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Old 10-31-2013, 07:31 AM
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Fracking = Worse Than Coal


I have to take issue with Cecil Adams' latest article regarding fracking. In it, he says that fracking and natural gas use are bad, but not as bad as other options like coal. This is flatly untrue. According to a recent Cornell study, up to 8% of the natural gas released by fracking escapes unburnt into the atmosphere, and since natural gas as a greenhouse gas is much more potent than CO2, the resulting emissions make natural gas extraction three times worse for the environment than coal. This isn't to say we should be burning coal instead, but that we should reject false solutions that lock us in to a fossil fuel future. With Vermont Gas Systems trying to ram a gas pipeline extension down the throats of the Vermont public as I write, it's important that we keep scrupulously to the facts on this subject.
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Old 10-31-2013, 07:42 AM
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Do you have a link to the Cornell study?
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Old 10-31-2013, 07:46 AM
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Not that there isn't an environmental impact from fracking, but I'd suggest you look at the numbers again.

More to the point, I'd suggest looking at the volume of coal burned (and resulting CO2 emitted) compared to the volume of natural gas released by fracking. It's not even a close thing. So, yes, by absolute quantity, rather than by relative "badness", coal is still much, much worse.

If we significantly reduced the use of coal and significantly ramped up fracking, we would, of course, have to take another look.
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Old 10-31-2013, 07:50 AM
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According to the Environmental Defense Fund, fracking losses are <1% using the latest technology. DOI 10.1073/pnas.1304880110

That really only applies to the larger companies, and doesn't mean that the many mom-and-pop drillers aren't screwing things up.

I haven't had a chance to talk with anyone at EDF since the study came out.
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Old 10-31-2013, 07:52 AM
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More to the point, I'd suggest looking at the volume of coal burned (and resulting CO2 emitted) compared to the volume of natural gas released by fracking. It's not even a close thing.
Is that per unit of energy harnessed?
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Old 10-31-2013, 07:52 AM
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Recently, I read (I think it was Scientific American, but since it gave no reference, it hardly matters) that fracking can be done without environment damage. The discussion was limited to release of methane and poisoning of water. The question is, would it be done that way? The temptation to cut corners would be irresistible and the anti-regulatory meme rampant in the US would probably prevent the kind of close regulation that would be necessary.

Undiscussed was the possibility of triggering earthquakes.
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Old 10-31-2013, 07:53 AM
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Not that there isn't an environmental impact from fracking, but I'd suggest you look at the numbers again.

More to the point, I'd suggest looking at the volume of coal burned (and resulting CO2 emitted) compared to the volume of natural gas released by fracking. It's not even a close thing. So, yes, by absolute quantity, rather than by relative "badness", coal is still much, much worse.

If we significantly reduced the use of coal and significantly ramped up fracking, we would, of course, have to take another look.
NG becomes worse than coal at only a few percent leakage. Relative "badness", i.e. radiative forcing, is what's important here. "Volume" and "absolute quantity" are irrelevant; I'm not sure why you would even bring them up.

It's a little complicated in that CH4 has a much shorter half life than CO2.


**************************
LINK TO COLUMN: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pe-on-fracking

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Old 10-31-2013, 07:56 AM
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Here's the column in question. I'll note that Cecil mentions coal precisely once, and that his broader point is that fossil fuel use — shale gas, coal, tar sands — will have to continue for the foreseeable future if we want to maintain our population and standard of living. I don't doubt that Cecil would agree with you that both coal and shale gas could be made cleaner and more efficient.
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Old 10-31-2013, 08:15 AM
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NG becomes worse than coal at only a few percent leakage. Relative "badness", i.e. radiative forcing, is what's important here. "Volume" and "absolute quantity" are irrelevant; I'm not sure why you would even bring them up.
Well, as an example, if we have one well worldwide that is fracked but still burn the same quantity of coal as today, there's not much of a discussion to be had.

Clearly, we're fracking more than that. But to blithely state that fracking is overall worse than coal based on per unit volume estimates when we're burning a ton more coal than extracting natural gas from fracked wells is bordering on misleading.

At any rate, it's a 2011 study found here. And the results are disputed (even by other colleagues at Cornell) as the data used was of low quality.
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Old 10-31-2013, 08:15 AM
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Do you have a link to the Cornell study?
Lots of Cornell studies out there. Maybe the OP mean this one? DOI: 10.1029/2012GC004032

Oh wait, no, that says exactly the opposite.
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Old 10-31-2013, 08:28 AM
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Well, as an example, if we have one well worldwide that is fracked but still burn the same quantity of coal as today, there's not much of a discussion to be had.
Except that's how it works; we're replacing coal with NG. EIA data show that coal use in the US peaked in 2007 (we use ~7% less now.)
Now, overall energy consumption has decreased as well, but only by about half that.

And of course the OP was presumably just talking about greenhouse forcing. If we bring in Hg, particulates, and other emissions, coal has even more problems.

But we sure do have a lot of it!
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Old 10-31-2013, 08:36 AM
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Fracking actually has very little to do with it in a strict sense, and it annoys me people so often confuse this issue.

In ages past people would drill for oil and gas, often times you'd find both from the same drilling effort or you'd find predominantly gas but not much oil. "Conventional" natural gas (in terms of "conventionally drilled") is found primarily in gas reservoirs that are created over millions of years as natural gas is produced in some organic-rich formation and then migrates into permeable reservoir rock where it is then trapped by an overlying layer of impermeable rock.

This helpful wikipedia diagram shows some different types of gas. You'll note what I just described most closely resembles "conventional non-associated gas" and "conventional associated gas." The broad strip of gray represents impermeable rock that has trapped the gas under the ground. Drilling straight down into these reservoirs punctures that impermeable rock, releasing the natural gas up through the hole you had just drilled and ideally it is then captured and becomes part of the natural gas supply system (where it may be put into storage, transported far away on a pipeline, transported by truck etc etc.)

Note the difference between associated/non-associated conventional gas is whether or not the gas is associated with a petroleum deposit. In that diagram if you drilled down into the underground source of oil you'd have a functioning oil well that would also produce natural gas. Much early natural gas production was incidental to oil production and would be saved off for its own uses--but many times in the past and even sometimes today natural gas was seen as so much less valuable than oil that it would just be flared off as a waste/unwanted byproduct of the oil drilling.

So in that diagram you should also see a broad dark/black strip deeper down, under the first layer of sandstone. That represents a layer of shale that is rich in natural gas. Natural gas has, over millions of years, sort of been trapped/absorbed into the shale. Unlike a traditional natural gas reservoir, just drilling into a shale formation doesn't do a lot for you, you'd get some slow gas migrating up but nothing like in a traditional well. Instead, shale must be fractured in order for shale gas to be economically extracted. For many years, naturally occurring fractures were found and gas was profitably extracted from those. In more recent years, the technique of hydraulic fracturing was developed. A process where water is forced into shale deposits under high pressure to forcibly fracture the shale, which then releases the natural gas stored in the shale formation.

Commonly, because of the layout of shale deposits it makes sense to combine this with "horizontal drilling" in the shale layer--and thus you have the two components key to the modern shale gas boom, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking.)

So what must be understood is fracking is just a process for fracturing shale. Fracking in and of itself cannot be "worse than coal" because fracking is not an energy source, it isn't burned for energy, it's a process not a thing. That leaves us with a few more "appropriate" questions we can ask:

1. Is shale gas worse for the environment than coal. The majority opinion appears to be no. The Cornell study you mention is well known, but so are many peer reviewed assessments of it that have found it flawed. The EPA and the IPCC both have a more favorable view of natural gas in general than the Cornell study along with several other major universities refuting different aspects of the study (the wikipedia article on shale gas contains many links to the articles that refute the Cornell study.)

2. Is shale gas any different than conventional natural gas? The answer to this is "often times yes." There is no standard composition of natural gas, every well is slightly different. Where it's important enough to matter, natural gas transportation/distribution companies actually install gas chromatographs on their pipe to measure the composition of their gas. A given Mcf (1,000 cubic feet) is commonly said to contain 1 dekatherm of energy. This is rough "envelope" number based on historical averages. The amount of energy in a given Mcf of gas is basically based on the composition of that gas. In reality an Mcf could have 0.95 Dth or 1.05 Dth or etc. This article gives some more detail about variation in the composition of gas, specific to shale gas.

But in general, shale gas is said to contain more methane per Mcf on average than conventional gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas, a shale gas leak will introduce more methane into the atmosphere than a conventional gas leak (on average.)

3. Is burning shale gas worse than coal or conventional gas? I don''t believe there is much argument it is much better than burning coal. Is it better than burning conventional natural gas? My understanding is one Mcf burned of shale gas (on average) will produce more greenhouse emissions than a comparable Mcf of natural gas, but it is exactly proportional to the greater energy produced by the Mcf of shale gas. So while shale gas may be worse per Mcf, I think per Dth (which is what really matters), they aren't meaningfully different. [I admit to going off of supposition on this point.]

4. Is natural gas worse than coal for the environment, in total? More important than the burn question is the total production/use of gas versus the total production/use of coal. It's absolutely correct that if gas, which is much cleaner burning, produced a huge amount of greenhouse emissions versus coal in its production/transportation that natural gas could be worse for the environment than coal.

The first part of the answer is to point out that whether or not natural gas is extracted by conventional drilling or fracking probably isn't a significant part of the answer to this question. Other than the fact shale gas on average is slightly more rich than regular natural gas (and thus has more methane), from a pollution perspective drilling for natural gas in conventional versus shale plays is not all that relevant to the global warming debate. There is a whole other debate about water usage and affect on local water tables, potential to cause local earthquakes etc that I will not get into here, but those issues do not effect the climate change picture (just like the fact that coal mining and coal plants cause large increases in health risks to local communities isn't part of its climate change problem but yet another reason coal is very bad.)

The real danger then from natural gas is leakage. Leakage meaning gas that leaks out at the well, uncaptured, or gas that leaks out of the pipeline etc. Leakage directly releases methane into the atmosphere. The thrust of the Cornell study is this leakage releases so much methane that it makes natural gas a bigger climate change risk than coal. Professor Ingraffea noted an industry average leak rate of 5% in an Op-Ed that he released for the NY Times and bases much of his argument that natural gas production is worse in terms of climate change than coal on that number.

However multiple rebuttals have basically said that:

1. In practice the leakage rate is actually much lower. The EPA's most recent Greenhouse Gas Inventory suggests a methane leakage rate of 1.4%, lowered from 2.3%.

2. As Richard A. Muller (a physics professor at UC-Berkeley) and Raymond Pierrehumbert (climate scientist at University of Chicago) point out, because natural gas produciton/use generates far less carbon even a 10% leakage rate would be worth trading from coal to natural gas. Their argument is based on the fact that the effects of methane are understood to be 100% reversible, that methane is more potent but leaves the atmosphere much quicker than carbon, in roughly 20 years any impact of a specific methane leak released into the atmosphere is completely reversed. Carbon on the other hand stays in the atmosphere essentially forever in human terms. For this reason even if there is twice as much leakage as Dr. Ingraffea of Cornell suggested in his op-ed, it might still make sense to switch from coal to natural gas.

So my ultimate answer is that utilizing natural gas instead of coal, while there are serious concerns, is ultimately much better for the climate picture. I base this solely on the fact a large number of scientists say this, I have no preconceptions on the subject being a layman. A large number of these same scientists have specifically refuted Dr. Ingraffea's study, which suggests it has not well withstood the peer review process.

There are important considerations with natural gas. Just like there are many very bad things coal production and burning do aside from any impact on climate change, natural gas has non-climate related impacts that must be considered. The issue of earthquakes needs to be studied. The issue of all those trucks/drilling equipment ripping up the landscape must be considered. The massive use of water (a scarce resource) must be considered. The fact that there is little Federal regulation of what chemicals go into water used in fracking (it's a state-by-state patchwork of regulations now) must be considered. The impact on drinking water must be considered. There is also a problem with lack of information. The EPA and other bodies exercise what I would consider to be "too little" oversight of the natural gas industry so it puts a level of unreliability into any statistic we come up with about what sort of chemicals the industry uses, how often they have leaks/spills etc--and that is something it would be nice to see addressed.

Last edited by Martin Hyde; 10-31-2013 at 08:39 AM.
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Old 10-31-2013, 09:09 AM
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[I]n roughly 20 years any impact of a specific methane leak released into the atmosphere is completely reversed.
This is incorrect. CH4 has a ~12 year lifetime, which means there's still lots of it left after 20 years. Its 100-year GWP (time-integrated radiative forcing) is still >30x that of CO2. That drops below 8x around 500 years.
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Old 10-31-2013, 09:20 AM
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If you're comparing fracking to conventional natural gas production, you also have to ask which process results in more leaks. Based on the stories of people lighting their kitchen faucets, I'd have to guess that fracking is leakier, but I don't know the numbers.

And comparing anything to coal, one must consider that coal has environmental impacts beyond its CO2 and other pollutants. Much coal nowadays is mined through mountaintop removal, for instance, which means a massive destruction of habitat.
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Old 10-31-2013, 09:24 AM
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This is incorrect. CH4 has a ~12 year lifetime, which means there's still lots of it left after 20 years. Its 100-year GWP (time-integrated radiative forcing) is still >30x that of CO2. That drops below 8x around 500 years.
That isn't what Dr. Pierrehumbert says, in fact he specifically says he believes people abuse GWP and it misrepresents the actual effects of CH4:

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The important thing to understand is that essentially all of the climate effects of methane emissions disappear within 20 years of cessation of emissions; in this sense, the climate harm caused by methane leakage is reversible. In contrast, CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, ratcheting up the temperature irreversibly, at least out to several millennia. Therefore, if switching to natural gas from coal reduces the amount of CO2 you emit, you can tolerate quite a large amount of leakage and still come out ahead, because the warming caused by the leakage will go away quickly once you eventually stop using natural gas (and other fossil fuels), whereas the warming you would get from all the extra CO2 you’d pump out if you stuck with coal would stay around forever. Global warming potentials, which are meant to be a kind of “currency exchange rate” between amounts of methane and CO2 purporting to yield equal climate harm, do a very poor job of representing the reversible/irreversible dichotomy between methane and CO2 (as discussed in the Metrics section of my paper with Susan Solomon. I think the analysis that best captures this effect is the one done by Larry Cathles (see here and here), which concludes that even with 1 percent leakage, on the centennial time scale switching to natural gas gives you 40 percent of the benefit of switching to entirely carbon-free energy. It takes a far, far higher leakage rate to completely negate the benefits of switching, and even then you’d wind up coming out ahead from the switch a few decades after you stop using fossil fuels.
The relevant papers:

Link Solomon S, Pierrehumbert RT, Matthews DL, Daniel JS (2011) Atmospheric Composition Irreversible Climate Change and Mitigation Policy. WCRP OSC Climate Research in Service to Society (24–28 October 2011. Denver, United States

Link Cathles, L. (2012), Assessing the greenhouse impact of natural gas, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., doi:10.1029/2012GC004032, in press.

[The second article is not freely available online that I could find.
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Old 10-31-2013, 09:28 AM
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I'm not a mod


and I don't even play one on TV.

But I've requested a moderator to move this to the appropriate forum: Comments on Cecil's Columns and Staff Reports

In keeping with the practices of that forum, here's a link to the article in question.

Ok. Carry on.
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Old 10-31-2013, 09:31 AM
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If you're comparing fracking to conventional natural gas production, you also have to ask which process results in more leaks. Based on the stories of people lighting their kitchen faucets, I'd have to guess that fracking is leakier, but I don't know the numbers.

And comparing anything to coal, one must consider that coal has environmental impacts beyond its CO2 and other pollutants. Much coal nowadays is mined through mountaintop removal, for instance, which means a massive destruction of habitat.
That's a good point, but I'm not sure there is a lot of evidence that the fracking process in and of itself produces more leaks. Instead I think fracking and the resulting shale gas boom has resulted in substantially more drilling, which means more total leaks, which means more anecdotal stories about contaminated drinking water. On the drinking water issue, a large amount of the public concern is that the water pumped into the shale deposits can migrate from those deposits into drinking water aquifers. It is my understand this is not supported by what actually happens geologically and is considered (last I read up on that aspect of it) to have never definitively been shown to happen and probably could not due to the large distance between shale deposits and typical underground aquifers.

Instead (and I think as you probably understand based on your post), it seems most drinking water contamination relates to spills of drilling chemicals and gas leaks closer to the wellhead, so intrinsically fracking and conventional drilling both would contaminate drinking water through the same mechanism.

I do think the business realities of fracking could definitely lead to more leaks, but I'm not sure there's a lot of evidence the process of fracking itself inherently leads to more leaks. The shale gas boom has created a huge industry for drilling companies large and small, and an extreme push to drill as fast as possible. With many States only performing cursory regulation of these operations and the Federal regulations still being relatively toothless I think it creates a perfect storm of heightened drilling activity and a rush to get things fast that in general would also correspond to more accidents/screwups.

It should though be noted that gas companies involved in exploration/drilling do aim for 1% or less leakage for financial reasons. Leakage is less revenue, so there is at least a rare circumstance in play here where the financial motivation strongly incentivizes the best environmental practices. Unfortunately of course there is a difference between many of the drilling crews (often smaller companies) that take contracts from the big gas companies. The drilling crews are often employed either by companies or are smaller time contractors and their prime motivation is to finish a job as quickly as possible because they get paid by the job. The companies that want to see as low a leakage as possible are usually one rung removed from the drilling and thus probably can't easily guarantee leakage remains as low as they'd like (other than vertical integration or being really choosy with who they have drill their wells.)
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Old 10-31-2013, 10:00 AM
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On the drinking water issue, a large amount of the public concern is that the water pumped into the shale deposits can migrate from those deposits into drinking water aquifers. It is my understand this is not supported by what actually happens geologically and is considered (last I read up on that aspect of it) to have never definitively been shown to happen and probably could not due to the large distance between shale deposits and typical underground aquifers.
Yeah, I was disappointed to see Cecil essentially taking that claim at face value in his column. Saying "check out YouTube" to find factual information is also rarely a good idea.
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Old 10-31-2013, 12:40 PM
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Moving thread from General Questions to Comments on Cecil's Columns/Staff Reports.

Link to Cecil's article:
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pe-on-fracking
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Old 10-31-2013, 02:07 PM
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Quoth Martin Hyde:

Instead (and I think as you probably understand based on your post), it seems most drinking water contamination relates to spills of drilling chemicals and gas leaks closer to the wellhead, so intrinsically fracking and conventional drilling both would contaminate drinking water through the same mechanism.
Actually, I don't understand that, or at least didn't. My questions were honest, not rhetorical: I don't actually know which is leakier, or if there's a significant difference, but a flaming water faucet is certainly something one notices. You may well be right that that happens with all gas production, and it's only been noticed now due to the increased volume.

And concerns about financials might decrease leaks in some cases, but it wouldn't be a guarantee, depending on how the extraction company values the long term vs. the short: If method A produces more usable (non-leaked) gas per time than method B, but also leads to a greater proportion of leaked gas, the company might still choose A even though it means less total gas extracted in the long run.
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Old 10-31-2013, 02:35 PM
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If you're comparing fracking to conventional natural gas production, you also have to ask which process results in more leaks. Based on the stories of people lighting their kitchen faucets, I'd have to guess that fracking is leakier, but I don't know the numbers.
You DO realize that, in that famous internet video of Mike Markham lighting his tap water on fire, it was later confirmed that the methane in his water supply came from a close-to-the-surface natural gas pocket that happened to be next to his water well, and had nothing to do with fracking, right?

(Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission report: http://www.anga.us/media/content/F7C...%205-23-08.pdf )
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Old 10-31-2013, 05:31 PM
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Actually, I don't understand that, or at least didn't. My questions were honest, not rhetorical: I don't actually know which is leakier, or if there's a significant difference, but a flaming water faucet is certainly something one notices. You may well be right that that happens with all gas production, and it's only been noticed now due to the increased volume.

And concerns about financials might decrease leaks in some cases, but it wouldn't be a guarantee, depending on how the extraction company values the long term vs. the short: If method A produces more usable (non-leaked) gas per time than method B, but also leads to a greater proportion of leaked gas, the company might still choose A even though it means less total gas extracted in the long run.
Yeah, I wish I had a good browser plugin or something (or just a lot of bookmarks) where I would save all the articles I've read over the years on this. There was a New York Times article maybe 2-3 years ago where a scientist wrote at length about how yes, drilling contaminates water fairly regularly if there are spills/leaks at the well head, but how they had never really seen much evidence that the fractured shale and all the chemical infused water down in that shale seam has ever seeped into an aquifer. I think typically the shale bed is quite deep, and typically under a layer of impermeable rock, so the fracking-chemical polluted water would have a good distance to travel through some rock that doesn't readily allow water to seep through it.

I'll see if I can find the article, but searching on NYT.com hasn't yielded it yet, it also linked to some more professional-quality research articles which is why I remember it being particularly useful.
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Old 10-31-2013, 05:43 PM
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That isn't what Dr. Pierrehumbert says, in fact he specifically says he believes people abuse GWP and it misrepresents the actual effects of CH4:



The relevant papers:

Link Solomon S, Pierrehumbert RT, Matthews DL, Daniel JS (2011) Atmospheric Composition Irreversible Climate Change and Mitigation Policy. WCRP OSC Climate Research in Service to Society (24–28 October 2011. Denver, United States

Link Cathles, L. (2012), Assessing the greenhouse impact of natural gas, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., doi:10.1029/2012GC004032, in press.

[The second article is not freely available online that I could find.
GQ readers should note that these authors assume zero discount rate and make what I feel are inappropriate approximations of atmospheric gas lifetimes. An instantaneous release of methane leaves plenty left in the atmosphere after 20 years. It is factually incorrect that "essentially all of the climate effects of methane emissions disappear within 20 years of cessation of emissions" because there is still methane in the atmosphere from that release. Yes, most of it is gone, but add up its effect over the next 80 years (granted, a piddling 100 years is not the sort of timescale Ray P. likes to write about) and compare that to the first 20 and tell me it's insignificant.

That all said, leakage appears to be low enough that I, with my lower alarm threshold than some other scientists, am not alarmed.
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Old 10-31-2013, 05:44 PM
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Yeah, I wish I had a good browser plugin or something (or just a lot of bookmarks) where I would save all the articles I've read over the years on this.
Have you tried playing around with Zotero?

Last edited by Ruken; 10-31-2013 at 05:47 PM. Reason: Quoted wrong quote
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Old 11-01-2013, 06:05 AM
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Fracking


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3. The idea that alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, etc., are an adequate substitute for fossil fuels is a fantasy. As MIT professor Daniel Nocera has shown, even if all known alternative resources plus nuclear power (see below) are tapped to their practical limits, and current fossil fuel consumption stays constant, we’ll barely have enough juice to provide the world’s billions with (on average) a Poland-level lifestyle by 2050.
That seems to assume that the US care how other countries get their extra energy, or that the other countries care whether or not the US cares. Obviously at the moment that's a safe assumption - if the US suddenly decided not to burn oil it would make the stuff a lot cheaper for the rest of us. But in the (admittedly somewhat radical) "lets turn Iowa into a wind farm" scenario the US gets to keep all that energy for itself.

I'd recommend Prof. Muller's "Physics for Future Presidents" (or, for an update which is energy specific) "Energy for Future Presidents" to anyone who is interested in the subject. His lectures are available for free on the Berkely Uni website for those who don't want to spend.

One point he does make is that fossil fuels are very energy dense and thus are a great way of fueling vehicles. Until batteries get a lot smaller and cheaper there really isn't a good alternative to that (although I do wonder whether you could run them from powered rails in built-up areas)
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Old 11-01-2013, 06:34 AM
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MODERATOR COMMENT: psythe, I've merged your post into the existing thread on the column, just for bookkeeping purposes, to keep all comments about one column more or less together. OK?
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Old 11-01-2013, 07:00 AM
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With Vermont Gas Systems trying to ram a gas pipeline extension down the throats of the Vermont public as I write, it's important that we keep scrupulously to the facts on this subject.
Even as you write?
  #28  
Old 11-01-2013, 07:50 AM
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Even as you write?
Well, he didn't say "even as I speak."

It would be really hard to speak while someone tries to ram a gas pipeline down your throat.

Last edited by CurtC; 11-01-2013 at 07:50 AM.
  #29  
Old 11-01-2013, 09:23 AM
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One topic I have seen come up with respect to fracking and water use is that it removes water from the water cycle.

Other water use, like watering crops or drinking water in cities and waste water runoff from that, leaves the water in the water cycle. It gets consumed by people and then flushed down the toilet, back to run down to the ocean to get evaporated and then precipitate again. With fracking, they are injecting water and leaving it down in the rock and that water is then trapped until the extremely distant future when the rock gets recycled by geologic processes (i.e. subduction and converted to magma). So it is more harmful to drought inflicted areas to permanently remove water from the water cycle than to simply consume it and even "waste" it in cities or farms.

That said, I think there are techniques to reuse the water or use high pressure gas/air that are available, but they are not largely being employed because water is cheaper.
  #30  
Old 11-01-2013, 10:23 AM
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Whoa ... are we really comparing escaped natural gas to the carbon dioxide release when burning coal? What do you think we do with the natural gas that DOESN'T escape ... we BURN it ... releasing carbon dioxide.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss the "other" product of combustion. Carbon dioxide is released in it's gaseous state and it largely remains as such, retaining it's latent heat of vaporization. However, this "other" product of combustion, water vapor, quickly condenses into it's liquid form, releasing it's heat of vaporization. At 2.1 kJ/kg, this is no small amount, and if there's no vortex to absorb this energy ... well ... we have to raise temperatures.

By the way, hydrofloric acid works better than water when fracking ... just saying ...
  #31  
Old 11-01-2013, 10:25 AM
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Fracking / energy response is substantially wrong


Cecil,

You have just lost a thirty-year long reader, because you finally answered a question on a subject I actually know a good deal about (regarding fracking and energy) (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pe-on-fracking) and you got the answer substantially wrong.

Regarding fracking:
1. Fracking is not performed because we are running out of fossil fuel: between coal, deep sea petroleum, and frozen methane, we have centuries of such reserves.
2. Fracking is being done as a perceived cheaper and lower greenhouse gas emissions alternative to coal.
3. Fracking is not cheaper when resources such as water reduction and pollution cleaning are taken into account.
4. Fracking is not a lower greenhouse gas emission alternative to coal when methane escape is taken into account.
5. Fracking has indeed been proven to cause earthquakes and subsidence.

Regarding existing energy use:
1. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is produces carbon pollution which is a global warming agent resulting in tremendous environmental harm.
2. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is composed of sets of pre- and post-combustion toxins injurious to nearly all organisms.
3. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as its extraction is itself destruction of precious resources.
4. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is itself energy-intensive often resulting in little net energy (but merely shifts energy location and form).
5. Nuclear energy is inherently destructive in resource extraction, expensive, dangerous, and results in unaccountable pollution risk.

Regarding renewable energy use:
1. There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.
2. When the real cost of fossil fuel and nuclear energy is taken into consideration, renewable energy is less expensive and vastly less destructive and resource intensive.
3. From a geo-political perspective, renewable energy offers self-reliance which reduces tendencies toward warfare over energy resources.
4. Included on the renewable energy ledger must be energy conservation, which is the expenditure of money toward reducing the need for energy.
5. Predictable technology advances will continue to promote the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Thanks.
  #32  
Old 11-01-2013, 11:02 AM
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Quote:
Quoth watchwolf49:

Whoa ... are we really comparing escaped natural gas to the carbon dioxide release when burning coal? What do you think we do with the natural gas that DOESN'T escape ... we BURN it ... releasing carbon dioxide.
Yup. But methane releases significantly less CO2 than other fossil fuels, per unit of energy released. If there were no leaks, methane would certainly be the best fossil fuel, with regards to greenhouse gas emissions. That's not in question; the only question is whether the leaks of methane are significant enough to pull it back out of first place, given that methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

jzj1, while it's true that there are plenty of renewable energy sources, we do not yet have sufficient technology or infrastructure to rely solely on renewable energy, nor are we likely to in the near future. Until such time as we do, yes, we really do need to use fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

And nuclear energy has a very low cost (both financial and environmental) of resource extraction; it's safer than the most widespread alternative energy source (hydroelectric); it's expensive primarily because of misguided regulations written by those who are convinced it's evil; and when properly implemented it has essentially zero pollution risk.
  #33  
Old 11-01-2013, 11:27 AM
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That is not entirely true. The water from fracing is typically flowed back and approximately 95% is recovered unfortunately it is considered waste water after its recovery and is then injected down a second well for disposal. This is similar to water floods of oil reservoirs where water is pumped down one well and then after moving through the reservoir is recovered as a higher percentage of water in the produced flluid.

In fracing most of the fluid is trapped in the fractures that it has created and before the oil or gas can flow into the fracture the water is removed first there is some amount that combines with the formation fluids and comes back as part of the produced water but in any case it is not correct to say that the water is lost during fracing. There is a good case to be made that in our attempts of classify all things involved with fracing as dangerous that we a moving water out of the supply in our disposal process.


eta: this was in response to Irishman I just took too long to type it on my phone

Last edited by Oredigger77; 11-01-2013 at 11:28 AM.
  #34  
Old 11-01-2013, 12:15 PM
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Let me take this opportunity to discuss the "other" product of combustion. Carbon dioxide is released in it's gaseous state and it largely remains as such, retaining it's latent heat of vaporization. However, this "other" product of combustion, water vapor, quickly condenses into it's liquid form, releasing it's heat of vaporization. At 2.1 kJ/kg, this is no small amount, and if there's no vortex to absorb this energy ... well ... we have to raise temperatures.
It might be interesting to look at the heat of vaporization of the water produced by combustion, but the dangers from carbon dioxide come from how it reflects infrared. Thus sunlight enters the atmosphere through the CO2, but the infrared emitted by all objects is reflected back. However, both are effects of the same process rather than competing processes, so it's not a trade off.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oredigger77 View Post
That is not entirely true. The water from fracing is typically flowed back and approximately 95% is recovered unfortunately it is considered waste water after its recovery and is then injected down a second well for disposal.

[snip]

There is a good case to be made that in our attempts of classify all things involved with fracing as dangerous that we a moving water out of the supply in our disposal process.
So water is being "disposed of", but not because the process is inherently wasteful that way, but rather through concerns of how to reuse the water.
  #35  
Old 11-01-2013, 01:03 PM
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Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is itself energy-intensive often resulting in little net energy (but merely shifts energy location and form).
Isn't that true of all types of energy production?
  #36  
Old 11-01-2013, 01:22 PM
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Except that's how it works; we're replacing coal with NG. EIA data show that coal use in the US peaked in 2007 (we use ~7% less now.)
Now, overall energy consumption has decreased as well, but only by about half that.

And of course the OP was presumably just talking about greenhouse forcing. If we bring in Hg, particulates, and other emissions, coal has even more problems.

But we sure do have a lot of it!
Don't we export a lot of the coal now?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
If you're comparing fracking to conventional natural gas production, you also have to ask which process results in more leaks. Based on the stories of people lighting their kitchen faucets, I'd have to guess that fracking is leakier, but I don't know the numbers.
Why would fracking be leakier? The wells are lined the same way aren't they? They don't crack the top impermeable layer do they?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jzj1 View Post
Cecil,

You have just lost a thirty-year long reader, because you finally answered a question on a subject I actually know a good deal about (regarding fracking and energy) (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pe-on-fracking) and you got the answer substantially wrong.

Regarding fracking:
1. Fracking is not performed because we are running out of fossil fuel: between coal, deep sea petroleum, and frozen methane, we have centuries of such reserves.
2. Fracking is being done as a perceived cheaper and lower greenhouse gas emissions alternative to coal.
3. Fracking is not cheaper when resources such as water reduction and pollution cleaning are taken into account.
4. Fracking is not a lower greenhouse gas emission alternative to coal when methane escape is taken into account.
5. Fracking has indeed been proven to cause earthquakes and subsidence.

Regarding existing energy use:
1. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is produces carbon pollution which is a global warming agent resulting in tremendous environmental harm.
2. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is composed of sets of pre- and post-combustion toxins injurious to nearly all organisms.
3. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as its extraction is itself destruction of precious resources.
4. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is itself energy-intensive often resulting in little net energy (but merely shifts energy location and form).
5. Nuclear energy is inherently destructive in resource extraction, expensive, dangerous, and results in unaccountable pollution risk.

Regarding renewable energy use:
1. There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.
2. When the real cost of fossil fuel and nuclear energy is taken into consideration, renewable energy is less expensive and vastly less destructive and resource intensive.
3. From a geo-political perspective, renewable energy offers self-reliance which reduces tendencies toward warfare over energy resources.
4. Included on the renewable energy ledger must be energy conservation, which is the expenditure of money toward reducing the need for energy.
5. Predictable technology advances will continue to promote the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Thanks.
You got a cite for ANY of that? Or are we just supposed to take your word for it?
  #37  
Old 11-01-2013, 02:28 PM
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Long View


I think we should also look at the longer view on fracking. Begin with the assumption that on Earth will eventually use all reasonably available energy over a certain time period. If Cecil is right, that will be the next 100 years. Also, we're wasting a huge amount of energy right now. Absent an appropriately high carbon tax over most of the world, there's not enough incentive to increase efficiency immediately, which could put off the date we run out of fossil fuels, and maybe even lessen global warming. Fracking is adding to this problem by keeping energy costs lower. I will always oppose new energy production for this reason, whether off-shore oil or methane deposits. It we leave it alone, it will still be there when we really need it, be that 50, 100, or 200 years.
  #38  
Old 11-01-2013, 03:04 PM
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Originally Posted by jzj1 View Post
Cecil,

You have just lost a thirty-year long reader, because you finally answered a question on a subject I actually know a good deal about (regarding fracking and energy)
Thirty-year long reader jzj1's personal profile:

Total Posts: 1

Last Activity: Today 10:25 AM
Join Date: 11-01-2013
  #39  
Old 11-01-2013, 03:43 PM
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Originally Posted by CJJ* View Post
Thirty-year long reader jzj1's personal profile:

Total Posts: 1

Last Activity: Today 10:25 AM
Join Date: 11-01-2013
So what? I assume there are many times as many consumers of Cecil's column than there are registrants on this forum.


Powers &8^]
  #40  
Old 11-01-2013, 03:44 PM
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Here's the column in question. I'll note that Cecil mentions coal precisely once, and that his broader point is that fossil fuel use — shale gas, coal, tar sands — will have to continue for the foreseeable future if we want to maintain our population and standard of living. I don't doubt that Cecil would agree with you that both coal and shale gas could be made cleaner and more efficient.
That's certainly representative of his answer, but it doesn't really answer the question asked. Essentially asked if fracking can be done safely, Cecil's answer is essentially that it doesn't matter because we have to.


Powers &8^]
  #41  
Old 11-01-2013, 07:42 PM
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jzj1 says: >> There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.<<
Um, no. It would take between 4 and 20 million wind turbines (depending on assumptions, etc) to power the U.S. If you think that this is somehow achievable in the next 10 or 20 or 100 years, let us know how. By contrast, there are some 20,000 right now.

And, not only would the turbines have to be built, but the grid would have to be completely changed to accommodate the fluctuating power (same with solar).

What other renewable energy sources are there? Solar? Same problems as wind, except that solar power is never available at night. Hydro? All the good sites are taken. Biomass? Oh, please. Crops? The energy used to produce ethanol is greater than the energy produced.

And all of these renewables exact environmental damage. Wind turbines and solar panels blight the landscape. Wind turbines already kill thousands of bats and birds. Hydro ruins rivers. And bio-based fuels produce the worst environmental damage of all with fertilizers, pesticides, and the costs of all the machinery necessary.

If you have any information to the contrary, help us out here.

Thanks,

Last edited by Madman2001; 11-01-2013 at 07:44 PM. Reason: added poster name to quote
  #42  
Old 11-01-2013, 08:09 PM
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Also, we're wasting a huge amount of energy right now. Absent an appropriately high carbon tax over most of the world, there's not enough incentive to increase efficiency immediately, which could put off the date we run out of fossil fuels, and maybe even lessen global warming. Fracking is adding to this problem by keeping energy costs lower. I will always oppose new energy production for this reason, whether off-shore oil or methane deposits. It we leave it alone, it will still be there when we really need it, be that 50, 100, or 200 years.
[Underlining mine]

My guess is there are a lot of countries out there that would love to lower their own energy costs, and won't care much about opposition from ecologically-minded individuals.
  #43  
Old 11-01-2013, 09:51 PM
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jzj1 says: >> There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.<<
Um, no.
To be fair, jzj1 said "energy sources" not "energy production". I assume jzj1 was referring to the total potential capacity of such production, not current capacity.


Powers &8^]
  #44  
Old 11-01-2013, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Madman2001
jzj1 says: >> There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.<<
Um, no.

Powers says: >>To be fair, jzj1 said "energy sources" not "energy production". I assume jzj1 was referring to the total potential capacity of such production, not current capacity.<<
I realize he wasn't referring to current capacity, but I had assumed he was referring to practical potential capacity. And my point was that there is absolutely no way for renewables, using present technology, to provide anywhere near the energy needs of the world.
  #45  
Old 11-01-2013, 10:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jzj1 View Post
Cecil,

You have just lost a thirty-year long reader, because you finally answered a question on a subject I actually know a good deal about (regarding fracking and energy) (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...pe-on-fracking) and you got the answer substantially wrong.

Regarding fracking:
1. Fracking is not performed because we are running out of fossil fuel: between coal, deep sea petroleum, and frozen methane, we have centuries of such reserves.
2. Fracking is being done as a perceived cheaper and lower greenhouse gas emissions alternative to coal.
3. Fracking is not cheaper when resources such as water reduction and pollution cleaning are taken into account.
4. Fracking is not a lower greenhouse gas emission alternative to coal when methane escape is taken into account.
5. Fracking has indeed been proven to cause earthquakes and subsidence.

Regarding existing energy use:
1. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is produces carbon pollution which is a global warming agent resulting in tremendous environmental harm.
2. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is composed of sets of pre- and post-combustion toxins injurious to nearly all organisms.
3. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as its extraction is itself destruction of precious resources.
4. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is itself energy-intensive often resulting in little net energy (but merely shifts energy location and form).
5. Nuclear energy is inherently destructive in resource extraction, expensive, dangerous, and results in unaccountable pollution risk.

Regarding renewable energy use:
1. There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.
2. When the real cost of fossil fuel and nuclear energy is taken into consideration, renewable energy is less expensive and vastly less destructive and resource intensive.
3. From a geo-political perspective, renewable energy offers self-reliance which reduces tendencies toward warfare over energy resources.
4. Included on the renewable energy ledger must be energy conservation, which is the expenditure of money toward reducing the need for energy.
5. Predictable technology advances will continue to promote the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Thanks.
Well, your general un-cited opinions which don't even speak from any claimed authority certainly have convinced *me*...
  #46  
Old 11-02-2013, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by jzj1 View Post

Regarding renewable energy use:
1. There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet's energy needs many times over.
2. When the real cost of fossil fuel and nuclear energy is taken into consideration, renewable energy is less expensive and vastly less destructive and resource intensive.
3. From a geo-political perspective, renewable energy offers self-reliance which reduces tendencies toward warfare over energy resources.
4. Included on the renewable energy ledger must be energy conservation, which is the expenditure of money toward reducing the need for energy.
5. Predictable technology advances will continue to promote the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Thanks.
If we all worked equally hard, shared equally well, and sacrificed equally earnestly, the world would be a utopia.

What you are missing with this pollyanna list--even if it were correct--is execution.
Right now we are all going to put our immediate interests above some future interest. We do this with money (borrowing from our children to pay for government now) and we do it with resources.

Assigning "the real cost" of fossil fuels is meaningless unless the vast majority of us not only accept those numbers but agree to pay them. This will not happen.

What will happen is that the population will continue to expand and nearly all of them will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of their immediate future.

If you love renewables, one approach would be to show remarkable success in driving renewable energy solutions. Get them approved for My Back Yard and get them commercially viable.

But even then, I suspect that all that will happen is that we'll add them to the other available energy and all try to live even better. With the population that's coming online and with the fundamental human drive to live better, we'll use up every watt of energy from every source and keep driving up the average standard. of living. It's not like renewable energy will actually decrease use of fossil fuels...

The conversation is about to shift from "avoid global warming" to "how to live with global warming."

Last edited by Chief Pedant; 11-02-2013 at 07:27 AM.
  #47  
Old 11-02-2013, 09:47 AM
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Biomass? Oh, please. Crops? The energy used to produce ethanol is greater than the energy produced.
Most of your points are spot on, but this one actually is not. I'm not quite sure where this idea came from, but it's not really true.

I've posted these cites before in another thread, but basically it's completely false that in general biomass uses more energy as input than it pulls back out as ethanol.

Large National Geographic Feature, with lots of graphs, interactive charts etc. It shows that for example ethanol produced from sugarcane in Brazil produces 8 units of energy for every 1 unit of energy used in its production.

New York Times article that mentions the 8.3 units of energy for every 1 unit of energy input for sugarcane ethanol.

This World Bank review of renewable energy sources cites the energy ratios around page 28-29.

Sugarcane is one of the better ratios, but even corn is still a net positive, producing 1.3 units of energy for every 1 unit input.
  #48  
Old 11-02-2013, 10:10 AM
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To address some to the statements made related to the process of fracking and water use:

Hydraulic fracturing first started being used commercially in the 1940's. It is not a 'new' technology developed for shale gas. It's the combination of hydraulic fracturing, high volumes of water use, slick water, and high pressure, that is 'new'. Cite.

There are new processes, including gas frac, that have been/are being developed to reduce water use. The issues with gas frac are primarily safety - there is a high risk of explosion. Safety pretty much always trumps environment. Companies are working to make it a safer technology, and in most cases want gas frac to work. It's cheaper, less impact on the environment (yes, companies do work towards minimizing impact, at least in Canada), and studies are showing that recovery is slightly higher.

The flowback rate is not a standard 95%, it varies by formation. For instance, right now in the Duvernay, we're seeing flowback rates of between 16% and 20%.

Flowback recycling technologies are being developed. There are multiple considerations when working with recycled flowback (and saline sources or produced water) as compatibility with the formation it essential. That said, we're getting closer to being able to perform 100% reuse on all flowback, and it's getting more affordable.

One key consideration when discussing the potential for groundwater contamination in shale gas hydraulic fracturing is the location. Not all shale is the same. In New Brunswick, the overlaying formations are highly fractured themselves, leading to a higher risk of migration. In the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, the overlaying formations are other shales, sandstones, etc. and are tight rocks. Two completely different scenarios with a different level of risk.

Yes, induced seismicity is occurring in many places. More study needs to be done. Here's one from the Horn River Basin in NE British Columbia: Cite.
  #49  
Old 11-02-2013, 01:02 PM
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Don't we export a lot of the coal now?
Absolutely. ~100 million short tons per year. Used to be half that. And that does offset some decreased domestic use, but production is still down.



Any of you who really like tables of data should check out the EIA website.
  #50  
Old 11-02-2013, 07:33 PM
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One other thing with regards to location--at least in the Dallas area, a lot of the fracking wells that got put in were put in suburbs. I think most people normally think of oil fields being out on their own in the middle of nowhere, but I saw one story about the fracking debate in the suburb of Southlake where one homeowner in a subdivision was looking at a company putting in 21 wellheads all of 1200 feet from her back door.

Thinks like local groundwater or soil contamination are much bigger deals in a case like that than they are when the wells are in the middle of nowhere.
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