Fracking the Future

by Solarevolution June 28, 2011 04:14

Based on a series of articles in the New York Times, the headlines and blogs this week are asking, "Is Shale Gas A Ponzi Scheme?"

The author questions the long-term reality of shale gas production and especially the financial underpinnings. Critics charge that the articles were poorly written or that the author has an agenda. Both sides are dancing around, talking about prices and debating the facts about reserves. Activists are rightfully worried about the environmental impacts of the new method of "fracking" (fracturing) shale formations to extract natural gas.

But neither side is asking the fundamental question:

What are we going to do when we run out of tricks to extract more fossil fuels?!

We are fracking our future.

Is there anyone out there who cares about our children?

Someone out there cares about being maligned by the press: Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy -- a company which was taken to task in the New York Times article. He offered these assurances to his employees and encouraged them to forward his message to the world:

In summary, you work for a great company and a great industry that is changing our country (and someday our world), much for the better. ... Again, thank you for all your hard work in building our company and in delivering to all Americans a brighter future through more affordable energy, more American energy, more clean energy and more job and wealth creation. ... we will now re-double our efforts to educate as many people as possible so that they may know the truth from us rather than distortions and dishonesty from others.
We hope that every Chesapeake employee can be part of our public education outreach.  ... You can do this by talking to your families, friends and others ... about the kind of company you work for and the integrity of what we do every day for our shareholders, our communities, our states, our nation, our economy and our environment. ..

Everyone, in other words, except the unborn. At one point, burning fossil fuels was arguably a rational thing to do. But we've passed the point of diminishing returns. Aubrey McCLendon thinks that burning our furniture to keep warm over the winter is wealth creation. He has company. I saw this in a discussion group:

"I disagree that we are foisting any challenges on future generations ....
A couple paragraphs later the same author wrote...
"I do not envision any ... disruptions for at least a century. Perhaps even two or three. By then, I think we can trust our great-grandchildren to have solved these problems.

I wouldn't know how to make this up. He didn't even see the irony: "Trusting" our great-grandchildren to meet their needs without the benefit of oil [plastics...], natural gas [fertilizer, glass...] or coal [steel, cement...].No, kids, that's right. We burned it all up! Just google "solve these problems" and you will find everything you need to rebuild the depleted world we left for you.

Our society's challenges extend beyond finding cheap and abundant sources of natural gas to make fertilizer and keep the lights on. The critical shift we need is to build awareness, to invest in our children's future by finding a pathway to energy self-reliance, not by extracting more of a finite resource.

It can be called intergenerational equity. Big words, simple Boy Scout concept: Leave the campground better than you found it. (Don't burn the picnic tables!)

Noche Triste for Black Gold

by Solarevolution June 20, 2011 14:29
A reader recently commented...
Consumers and businesses will not abandon $30 trillion in rolling stock and infrastructure tied to petroleum/liquid fuels that provide the energy for 97% of transportation worldwide. How could they?

Hold that thought...

In his stunning, brilliant chronicle of the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, William Prescott tells of the "Noche Triste" (Sad/Melancholy Night) when the Spaniards and their native allies escaped the Aztec palace shortly after the death of Montezuma.

Montezuma had been mortally wounded by his own people who were disgusted by his traitorous complicity with the Spanish enemy. His death undid the cover provided by a political hostage, and a hasty retreat was staged at midnight on June 30, 1520. Scrambling to prepare their escape, Cortés offered treasures to his men, many of whom stuffed their pockets with gold and jewels to improve their lot when they returned to Spain.

 Built on an island in the middle of the grand shallow lake where Mexico City now stands, the palace was connected to the shore by eight causeways, the favored of which had three breaches to cross (where bridges had been destroyed by the Aztecs). Deciding to reuse only one portable bridge for these three crossings proved to be a tragic mistake when, after the army had crossed it, the bridge could not be dislodged from its first moorings. Prescott describes the struggle to cross the third and last breach as the army was beset by those defending their homeland:

"Those fared best, as the general had predicted, who travelled lightest; and many were the unfortunate wretches, who, weighted down by the fatal gold which they loved so well, were buried with it in the salt flats of the lake."

... and now, let's get back to the question at hand...

My reader may be right, that many people won't be able to abandon their black gold. If that's so, then one's point of view may make all the difference between thriving and despair.

Peak oil is a juggernaut that answers to no one. The desires and opinions of consumers and businesses will have no weight when the oil is gone. They will be forced to abandon that $30 trillion of then worthless rolling stock and infrastructure if they wait till Mother Nature shuts down the gas pumps.

When they are heading for the rocks, sailors jettison their cargo -- simply to survive. As the oil economy declines, those who would cling to their black gold may be pulled down with it. Those who jettison the tempting shiny substance in favor of living lightly on the earth with the new artifacts of the solar age will be free to move forward without impediment.

It seems like an easy choice for those who have shifted their point of view from fear (holding onto what we already have for dear life) to hope, investing in solar technology that will survive the decline of oil.

Trying to preserve the automobile with its freeways and fuel tanks will inadvertently hasten our economy's decline. In the next few years we will either spend another $30 trillion more just to operate and maintain our ill-fated oil-based monstrosity -- most of it leaving our economy to support unfriendly regimes -- or we will spend a "mere" $10 trillion building a post-automobile transportation system -- boosting our own economy -- designed to operate henceforth sustainably with solar energy already bought and paid for, without fuel, for the long term.

Hybrid vehicles won't get us there. Electric vehicles won't get us there. Flex fuels won't get us there. Grasping at straws (biofuels) won't get us there.

We still has the opportunity to encourage innovation and call upon American ingenuity to meet new standards of excellence: Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI, say, higher than 10) and performance standards (for example, "more than 150 miles per gallon equivalent"). Those who read the writing on the wall and work together to find new approaches still have a fighting chance!

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