TransitionKW Movie Nights are back and on September 25 (7 pm) we’ll be hosting our first movie, GASLAND, at REEP House for Sustainable Living (20 Mill St., Kitchener). As always, you should register in advance at Eventbrite because space is limited. The cost is free but donations are welcome 😉
GASLAND is an excellent documentary about the impact of a natural gas drilling technique, called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, on some villages in United States. The film was written and filmed by Josh Fox and released in 2010. If you are interested to learn about the not so brilliant side of fracking, you shouldn’t miss this movie.
And now that we’re on topic, maybe you want to hear my 5 reasons on why fracking is not going to save the day.
Reason #1 – Net energy gain is reeeally low
Fracking is a mechanical process based on the use of huge amounts of pressurized fluid (water + sand + chemicals) to fracture the rocks and extract unconventional resources such as shale gas or tight oil. It is usually used in combination with horizontal drilling, which is also a very energy consuming process.
Although shale gas’s EROEI, the energy returned on energy invested ratio, has not been seriously studied, it must be pretty low given that the costs of production are about 8 times higher than those of conventional natural gas in Russia (source The Oil Crash). If we take into account that EROEI of Russian conventional gas is around 20:1, it can be estimated that EROEI of shale gas in United States is around 2:1 and 3:1, and could be even lower than 1, which means that the energy expended is higher than the energy obtained. If that sounds crazy… well, it is!
For comparative purposes, EROEI of crude oil is around 30:1 (Source – Wikipedia)
Reason #2 – It won’t last long
It’s not only that the productivity of these unconventional wells is quite low, but also the production declines very fast. In fact, up to 80% of all gas obtained during the life of a non-conventional gas well is usually produced during the first year. Decline of production is so fast that it is necessary to continuously drill new wells in order to replace those that go dry. An article in The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed (June 2013) gives some insights on shale gas decline rates and its implications on economic viability.
Reason #3 – It’s the economy!
As per the two reasons mentioned above – low net energy gain and fast decline – fracking is an expensive technique that does not seem to be very profitable either. Take a look at the following article published last year in The New York Times “After the Boom in Natural Gas”. According to this article, a chief executive of Exxon Mobil said “We are all losing our shirts today” and “We’re making no money. It’s all in red.” But if you still have some doubts, just take a look at another article published in Forbes “Industry Insiders Call Shale Gas a Ponzi Scheme, Invoke Enron — NYT Report”
Reason #4 – Gas is not oil
Yeah, sorry to point out the obvious. According to the US Energy Information Administration Annual Outlook, main uses of natural gas are electrical generation (around 25%), residential heating (25%), industrial uses (30%) and commercial uses (15%). But we need oil, not natural gas, as the world passed peak oil in 2006. Natural gas could potentially substitute oil in some specific applications (it could be used instead of gas in car engines if these were adapted) but the required investment of money would be so incredibly high that it’s quite clear that it’s just not gonna happen.
Reason #5 – It’s such a contaminant
Where to begin? Leaks of methane, use of vast amounts of water and land, employment of hazardous mixtures of chemicals, contamination of soils and aquifers, induction of microseisms… Hey, you should see GASLAND the movie! Hope to see you all at REEP HOUSE on Wednesday 25th
Main technical ideas about fracking of this post have been obtained from the excellent “The Oil Crash” blog by Antonio Turiel (in Spanish, sorry!), but if you are interested in fracking you may also read “Well and Truly Fracked” in The Archdruid Report blog by John Michael Greer and Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future by Richard Heinberg.