The Irrational Exuberance of Fracking

August 30, 2012

Post Carbon Institute:

In recent months we’ve seen a spate of assertions that peak oil is a worry of the past thanks to so-called “new technologies” that can tap massive amounts of previously inaccessible stores of “unconventional” oil. “Don’t worry, drive on,” we’re told.

We can fall for the oil industry hype and keep ourselves chained to a resource that’s depleting and comes with ever increasing economic and environmental costs, or we can recognize that the days of cheap and abundant oil (not to mention coal and natural gas) are over.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media and politicians on both sides of the aisle are parroting the hype, claiming — in Obama’s case — that unconventional oil can play a key role in an “all of the above” energy strategy and — in Romney’s — that increased production of tight oil and tar sands can make North America energy independent by the end of his second term.

Below, Post Carbon  Institute President Debbie Cook debates energy with an energy company front man.


23 Responses to “The Irrational Exuberance of Fracking”

  1. uknowispeaksense Says:

    Debbie Cook : the voice of reason and logic
    The oil guy: fracked in the head.

  2. Just look at the numbers involved when talking about the tar sands, Bakken, and in all untapped offshore sites – then compare them to conventional source depletion rates. Don’t look at reserve estimates (which are just guesses in the end, can be highly biased, and include extremely hard-to-produce sources), look at the estimated daily production for each source and compare it to U.S. and world usage, then subtract the roughly 3-6% conventional oil that will go offline year after year.

    Really, the only hope for a few extra years before we hit the downslope of the peak is that Saudi Arabia has an ace up its sleeve. And with the reports of them pumping huge amounts of seawater into their fields to just maintain production, that doesn’t look good.

    This is the great conundrum of our time, because most optimistic technological fixes to our energy problems are based on a continously growing economy providing the capital to develop and build these technologies. With the rising cost of oil (which will shoot up when the downslope begins), our economy has no hope of maintaining the growth that props up a debt-based monetary system. It’s a big house of cards.

    The sources like the Bakken and the tar sands are the last gasp. They’re the only things keeping us on the plateau of production for this long, and they won’t hold off the conventional depletion rates much longer. But people look at those and think – look, technology is saving us, and the economists were right.

    They’re only right until they’re wrong (and then they’ll be horribly wrong), and nothing I’ve seen supports the notion that we can be optimistic on this matter. And all of this ignores the massive pollution and increased greenhouse gas from unconventional oil.

  3. Generally a good exchange of views, although it frustrates me that the head of the Post Carbon Institute doesn’t mention the dangers of climate change.

    Also, about the jobs question, I think there’s good economic data showing that investments in green energy produce up to 3x more jobs than investments in carbon-based jobs.

    One other thing. Although I agree with Cook that Rohrbacher is a total loon, when she mentioned that one of his crazy ideas was mining energy on the moon, I have to say, she may have been offbase.

    I live in Houston, and a NASA scientist named David Criswell here has been long advocating the installation of solar power generation stations on the moon which can be transmitted via microwave to power stations on earth. I’ve read some of his material and sat through half of a presentation of his, and the idea seems workable and worthwhile — though I’m not sure how it compares to other plans. But it’s definitely worth throwing a little grant money at. (Here’s an intro and here’s an article about a Japanese effort to do this

    I suspect that Rohrenbacher (like our Houston congressmen) represent districts with lots of NASA grant money which has been evaporating, so it’s not surprising that certain politicians would get behind it. At the same time, with Marc Jacobsen already throwing out credible plans using known technologies, it may be foolish to spend money on unproved technologies.

  4. Nick Carter Says:

    “You know you’re in the bottom of the 9th when you gotta schlepp two tons of sand to get a barrel of oil”…..Jeff Rubin

  5. Right — the tar sands bitumen is *proof* that we have passed peak oil.


    • sailrick Says:

      It’s not just the tar sands.

      Most of the low hanging fruit of fossil fuels has been picked. Now we drill oil in the most dangerous and expensive places, like deep water and the Arctic.

      Imagine an oil gusher, like BP had in the Gulf of Mexico, happening in the winter in the Arctic Sea under ice. Dark 24 hours a day. In one of the most remote places on the planet.

      Because the water is colder, organisms that help by eating up the oil, like in the Gulf, could not be depended on. This is an extremely sensitive ecosystem that is already under pressure from global warming, with the Arctic warming at 2-3 times as much as the rest of the globe.

      Mountain top removal for coal.
      Over seven hundred mountains in Appalachia have had their tops removed. The rubble is bulldozed into adjoining valleys, and has ruined hundreds of streams.

      Tar sands oil. – The Alberta Tar Sands have been called the most destructive project on Earth.

      Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas that is probably endangering the nations fresh water supplies like aquifers. And can cause earthquakes, which was just proven.

      Importing oil from countries we don’t get along with- and fighting wars over oil.

      All of this is much more risky for the environment, and mostly more expensive, than the easy picking we have gotten used to. Cheap oil and cheap coal are myths.

  6. Someone should have asked the oil exec where a Saudi Arabia worth of oil was going to come from in the next 50 years to supply the projected doubling of demand.
    If oil is so plentiful, why do they have to do deep water drilling in the Arctic or crush tons of rock to get it from tar sands instead of drilling on land and letting it flow out under its own pressure?

  7. sailrick Says:

    Peak Energy has a recent article on peak oil.

    “Peak cheap oil is an incontrovertible fact”

  8. sailrick Says:

    The ironic thing about the “drill baby drill” meme is that they prefer using up all America’s oil, what little there is compared with our (U.S.) share of the world oil consumption, right away!
    When you have a few percent of know world oil reserves, and consume 20% of world oil supply, how far do people think that will get them?

    Then what? What do you make all the synthetic materials that we have grown to depend on, like chemicals, paints, medicine, plastics, textile fibers, lubricants, tires, etc.?

  9. Just look at the decline rated for fracked wells, we are truly sucking at the dregs. You cannot use decline rates for conventional production when you are using the latest technology from the start and prior to the peak.

    Multilateral multi nipple extraction in Ayn Dar, the best bit of Ghawar, sort of says they are sucking a thin band of oil from on top of the water. Again decline will be very swift.

    Just just look how fast Cantarell went down. It was second only to Ghawar.

    So people who quote 2% decline rates for fracked, ultra deep and wells that use 3rd generation extractive techniques prior to peak are not in the real world.

  10. otter17 Says:

    We are going to need some leaders with fortitude and a bit of luck to get through peak oil.

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