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Fracking the facts
December 21, 2012 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Described as the path to a new golden age of energy, hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking' is marketed as an economical, safe, and environmentally sustainable method. An investigation by the NY Times may suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, people throughout the country are faced with the prospect of drilling in their back yards. What are small communities to do? Ask the BLM to withdraw the leasing or perhaps just be ignored. Maybe its time to map the fight.
posted by occidental (79 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
You can light your fracking tap water on fire!
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:13 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Fracking turns out to truly be as bad as it seems to be...

North Dakota's going to have a bad time.
posted by Windopaene at 9:18 AM on December 21, 2012


Christian Science Monitor: The one chart about oil's future everyone should see (via: The Oil Drum)
posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:25 AM on December 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Great Two part series on this published recently by oilprice.com (industry blog):

Chris Martenson

Part 1: Don't Fall for the Shale Boom Hype - Chris Martenson Interview
Now, to illustrate this, imagine we just found a trillion barrels 40,000 feet down. Yeah, that would awesome, right? No more peak oil, at least for a long time, right? Well, what if due to technological considerations, we could only get a few wells installed, and the max flow rate we could get from that reservoir was 100,000 barrels per day. Oh, that's it? Well, that's nice, but it doesn't really help the overall situation, where we're experiencing roughly 4,000,000 barrels per day,per year declines in existing conventional crude oil fields. That is, reservoir size and flow rates were well-correlated several decades ago, because the stuff just flowed out of the ground so easily, but now that we have to drill tens of thousands of feet to achieve a single well flow rate on the order of 100 barrels per day/per well in the shale plays, or we even have to scoop up tarry sand in giant machines and then power wash the bitumen off of it, oil just don't quite flow quite like it used to.

There's a new relationship between reserves and flow rates, and it's a fraction of the old rate. And it's an entirely new world, and this has been missed by the less insightful analysts and commentators out there. I am optimistic about the new reserves and flows but not because I happen to think they allow us to forget about the challenges and snap back to 'how things used to be.' We're in a new regime of higher oil prices and that alone sets today well apart from the past.
Part 2: Conservation Not Technology will be our Saviour - Chris Martenson
We don't need any new technologies, we have everything we need right here on the shelf now to begin living a very different life. It begins with, I believe, the most fundamentally important thing we can do, conservation, at this stage.

If you look at a nighttime satellite photo, you can see that there are probably a few lights we could turn off and save a bit of electricity. There's technology on the shelf right now enabling homes, either residential or commercial buildings, to be built that use a fraction of the energy they currently use, just by tilting them south and putting windows on the right side and ventilating them. Very simple things like that that can be done. All we have to do is decide that we're going to use them, and that's missing still.

So, yes, I am very optimistic about technologies and processes and understandings that already exist. The mystery to me is why they are not being deployed. They make complete sense from economic, political, national security, ecological and social justice standpoints yet we don't use them at scale. That's not a technology problem, that's a narrative problem. Another way of saying that is I am very optimistic about technology but decidedly less optimistic that we will use it intelligently and rationally.
posted by notyou at 9:27 AM on December 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


I spend an aweful lot of time driving around West Virginia and just have to snicker at the blind irony every time I see the billboards blaming the "death of coal" on the Obama, Manchin, and other Democrats, lining roads that were recently upgraded to allow better access for fracking equipment.

Edit: I should add - recently upgraded using stimulus money!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:28 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If only someone were, like, BEAMING energy down onto our planet on a daily basis.

Oh well, back to poisoning everything.
posted by DU at 9:28 AM on December 21, 2012 [42 favorites]


The long-term impacts of fracking wells that are no longer in use - these wells must be sealed up forever to prevent contamination of the groundwater. But most closed-up wells are only viable for 20-30 years. You think that lighting your water on fire is bad now, just wait another 40 years when your kids are grown and there isn't such thing as an 'uncontaminated water table.' This issue will plague mankind until we Find Another Earth.

What happens when fresh clean water becomes more valuable than gold? Think about who will control it (the 1%) and who will suffer (the 99%).

Fresh clean water used to be everywhere, now it is almost nowhere. The effect of not having fresh clean water is already impacting us in severe ways.

I am 100% against fracking.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:30 AM on December 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


Come on DU it's not like energy just grows on trees or blows in the wind or something!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:31 AM on December 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


From Popular Mechanics:

But the idea stressed by fracking critics that deep-injected fluids will migrate into groundwater is mostly false. Basic geology prevents such contamination from starting below ground. A fracture caused by the drilling process would have to extend through the several thousand feet of rock that separate deep shale gas deposits from freshwater aquifers. According to geologist Gary Lash of the State University of New York at Fredonia, the intervening layers of rock have distinct mechanical properties that would prevent the fissures from expanding a mile or more toward the surface. It would be like stacking a dozen bricks on top of each other, he says, and expecting a crack in the bottom brick to extend all the way to the top one. What's more, the fracking fluid itself, thickened with additives, is too dense to ascend upward through such a channel.

Seems like there's an enormous amount of fearmongering on this.
posted by shivohum at 9:38 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even if it was 100% clean, global warming demands we scale down and eventually eliminate the burning of fossil fuels.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:41 AM on December 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Shivohum, your linked article goes on to illustrate a tried and trued method of groundwater contamination.

"At the blender, fracking chemicals and proppant—particulates like sand that hold open fractures in the shale—are added to pure or recycled water from fluid storage tanks. This slurry is transferred through the manifold to pumpers, which boost the pressure. The manifold then directs it into a high-pressure line leading to the well. When the liquid returns to the surface after fracking, it’s stored in a lined wastewater pond for treatment or recycling. Multiply each truck in this model by 10 and the storage tanks by 50 and you begin to approach the scale of a natural gas operation."
posted by occidental at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look, it doesn't matter if fracking is "safe" for drinking water. Sure, it might be, if you trust greed-driven enterprises to do the right thing. I mean, after all, we know companies like BP would never cut corners to increase profits at the expense of the taxpayers and the planet, right?

But, aside from that: by 2100 we will have created civilization-ending changes in the atmosphere by consuming fracking's product. We'll be dead, but our elderly kids and middle-aged grandkids will be struggling to breath and find food.

By all means, consider this to be "fearmongering". I'm a scientist, looking at science, and I see catastrophe ahead.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:47 AM on December 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


struggling to wrap my head around concept of water that's...on fire...
posted by supermedusa at 9:57 AM on December 21, 2012


Harvard researchers Michael McElroy and Xi Lu on the Fracking's Future.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:57 AM on December 21, 2012


Even if fracking were safe, tearing up the planet to get at more fossil fuels is the wrong direction to travel. I'm sure we could find more oil and gas in a lot of places but at what point do we stop fucking around and admit that we can't do this AND have a pleasant, clean environment to inhabit.
We've gotta make that transition to a reasonable energy source at some point. And yeah, maybe that includes not using so much energy. Until then we're just kicking the can down the road and refusing to grow up.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:59 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


As ever your moral compass: Pete Seeger sings out against fracking.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:09 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live in a rural area long affected by strip mining and shallow gas and oil well drilling. Both destroy drinking water aquifers. (Shallow gas wells damage water tables as much as if not more than the generally-deeper shale gas wells).

Rural folks have always depended on private water wells, but with the water tables now full of iron, acid and other contaminants, private wells require extensive treatment or are simply unusable.

A multinational corporation now supplies water to a large portion of our population. Commercial water service costs more in rural areas because of the small number of customers along each mile of water line, but folks are resigned to paying the high prices because they have little choice. The environmental protection agency seems to care little about protecting groundwater, and I suspect it's because our state government would rather see powerful corporations own the water and donate some of the profits to their election campaigns.

Now shale gas drilling is moving into the area, and it is touted as the solution to unemployment and a weak economy. Those who oppose this latest wave of natural resource extraction are labeled as selfish NIMBY's. But NIMBY is just another way the powerful have of saying "too small to have rights."
posted by tommyD at 10:11 AM on December 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Pennsylvania Fracking Law Gags Physicians. (the tl;dr is the seventh paragraph).
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I caught an interview on TV this week with Matt Damon discussing his movie Promised Land, which is coming out in a few weeks.
posted by fatbaq at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2012



Now shale gas drilling is moving into the area, and it is touted as the solution to unemployment and a weak economy


Always be suspicious of a corporation who uses that lame argument.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


"struggling to wrap my head around concept of water that's...on fire...
posted by supermedusa at 9:57 AM on December 21 [+] [!]"

If your tap water comes from a well, it is not that hard to comprehend. In many places in the US, when you drill for water you are also going to release gas (whether drilling is going on in the area or not.) The gas is usually vented so it does not come out of the tap.
posted by otto42 at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2012


Shivohum - it would be nice if what is in Popular Mechanics was the whole story, but it's not. Faulty well casings, faulty seals around well casings, old nearby deep wells that are unmaintained and deteriorating, well-head spills, transportation accidents, and improper disposal of flow-back water are all problems with high-pressure hydraulic fracking of shale gas formations. Not to mention pipeline leaks (methane is a highly potent green house gas) poor combustion of gas well flares, gas well fires, pipeline explosions, and all the problems that usually come with fast and furious industrial development. There is no free lunch.
posted by tommyD at 10:22 AM on December 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think honestly we should all flip out and take drastic frantic measures to invest in public transportation, and get everyone to literally travel by bus, train, subway, etc. I think it is time to freak out and be hysterical about it.

There aren't even bus route's where I live so, yeah I do think we need realistic public transportation options before taking action to eliminate personal automobile use. But really I think fuel shold cost tons of money. Make a huge tax on fuel use, detering use and then use funds to invest in transportation and city planning to make workplaces, housing, schools and essential needs shopping accessible with public transportation or walking. Then require public transports to switch away from fossil fuel.

Hire more people to build and run the new forms of transportation and do construction on restructured city planning. Jobs.

What's more, I know this is radical but if we STOPPED using mass production so much and focused instead on creating technology that maximizes ease and enjoyment for small producers of goods, using human labor as part of the power source, and producing goods from materials that aren't toxic we would have more jobs. And less polution. And less energy crisis. And stop adding so much burden to global warming. And products that aren't giving us cancer and disease.

I think people don't want to be trapped in cities or near factories and plants where they work because it's so poluted and lacking in nature. If we STOPPED allowing pollution like this in production and transportation, then planning cities to overlapwith nature and expecting people to live near their work/school/grocery store/etc makes sense.
posted by xarnop at 10:27 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Always be suspicious of a corporation who uses that lame argument.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


There are only three ways to centrally generate large amounts of affordable electricity: coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Per unit energy coal generates the most greenhouse gas. Natural gas generates less greenhouse gas. Nuclear emits zero greenhouse gases. In terms of health effects, mining and burning coal is responsible for one million early deaths every year. Soot from coal plants causes asthma, cancer, and heart issues. There have been very few health effects from natural gas and nuclear historically. And yet public opinion has targeted natural gas and nuclear energy as the dangerous choices. There has to be some cost/benefit analysis: we can't eliminate coal, natural gas, AND nuclear. We have to pick at least one of them, and in my opinion natural gas is not the worst choice.
posted by gyp casino at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The topic of Gus Van Sants new film Promised Land, which looks pretty good from the trailer.
posted by mikoroshi at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2012


gyp casino: We have to pick at least one of them, and in my opinion natural gas is not the worst choice.

Why is it the best choice? It just gets you to the civilization-ending global warming scenarios slightly slower. You still get there in the end.

I don't agree that we only have those three choices (I think a WWII-scale push could get us to a fully-renewable power grid in the US at least) but if they were, I'd go for nuclear. It's the only option that doesn't end with certain destruction (it's only very likely).
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:35 AM on December 21, 2012


gyp casino - There are now more than three ways to centrally generate electricity, and those new ways are taking hold and proving viable. No one is ignoring the fact that coal is the worst of the old three, and it is indeed on its way out in much of the world. Natural gas is not a bad choice as a transitional fuel, but it does have its problems (CO2, NO2, methane leaks, drilling and pipeline impacts). Nuclear still has serious waste and catastrophic failure problems to overcome and is the most expensive of all the various electricity generators.
posted by tommyD at 10:38 AM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


There has to be some cost/benefit analysis: we can't eliminate coal, natural gas, AND nuclear.

Why can't we?

You say that they're the "only three ways to centrally generate large amounts of affordable electricity", but that includes two words that make your argument somewhat less stark than you make it out to be: centrally and affordable.

First, what's wrong with distributing energy generation? Solar panels on every roof, to start with. Wind farms in big boring areas. Hydroelectric for cities near water.

Second, define "affordable." There's a lot of play in what people will be willing to pay for, if they're made aware of the externalities.
posted by Etrigan at 10:39 AM on December 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Seems like there's an enormous amount of fearmongering on this.

I would seriously question anything that geologist Gary Lash has to say about fracking.

Now in his 31st year at SUNY Fredonia, Lash received a grant of just over $131,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development authority in 2007 to fund research to facilitate oil and gas exploration by improving analytical techniques that assess rock formations. More recently, his research has been supported by Chesapeake Energy, EQT, Shell, Seneca Resources, Chief Oil and Gas, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
posted by orme at 10:41 AM on December 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Flying over the US, it can be kind of disturbing to see just how pervasive fracking has become. I think this may be our crack addiction that ruins us.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:45 AM on December 21, 2012


I think this may be our crack addiction that ruins us.

I think of it more like the heroin addict who has to resort to shooting in their feet and neck after ruining all the more viable spots.
posted by orme at 10:53 AM on December 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


We can burn 565 gigatons of carbon and have a hope of a planet that can support us.

There are already 2795 gigatons of carbon "proven reserves" on fossil fuel companies' balance sheets.

Terrifying.. You think taxing carbon gets lobbying threats, try writing off balance sheet "assets".
posted by anthill at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Solar energy has some important limitations. It is still very expensive. It generates no electricity at night, which makes it less compatible with the possible electric car revolution. It is distributed, not centralized, and therefore can't take advantage of "economy of scale" effects. (Imagine the high cost of everyone buying, operating, and repairing home diesel generators compared to the low costs we enjoy from centralized power plants; solar energy is like the diesel generators in this analogy). And the power it delivers is limited. Solar cells on a roof can't power whole apartment buildings. What if in the future we require 10x the electricity per capita we use today?
posted by gyp casino at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2012


"Flying over the US, it can be kind of disturbing to see just how pervasive fracking has become. I think this may be our crack addiction that ruins us.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:45 AM on December 21 [+] [!]"

What does a fracking operation look like from 32 thousand feet?

I know that a fracked well looks like any other well, which is pretty much indistinguishable from a tree at such a height.

I also know that a fracking operation use between 10 and 30 semis with water pumps on them, various tanks, other trucks and heavy equipment. While maybe these can be seen from 32,000 feet, they are really only in place for about two weeks.

The fracking fleet costs about $30 million in total so its not like there are hundreds of fleets fracking in any one area at any one time.
posted by otto42 at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: First, what's wrong with distributing energy generation? Solar panels on every roof, to start with. Wind farms in big boring areas. Hydroelectric for cities near water.

Decentralization is burdened with a shitty business model.
posted by notyou at 11:10 AM on December 21, 2012


What if in the future we require 10x the electricity per capita we use today?

What if in the future we require 1/10th the electricity per capita we use today?

What if in the future we require the same amount of electricity per capita we use today?

What if what if what if...

Sure, solar isn't the answer right now. But maybe there's lots of answers, and maybe solar is one of them. And maybe it will be the answer some day. "There has been a time in the evolution of everything that works when it didn't work." -- Leo McGarry, The West Wing

Dismissing solar because it can't solve the energy crisis by itself in 2012 is like saying we should have thrown away penicillin because Fleming died of a heart attack.
posted by Etrigan at 11:11 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am perfectly fine with allowing hydrofracking as soon as the industry answers some basic questions:

- what do we do with the waste water?
- how do I make sure that my land isn't used for hydrofracking even if I don't want it to be?
- if it's so safe, how come it's exempt from the Clean Water Act?
- why can't doctors tell their patients about the fracking chemicals that could be making them sick?
- how is it right that NYC gets the gas, but doesn't have to endanger its watershed?
- what do we do when a fracking-induced earthquake affects my life or property?
- is it really cleaner than coal? What do we do about the leaks?

...and institutes draconian regulations that put everyone involved in a water-table-contaminating accident in jail for substantial periods of time, fining them more money than they made from that operation. Given that I'm not aware of this ever happening in American business regulation history, I doubt that I'll ever be in favor of hydrofracking in any practical way.

Adam Briggle really sums it up well at Slate:

The shale gas R&D projects assumed a kind of vacuum. The only criteria were technical feasibility and economic profitability, and the innovators failed to consider questions about how the technologies would play out in the real world. What is the long-term fate of the chemicals that remain underground? What do we do with the toxic mixture of fracking fluids and naturally occurring radioactive materials that flows back up the wellbore during drilling and production? How will roads handle the increase in traffic volume that results from the roughly 1,000 truck trips (hauling fracking fluids and waste water) it takes to get each well producing? What are the air quality and climate implications? Can we safely frack in places where people live? What happens when the wells run dry? Is it wise to further commit ourselves to a finite fossil resource that requires such extreme measures to extract?

We're barging full steam ahead, damn the consequences. Perhaps that's not ideal.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yeah I also think we need to re-evaluate what we mean when we say electricity is a need. *Need* It is a want, and it does create great benefits in people's lives. But NEED? Someone with a disease might NEED electricity to maintain a breathing treatment or keep lighting strong enough to do an emergency surgery at night.... there are needs that are relatedto energy use. But I really think that pressuming keeping energy flowing with the ease it's been flowing is inherently a "need" is just plain wrong.

A larger portion of use is just for fun, which could be redirected. A lot of business themselves create products we call "needed" products but are not "needed".

I think in fact that human beings can live healthy long lives without electricity at all. There are people with diseases who can live healthier and longer because of it, but in general, we would probably all be a lot healthier if we did revert away from dependence on items, goods and services that are only "needed" because society is set up to require us to need them. You don't "need" computer paper, or a printer. You don't "need" staples. These are cool inventions and in select situations I will grant they could play a life or death role in someone's well being or recovery from disease but I really think mostly a lot of toxic products are considered needed because we all jumped in with enthusiasm about how energy and technology were going to make life better.

Now we consider all this mess a bunch of products and services that reinforce each others necessity by virtue of pretending each other are important-- I NEED a printer because at work I have to print things. THEY SAY! SO IT'S A NEED!

The way we talk about human "needs" I think needs to be re-examined.
posted by xarnop at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


What if in the future we require 10x the electricity per capita we use today

It may be worth noting in the past 50 years the US consumption of electricity per capita has gone up by a whole factor of five. California has held steady since around 1980. Mandated energy standards for buildings and appliances along with utility energy efficiency programs have effectively leveled off the growth in California's electricity usage. The biggest increase in electricity usage by far is going to be the populous moving to electric cars over the next decade. Even then that won't be enough to push electricity to "10x" its current usage levels.
posted by Talez at 11:19 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The energy/environment crisis is posed as "in order the save the environment we need to sacrifice prosperity." People imagine prosperity on one end of a see-saw and the environment on the other. And yes, prosperity is closely related to availability of cheap plentiful power. The goal should be to save the environment AND increase prosperity. The goal should be cheaper electricity AND a cleaner environment. Personally I think electric cars and nuclear energy (or some next-gen nuclear energy like thorium fission) can get us there. And natural gas might be a useful stepping stone. It is so much better than coal. If the wrath against natural gas could be turned to coal, we would be better off.
posted by gyp casino at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're barging full steam ahead, damn the consequences.

FRACK BABY FRACK!!!!!


:-/
posted by theartandsound at 11:36 AM on December 21, 2012


Seems like there's an enormous amount of fearmongering on this.
posted by shivohum


In my comment, I am not talking about the fissures. I am talking about the wells.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 11:42 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fracking fleet costs about $30 million in total so its not like there are hundreds of fleets fracking in any one area at any one time.

You should really visit Williston, ND.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:44 AM on December 21, 2012


This just shows how insane our priorities are as human beings. Cheap energy over clean water and air. Energy is the meth of "first world" societies. Sustainability, what quaint concept compared to unbridled consumerism and greed.

Even in an ideal world of solar energy and electric vehicles we won't be where we need to. There are too many people on the planet. (You get into some pretty dicey conversations in a hurry there) We have to quit fooling ourselves into the thinking that we can beat the laws of physics with economics, technology, or anything else. The law of unintended consequences will always get you. (The automobile was promoted as a solution to of all things the pollution caused by horses.)

Forget asteroids and super volcanoes we'll kill ourselves off well in advance of all that. Hopefully there will be enough of us left to remember to do it right next time. (Sorry to be so damn cynical, Happy Holiday and all that)
posted by empty vessel at 11:52 AM on December 21, 2012


Should anyone doubt the commercial future of fracking, I would suggest they spend some time looking at the filings of OSGIQ over at sec.gov

Essentially, the lightering business in the US (the offloading of crude vessels too large to enter ports in the USG or E Coast) is well good and dead because we're producing so much domestically.

Devil you know of devil you don't. Me, I wish there weren't a devil in the equation.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:57 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


we're producing extracting so much domestically.
Don't let economist propaganda cloud our thinking please.
posted by anthill at 12:05 PM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fracking has been happening for decades. No fracking, No Nuclear, No Coal. Now what? We consume more energy today than we ever have and the trend is upward. Even with all the low energy appliances and decades of telling us to reduce use. We post shit on the internet and feel like we have done something. Well go do something. Go to school and figure out how to crack the storage nut, until then, our Walmart culture will require More More More and won't want to pay more than peanuts to get it.

And stop worrying about fracking and start looking at Pits. There is what is going to foul up the groundwater faster than you can say "faulty double-liner".
posted by kenaldo at 12:48 PM on December 21, 2012


What if in the future we require 10x the electricity per capita we use today?

Keep burning fossil fuels at the rate we are and it's not a problem you, or anyone else, will ever have to worry about.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:49 PM on December 21, 2012


[Folks, you need to make your comments without taunting or otherwise being crappy to other commenters. Please drop us a line via the contact form if you need some help with this.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:05 PM on December 21, 2012


Flying over the US, it can be kind of disturbing to see just how pervasive fracking has become. I think this may be our crack addiction that ruins us.

You're getting closer.
posted by indubitable at 3:18 PM on December 21, 2012


You can retrofit older buildings with varying degrees of success.
It may be simple to research and develop as-yet unknown was to add these obscure technologies of "insulation" and "shade".

Hell, if you wanted to go into the depths of socialism you could even have a government-supported insulation scheme*, and you could enforce standards for new green buildings and energy efficiency.

*Which, of course, the private sector would capitalise on, exploit, and do a shoddy job leaving dangerous or slap-dash insulation where it can, oh, catch on fire....
posted by Mezentian at 3:20 PM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


gyp casino: Solar energy has some important limitations.

I believe the cited "limitations", while frequently-repeated and oft-heard conventional wisdom about solar energy, mostly explain why it doesn't work (or isn't "ready") by showing how it fails to be a plug-and-play replacement for fossil fuels.

It is still very expensive.

This is just flat false. We as a society just agree to externalize all of the nasty, expensive costs of fossil fuel extraction. Why don't we count those? Solar is radically cheaper by comparison. If the fossil fuel industry were taxed at the rates needed to cover the costs of all of the ecological damage they are contributing to, how "cheap" do you think it would be then? (I'm thinking here of hurricanes, land and ocean habitat destruction, unstable growing cycles, increased range of tropical diseases, not to mention respiratory illnesses, heavy metal poisoning, etc.--all of which imposes huge costs to our society, if not the bottom lines of the extraction plutocrats.)

Fracking is particularly guilty of this externalization, both as a fact and in its marketing: while it's true that burning gas is cleaner than oil or coal, the extraction process dumps a ton of stuff into the air, water, and ground that is not even counted when people talk about how "clean" it is.

On top of all this, the cost of solar depends on good financing, and the financial instruments we use completely favor big energy producers while penalizing small ones. The problem with solar energy is that it must be paid for entirely up front, with capital (Note: capital is the cheapest now its ever been--why not use it?). Germany is doing what you say is too difficult, with current technology in a climate with as much sun as Alaska.

It generates no electricity at night...

Did you forget about the grid? Did you forget that the entire earth is not dark at once? Did you forget about energy storage technologies?

... distributed, not centralized, and therefore can't take advantage of "economy of scale" effects.

Nonsense. Mass production of solar panels to put on houses would take advantage of economies of scale, just like car production does. To the best of my knowledge, the efficiencies of solar panels do not go up as they get bigger, and, unlike with fossil fuels, centralization for point-sourcing of pollutants is virtually irrelevant to solar/wind (you don't need to scrub effluents from a solar panel).

(Imagine the high cost of everyone buying, operating, and repairing home diesel generators compared to the low costs we enjoy from centralized power plants; solar energy is like the diesel generators in this analogy).

Not a good comparison. Diesel/gas generators use a consumable fuel and spew pollution into the air. Solar does neither (once the panels are manufactured). And creating millions of jobs to maintain a vast network of solar and wind generators is only a bad idea if you're a plutocrat who depends on wealth concentration. Distributed energy production with solar is merely a financing problem no more difficult than the ones we face when buying cars or houses, We could solve this problem TODAY, and ordinary citizens would benefit financially as a result.

And the power it delivers is limited. Solar cells on a roof can't power whole apartment buildings.

First, so what if that were true? Second, it's not (necessarily) true. We can build quite luxurious net energy producing buildings with solar--anywhere in North America. OF COURSE you need to properly design the buildings, using such exotic concepts as "insulation" and "shade".

What if in the future we require 10x the electricity per capita we use today?

And what if your car were made out of depleted uranium? Every engineer who's thinking honestly as a system designer (as opposed to just repeating extraction industry talking points), knows that solar (including wind) works best if you control load. That, too, is a
technological problem that we know TODAY how to solve.
posted by mondo dentro at 4:59 PM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]



Advances are being made in the field of flywheels. In conjunction with solar something may develop.
posted by notreally at 5:34 PM on December 21, 2012


*sigh*

What's up with people badmouthing solar in every thread on energy?

There are only three ways to centrally generate large amounts of affordable electricity: coal, natural gas,and nuclear.

Solar is already cheaper then nuclear. That's just a fact. We have far, far more energy then we use just beaming down. A parabolic mirror a few feet diameter can easily melt steel. I'm on my phone now, but there's a video on youtube of some people melting a huge block of steel senconds.

Gemany already generates like 6% of its power from solar. Last year, it was 3.2% the year before like 1.5%. Storage at night is an issue, but we use much less power at night then during the day.

Also, nuclear has its problems, obviously. But long term, coal and natural gas are simply unacceptable.

Compared to coal, natural gas is actually much better. It produces less co2, and its so clean you can burn it in your house. Would you want a coal fired stove or water heater in your home? A little ground water contamination is fine if reduces co2 emissions - but we basically need to get to zero emissions in just a few years anyway, so it doesn't matter all that much either way.
posted by delmoi at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Australia, rollout of solar installations on personal dwellings has been so successful that the decreased demand for electricity from the residential sector is catching the supply industry and government regulators out. Profitability of utilities will be affected so it looks like solar is a disruptive technology.
I read recently that solar installs will feed 20% of domestic demand by 2015. That is amazing growth in such a short period of time. I'd post relevant links but I'm posting from a phone. We are fracking here too but I think it's only for overseas export.
posted by vicx at 10:37 PM on December 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Natural gas is the safest carbon based fuel we have. Count me as another lefty who thinks hydrofracking still bests coal, undersea oil drilling, and nuclear. I love solar and wind and geothermal and hydro and conservation too. But natural gas gets us there with less damage than coal for sure.

If you are writing on an ac-powered computer while sitting in a carbon-based heated home with a gas or electric car in the driveway, decrying fossil fuels is hypocrisy.
posted by spitbull at 5:07 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the possibility that US energy independence might reduce the number of brown skinned people the US kills as part of the "cost" of oil from the Middle East is not chopped liver to me.

Let them fight it out without oil wealth or US backing or bombs.

To be clear, solar is obviously the only way forward if there is to be a long run. I always tell righties to think of it as nuclear power with the reactor a minimum safe distance away until it melts down, at least.
posted by spitbull at 5:12 AM on December 22, 2012


If you are writing on an ac-powered computer while sitting in a carbon-based heated home with a gas or electric car in the driveway, decrying fossil fuels is hypocrisy.

To be clear, solar is obviously the only way forward if there is to be a long run. I always tell righties to think of it as nuclear power with the reactor a minimum safe distance away until it melts down, at least.

Trying to find consistency in these two statements. Failing.

Really, spitbull, the hypocrisy charge is pure silliness.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:12 AM on December 22, 2012


Always be suspicious of a corporation who uses that lame argument.

The other day NPR ran a story on fracking, and in its usual he-said, she-said style it went something like "critics point out that fracking has unknown effects on groundwater and the environment, while supporters claim it brings jobs."

I dunno, maybe they counted on their audience to be smart enough to notice that the supporters didn't even bother denying fracking's environmental effects, but even-the-liberal-NPR sure didn't bother pointing it out.
posted by Gelatin at 10:04 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


spitbull: If you are writing on an ac-powered computer while sitting in a carbon-based heated home with a gas or electric car in the driveway, decrying fossil fuels is hypocrisy.

I hate this argument. No, if you believe we should fight global warming, it is NOT your responsibility to throw everything of modern society away and go live in a cabin in the woods or something. You know the effort will never work unless everyone works together, so individual efforts are pretty much wasted and mostly work to destroy the individual's quality of life. If everyone does it, the impact to each person will be far less.

This is just one of those arguments used to dissuade people from joining the opposite side. "Gonna give up everything while others live high or be a hypocrite?" You do not have to prove your sincerity by making a quixotic battle of it by yourself while everyone else stands by. Actually, it's totally worthless since you'll just push resource prices down, so other people use more. Legislation and ultimately worldwide treaties are the only solution.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:48 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Natural gas is the safest carbon based fuel we have. Count me as another lefty who thinks hydrofracking still bests coal, undersea oil drilling, and nuclear. I love solar and wind and geothermal and hydro and conservation too. But natural gas gets us there with less damage than coal for sure.
I don't understand how you can say natural gas is better than nuclear, given the fact that natural gas still emits CO2 and is a much more potent (but short term) greenhouse gas itself if any of it ever leaks out.

Over the short term, it's much better than coal. And while I think solar is better than nuclear, nuclear is clearly superior in that burning natural gas will contribute to destroying the environment entirely, while nuclear is risky to humans the damage is relatively localized when accidents do happen.
If you are writing on an ac-powered computer while sitting in a carbon-based heated home with a gas or electric car in the driveway, decrying fossil fuels is hypocrisy.
No it's not. Hypocrisy means saying one thing and doing another. No one is saying people should go without cars or heat or electricity. We are saying that electricity should come from solar or other renewables, heat should come primarily from insulation and secondarily from electricity and car should also be powered by electricity.

Hypocrisy is mainly about morality, while preventing global warming is a practical and engineering challenge. Claiming that people who want to prevent global warming are "hypocrites" because they want society to use different energy sources is like claiming people at NASA are hypocrites because they don't use rocket fuels in their cars. It's just a total non-sequitur that makes zero sense.
posted by delmoi at 1:48 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


The best real scoop I have ever got on energy was from a talk this guy did. Check out his movie.

Switch
posted by kenaldo at 2:02 PM on December 22, 2012


Also, if you own a home you can put solar panels on your roof today, in fact if you go with a company like solar city you'll lower your electrical bill each month for $-500 up front cost - as in, they pay you $500 to set it up, then you pay them each month. So it is entirely possible for the average person to go solar cheaply and easily (in fact, for negative upfront cost)
posted by delmoi at 2:13 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


We are fracking here too but I think it's only for overseas export.

For CSG, yes, that's the plan, but right now a lot is being sucked into the east coast domgas market. Under the socialist Beatty Government, Queensland required that 30% of all electricity be from gas, and that's what drove the dramatic uptick in CSG drilling, and CSG is now responsible for about one-third of all power generated on the east coast.

There have been (I'm guessing) less than two dozen fracs of shale formations in Australia, most of those in the Cooper Basin, and a few out west. We're still trialling the technology. The aim is to generate sufficient gas for export, because the potential resources would swamp the domestic market.

We're starting to see some liquids recovery, but I believe that's still some way off being commercial, but it's not unreasonable to suspect that within 10 years Australia could be self-sufficient in oil production, and maybe it could be exporting again.

We can, now, probably justify ending our coal-fired power (or scrapping the brown coal in Victoria) but the technicals of the market won't allow it.
posted by Mezentian at 4:28 PM on December 22, 2012


On the nuclear vs fossil fuels argument, one of the major problems with nuclear energy is the high economic and environmental cost of extracting and refining uranium for use as a fuel, as I understand it. Especially when this is done in environmentally fragile (and politically ignored) places like northern Canada. The increasing resistance to fracking gives me hope that more people are thinking now about all the costs associated with any given energy source. Oil, natural gas, and nuclear are all energy sources with unacceptable costs in the long term.

Switching to less harmful energy sources such as photovoltaic (some environmental and ethical/political issues in the extraction of rare earth elements used in solar-electric panels), direct solar heating (eg. solar hot water heaters, passive solar), wind, and a less energy-intensive economy in the first place (eg. insulating buildings properly and incorporating environmental design overall, better public transportation, more local production of all products to decrease the environmental costs of transportation, eating less meat/meat as a "sometimes food") does indeed facilitate or require a shift to more local economies. This is hardly a defect.
posted by eviemath at 6:20 PM on December 22, 2012


(some environmental and ethical/political issues in the extraction of rare earth elements used in solar-electric panels)
OMG. Why do people keep saying that rare earth elements are used in solar panels? There are a few experimental types that do use some rare earth metals, but for the most part the ones that are really cheap these days are made from plain old silicon - The same element used to make computer chips. And windows. You can get it from sand, which there's no shortage of. It's one of the most common elements in the earth's crust.

Secondly - any environmental cost from, say, uranium mining or making solar panels is going to be much, much smaller then the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions caused by using them.

It seems like people who oppose fixing the environment love to come up with reasons why some technology or other is actually "counterintuitively" bad for the environment without any consideration of the scale of the various problems and what the net benefit or cost is.

Also, if you want to see environmental damage in Canada, it's hard to buy that Uranium mining could be worse then the wide-spread tar sands mining going on up there.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on December 22, 2012


Well, I included that caveat not because I thought it was an issue of anywhere even thinking of potentially approaching the magnitude of the environmental and other problems caused by fossil fuels or nuclear power, but because I've read stuff like this: [1], [2], [3], and wanted to be completely, pedantically factually correct in my statements. Kind of like saying "safer sex" instead of "safe sex" when referring to condom use, even though I'm pretty pro-sex-between-consenting-adults. On second reading, I missed the connection to wind turbines, so I wasn't even being very good at my pedantry. I will attempt to excuse myself by claiming that I had discounted this when originally reading it, since I know of small-scale wind turbines sufficient for home use that don't use rare earth elements in their construction; whereas I am less knowledgeable about pholtovoltaic options. In any event, we're still talking orders of magnitude less environmentally destructive than fossil fuels or nuclear power. Just to be clear on that.

(And yes, Canada's tar sands are a serious environmental disaster. Uranium mining in Canada's north has been highly problematic as well. Fracking is also very, very bad for the environment, as the FPP points out. We should not have to choose between a bunch of bad options, trying to puzzle out which is least bad overall. In fact, we don't have to: we have other options for energy sources that are orders of magnitude cleaner, as well as easily-deployable technology (such as the insulation and shade mentioned in previous comments) to help us reduce our energy needs in the first place.)
posted by eviemath at 8:47 PM on December 22, 2012


But setting aside my feeling attacked must get defensive response, I can see where my pedantry would come across as unhelpful and extra-frustrating coming from someone who is claiming to support the same goals as you. I'm perhaps a bit spoiled to live in an area where people largely argue honestly (if not always in a well-informed manner) about environmental issues, not misrepresenting their actual viewpoints. I was not thinking, when I wrote my first comment, that caveats like the one I made can quite unhelpful when you have to deal with lots of concern trolls.
posted by eviemath at 9:09 PM on December 22, 2012


wanted to be completely, pedantically factually correct in my statements. Kind of like saying "safer sex" instead of "safe sex" when referring to condom use, even though I'm pretty pro-sex-between-consenting-adults.
Well, the problem is in trying to be "pedantic" and "completely correct" you ended up being less accurate. Most solar panels do not use rare earth elements. Some thin film solar panels do use rare earth elements, and for a time people thought they might end up cheaper then polysilicon PV panels. But what's happened is that the price of silicon panels has dropped really, really fast.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 PM on December 22, 2012


Most solar panels do not use rare earth elements. Some thin film solar panels do use rare earth elements, and for a time people thought they might end up cheaper then polysilicon PV panels. But what's happened is that the price of silicon panels has dropped really, really fast.

Good to know. I shall endeavour to pay closer attention to the silicon market when commenting on photovoltaics in the future.
posted by eviemath at 1:10 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a lot more to this than meets the eye... I am not taking a stand but in many cases the methane in the tap water was existing prior any drilling activities. There are differences between the methane found deep in the Earth that es being recovered from drilling and most of the methane found in groundwater. I wrote my Master's research paper on this topic. It is a good overview of the subject, non biased, cited, and reviewed by my professors. Just sayin...



https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/handle/2097/15160

posted by mklein94 at 6:40 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


. I am not taking a stand but in many cases the methane in the tap water was existing prior any drilling activities.

NEVER MIND THE FUCKING METHANE.

The methane is a blessing if your well is contaminated. It warns you about the xylene, toluene, and other chemicals in the fracking slurry that are silently poisoning you.
posted by ocschwar at 3:40 PM on December 23, 2012


It warns you about the xylene, toluene, and other chemicals in the fracking slurry that are silently poisoning you.

One might wonder what jurisdiction one lives in that still allows the use of BTEX.
There are alternatives, some of which even use food chemicals. Are they not being trialled and/or phased in there?
We had a small BTEX scare last year in Queensland and that was it for BTEX.
posted by Mezentian at 8:31 PM on December 23, 2012


One other thing, the make-up of some of the drilling mud and fraccing chemicals is supposedly a trade secret, so it's not always known what they're pumping into the ground. Yay.
posted by Mezentian at 8:32 PM on December 23, 2012


oh yeah well what about the CYLONS
posted by dunkadunc at 1:33 PM on December 24, 2012


Fracking the Amish: In a community that shuns technology and conflict, the intrusion of gas wells shatters tranquility and brings unexpected schisms.
posted by homunculus at 11:08 AM on January 16, 2013


Otto, this is what fracking looks like from space:

Six years ago, this region was close to empty. The few ranchers who lived here produced wheat, alfalfa, oats and corn. The U.S. Geological Survey knew there were oil deposits underground, but deep down, 2 miles below the surface. It wasn't till this century that the industry developed a way to pull that oil to the surface at a cost that made it practical. Fracking, as you probably know, means pumping water and chemicals down pipes, fracturing the rock, releasing the oil. The technology is hugely controversial, in part because of those lights.

When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it, and according to North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources, 29 percent of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota is flared off. Gas isn't as profitable as oil, and the energy companies don't always build the pipes or systems to carry it away. For a year (with extensions), North Dakota allows drillers to burn gas, just let it flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fracking fields can be seen from deep space.


No, it's not the natural gas fracking that was the topic of discussion, nor is producing this kind of wasteful light and heat a necessary component to fracking. But it's happening. And it's kind of not good.
posted by daveliepmann at 9:15 AM on January 18, 2013


Wait, you can still flare gas in the US, at will, for up to a year, at will?
That's insane.
posted by Mezentian at 4:56 PM on January 18, 2013


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