There is excitement and optimism about using improved hydraulic fracturing technology to stimulate natural gas production from shale rock formations that have been known for many years to contain methane. Until horizontal drilling and fracking technology became more available, that energy resource was considered to be inaccessible. In 2008, the U. S. Energy Information Agency (an arm of the Department of Energy), began reporting some shale gas reservoirs as “proven reserves” that “geological and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions”.
The improvements in extraction technology have helped to increase the quantity of proven reserves in the US by 22% since 2003; giving a total proven reserve number of 244 trillion cubic feet in 2008 for the United States. That is a rather modest reserve figure in a nation that consumes 20 trillion cubic feet per year. (Just in case math is not your strong suit, that is just a little bit more than 12 years at current consumption rates.)
A group called the Potential Gas Committee added reservoirs that are described as “probable, possible, and speculative reserves” to describe a total of slightly more than 2,000 trillion cubic feet of “available future supply” in a report released in the summer of 2009. That number represents a 39% increase over the amount reported in its 2006 report. The Potential Gas Committee report release was accompanied by a blitz of press reports, some of which were a cut and paste of the press releases put out by the natural gas industry.
A number of energy industry pundits (like Craig A. Severance, a man who has produced a number of reports declaring that nuclear energy is far too expensive to matter) seized on that reported increase in the amount of potentially accessible natural gas and declared that it was a game changer that provides a bridge to a future energy utopia powered by windmills and solar panels.
The drilling and extraction techniques that have made this “revolution” possible are creating fissures among the groups that traditionally support clean energy development. Some large groups that have been traditionally associated with efforts to protect the environment, like the national arm of the Sierra Club, are promoting the use of gas, even from fracked reservoirs, as a clean energy source that can help replace the need to burn coal.
Other energy observers, like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, are discovering that there are many aspects of fracking that deserve to be questioned and seem to include underreported hazards. Here is a video clip from the April 14, 2010 episode of Democracy Now in which Amy and Sharif Abdel Kouddous interview Dr. Theo Colburn, president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange.
I do not “get” why supposedly intelligent people are excited about increasing the use of a fuel that may run out within the lifetime of people who are already living today – even if we do not increase its rate of consumption. I especially do not understand the critical thinking skills of those people who severely criticize existing nuclear power plants for leaking small quantities of almost pure water containing tiny quantities of relatively benign tritium while supporting gas reservoir stimulation techniques that require injecting millions of gallons of water with tons of carcinogenic chemicals at high pressure deep into the earth.
Actually – I do “get it”. The coordinated endeavor to promote gas and discourage nuclear energy makes sense – in a twisted sort of way – if the actual goal is to put more money into the pockets of the people who own companies that explore, extract and deliver methane to be burned in massive quantities with the waste products dumped for free into the atmosphere.
If gas sales volume increases and prices increase as a result of the shift in the supply-demand curves, the end result is a nice improvement in corporate profits. Carefully placed contributions to groups with firmly established reputations as protectors of the environment provide a green washing cover to what is actually just a fairly standard search for monetary green. The return on investment would be pretty high – a $1 per thousand cubic feet increase in the price of natural gas yields a $20 billion annual increase in industry revenue.