Since fracking began its boom period in the last decade, its supporters have promoted it as the answer to all of the U.S.'s energy issues. It would free us from dependence on foreign oil, they said, thereby strengthening national security. And in fact, the U.S. has become the world's largest exporter of fossil fuels, while prices at the gas pump have dropped steeply as fracked oil and gas production has exploded. States like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio have welcomed frackers to their shale deposits, even though others, such as New York and Maryland, have resisted the lure due to concerns about fracking's impacts on human health and the environment.
Fracking took off in the U.S. around 2009, but there are signs the boom could be ending. Image credit: EIA/Bloomberg
But could the gravy train be derailing? While production is still at record levels, there are signs that should worry any company or economy that is heavily invested in the fracking process.
Compared to conventional wells, fracked wells tend to be initially productive but taper off quickly and then are shut down as operators move to new locations. And that is starting to catch up with them.
"Production has to come down because rigs drilling for oil are down 57 percent this year,” James Williams, president of Arkansas-based energy consultancy WTRG Economics, told Bloomberg News. “Countering that is the fact that the rigs we’re still using are more efficient and drilling in areas where you get higher production. So that has delayed the decline.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), some of the largest shale deposits will see a downturn in their output, and very soon. Output will shrink 1.3 percent this month. Texas' Eagle Ford shale deposit will be pumping 49,000 barrels less a day in July, the EIA projects, while North Dakota's Bakken shale region will lose 29,000 barrels a day. Overall, the EIA is projected that fracking will fall by 93,000 barrels a day in July, the biggest drop since the onset of the boom in 2009.
Not only are existing wells less productive, but remaining shale gas and oil becomes progressively harder and more expensive to extract. In Montana, whose northeast corner sits over a section of the Bakken shale region, no major new drilling rig has opened since April for the first time since at least 2009. Meanwhile, OPEC has been playing a game of chicken with U.S. oil producers, refusing to cut its rate of production and driving plummeting prices. Even though drilling technology is improving, the lower prices make it less attractive to go after the harder-to-reach deposits, as the price per barrel has dropped below what's needed to make these expensive wells profitable.
In North Dakota and Texas, two states whose economies roared into overdrive due to fracking, layoffs have become epidemic, with tens of thousands of jobs disappearing in the last year. Drilling companies in North Dakota are ending the lavish perks they once offered to lure workers to the isolated region.
In January, the rig count in North Dakota reached the lowest level in five years with 157 compared to 189 a year earlier. According to CNN, MBI Energy Services CEO Jim Arthaud said, “My prediction is we’re down to 50 rigs by June.”
There were actually 82 active rigs as of this week, which is being touted as good news.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.