and optimistic talk of billions and sometimes trillions of barrels of oil waiting to be produced.
Heinberg acknowledges that the fracking boom has produced some spectacular numbers, with U.S. oil production increasing by 766,000 barrels b/d in 2012 and likely to do about the same this year if current trends continue. The problem, of course, comes from projecting this spectacular growth into the more distant future. There are simply too many factors, especially rapid decline rates and lower initial production rates, as the best drilling locations are used up.
The heart of Snake Oil is directed at countering the optimistic projections for production of oil and gas by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracked oil and gas production is simply another, albeit expensive, resource that will climb to a peak and then deplete away just like all the others.
Using the work done by two independent geologists—Arthur Berman of Texas and David Hughes of Canada, who have extensively analyzed the production of fracked oil wells across the U.S.—Heinberg and his associates conclude that “shale gas and oil wells have proven to deplete quickly, the best fields have already been tapped, and no major new field discoveries are expected; thus with average per-well productivity declining and ever-more wells (and fields) required simply to maintain production, an 'exploration treadmill' limits the long-term potential of shale resources.”
With per-well production decline rates of between 81 and 90 percent in the first 24 months, wells must be constantly replaced by new ones just to keep production flat. The higher production gets, the more new replacement wells have to be drilled. Before the end of the decade, this bubble will collapse on its own accord and fracked oil and gas production will begin dropping. As usual there are disputes as to just when this downturn will begin, but the best available analysis suggest that four or five years from now will be the time period when fracked oil peaks in the U.S. and a few years later for gas.
The analysis shows that decades of abundant fracked oil and gas production is simply not in the cards that we see today.
An interesting chapter in the book deals with just who has benefitted from the shale boom. Although thousands of jobs have been created and some landowners have profited handsomely from lending their property for drilling, local governments have yet to fully comprehend the damage that boom towns have done to their communities and that heavy trucks have done to their roads. Service companies that sell equipment performing the actual fracking have done well. The drillers, including large ones such as ExxonMobil, who assume the ultimate risk, have been losing money on natural gas and only some are making money on oil due to the high prices.
Heinberg concludes that the real winners, however, are the investment banks that have earned huge fees for raising the money that has fueled the boom.
The book is clearly a contribution to the literature of peak oil, for it updates recent developments and does an effective job in separating reality from the hype of the financial media.
Heinberg leave us with two somewhat contradictory thoughts:
- Hydrocarbons are so abundant that, if we burn a substantial portion of them, we risk a climate catastrophe beyond imagining.
- There aren’t enough economically accessible, high-quality hydrocarbons to maintain world economic growth for much longer.
Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future is published by Post Carbon Institute.
Originally posted at Falls Church News-Press.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
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Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
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