Tuesday, January 31, 2012


About six years ago, a film maker friend and I were chatting in the locker room after our workouts, and I asked him what he was working on. He said he was doing a piece on the new gas play that was happening in Fort Worth. He was pretty excited about it. He was being paid by a promoter to tell the story about the exciting future about shale gas...how it was going to change the energy landscape big time. He was working for the CEO of Chesapeake, now the second larger producer of natural gas in the US.

He threw out some numbers and they were impressive. Being an energy geek, I listened with a half believing ear. Later, my film director friend sent me the link to his film. His piece was a glowing puff piece of the future of shale gas. However, as I began to look at the claims of the reserves that were going to be opened up with this new technique, I realized that natural gas, the prince of carbon fuels, the perfect transition fuel for moving beyond carbon was about to be in more plentiful supply than was generally understood in a lot of energy planning circles.

It would be soon known as the shale gas revolution.

And indeed, as more fields were brought in, the decline in natural gas production has been reversed ever so slightly. And imports of natural gas have declined slightly. More importantly, the price of natural gas has plummeted from highs of 12 dollars/ MCF to lows in the $2.25 range.

All is good. The Barnett, Haynesville, Bossier, Marcellus and Pearsall natural gas shale plays are going to save us. Then, about three years ago, I saw an early cut from another film about this new shale play. And it showed the shadow side of shale gas. The movie was called Gasland. And it showed credible evidence that the toxic liquids used in the fracking process used to open up this shale was migrating into our water supplies.

Horizontal hydrofracking is a means of tapping shale deposits containing natural gas that were previously inaccessible by conventional drilling. Vertical hydrofracking is used to extend the life of an existing well once its productivity starts to run out, sort of a last resort. Horizontal fracking differs in that it uses a mixture of 596 chemicals, many of them proprietary, and millions of gallons of water per frack. This water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and disposed of.

In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.

This week, the producer/ director of Gasland was arrested in a "R" controlled subcommittee for trying to film a public hearing on the issues that his award winning documentary has stirred up.

Yes, arrested.

This coming kerfuffle between cheap fuel and safe water has gained the interest of many a policy maker who are concerned about humanity and its march into the abyss.

"World class scientists and researchers have been pointing out the dramatic consequences of climate change.

In an excellent documentary film by French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand, entitled Home, and filmed in collaboration with prestigious and well-informed international celebrities, published in mid-2009, he warns the world with irrefutable data about what is happening. Using solid arguments, he shows the deadly consequences of consuming, in less than two centuries, the energy resources created by nature in hundreds of millions of years; but the worst of it is not the colossal squandering, but the suicidal consequences for the human species.

Referring to the very existence of life, he admonishes the human species: “…You benefit from a fabulous legacy of 4,000 million years supplied by the Earth. You are only 200,000 years old but you have changed the face of the world.”

The writer continues:

“Professors Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell University in the US have concluded that this hydrocarbon (shale gas) is a greater pollutant than oil and gas, according to the study ‘Methane and the traces of greenhouse effect gases from natural gas coming from shale formations’ published in April last year in the Climatic Change review.

“‘Carbon trace is greater than that from conventional gas or oil, seen on any time horizon, but particularly within the lapse of 20 years. Compared to carbon, it is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than double in 20 years’, the report underlined.” (clip)

“These indicators put into question the industry argument that shale could replace carbon in generating electricity and, therefore be a resource for mitigating climate change.

“‘It is an adventure that is far too premature and risky’.”

And this guy knows risky.

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