G.K. Chesterton allegedly said “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything”. That certainly comes to mind in the environmental lobby, a movement that some on the right dismiss as religion for atheists. At the same time, there is plenty of misguided belief masquerading as common sense on the right, a prime example bursting into the UK shale debate this week.
The French ban on shale gas, (gaz de schiste) has been a constant motif of shale fractivists, not only in Europe, and thus in Francophone Quebec and New Brunswick but even in the organic farmers’ markets of New York State and Colorado, more open to French opinion than perhaps Oklahomans are.
I’ve discussed the complicated reasons behind the ban many times in the past including here, here, and here, but the simple answer is that France’s ban came about from a bad alignment of politics and propaganda. France’s example shows more than anything what happens when the good people of the oil and gas industry say nothing.
I was present at the French Senate when the ban was passed in 2011 in a desperate last minute attempt to keep a foot in the door as a French Senator told me back then, but we can’t forget the role of then President Nicolas Sarkozy, which led to the rare event of almost all political parties backing the ban, including the Sarkozy’s own UMP.
Natural gas is way more than shale. Shale was once described as “unconventional” but the distinction is eroding as HF and horizontal drilling become the new normal in North America and major new natural gas developments based on HF emerge in Argentina, China and Australia.On the other hand, large new supply is coming on line via LNG projects attached to big ticket off shore projects.These projects are considered “conventional”, a strange distinction given that they involve massive technology and financial investments that dwarf those in “unconventional” and have far longer lead times. Most of the projects coming on line in the next two years are a product of the pre-shale era of peak oil and gas, US LNG import demand and an insatiable, instead of moderating, Asian demand. Get out your atlases, as we take a tour of the world gas scene. Alternately, throw them and conventional energy text books away. The only thing you need to know is natural gas is almost everywhere.
In the second part of “Good News You Won’t Hear Anywhere Else” there is one study of the four that became, a pleasant surprise, widely publicised in the UK Press, appearing in the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and others, although not it seems in places like the Blackpool Gazette who generally ignore non-local opinion from any side.
The report from Ohio State was notable not in what it found, but how it was reported. Here’s the Telegraph:
Fracking opponents would have us believe modern HF technology is unstudied, or has only done so by “frackademics”. The term refers to scientists at universities often tainted solely because they they are located in Texas or because they are geologists. Saying geologists are tainted is like saying doctors are prejudiced in a medical diagnosis and it’s best to get a second opinion from a dentist. Or in the shale “debate” context, the opinion of a rock star, fashion designer or movie star is as valid – or greater – than those of scientists.
No less than four recent academic studies have two things in common: Key parts of their conclusions are positive, and in the “conventional” media and thus to the eyes of the public, they sunk without a trace. This ensure Google News flow, which travels downstream to hundreds of local frack-free sites, remains overwhelmingly negative.
How often have we heard that 97% of climate scientists agree man made warming is real? Similarly, it’s a very high percentage of scientists who see shale as a safe energy option.
Our team of citizen science volunteers at Skeptical Science has published a new survey in the journal Environmental Research Letters of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, as the Guardian reports today. This is the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and the inspiration of this blog’s name: Climate Consensus – the 97%.
Similarly, a very high percentage of scientists see shale as a safe energy option. Yet many who see 3% of scientists as climate “deniers”, remain perfectly happy to use Single Study Syndrome when it goes the other way. A classic example is when we hear so often how shale gas is worse than coal
The key trend in the heretofore sleepy energy industry, is one it thought itself immune from: Technology. In shale and efficiency we see today’s computing power enabling the previously impossible in directional drilling and reservoir analysis for oil and gas. Technology is also providing the computing structure to make demand response and efficiency effective on mass scale. Technology also means direct application of computer chip fabrication methods to solar panel, batteries and lighting manufacture, accelerating the energy transition further.
The overall tone of the recent Citi report, Energy 2020: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised as Disruptors Multiply, is one of unbridled optimism, a key trend compared to the irrepressible pessimism that too often dominates Green NGO narratives. I’ve always said that the gas industry needs to stop defending itself and start selling itself. That’s hard to do in an environment where good news doesn’t sell.
I’ve been struggling with producing a forward look at shale for a while, often difficult given the almost weekly changes.
Looking forward, led me to the past. Back in 2010, I published a report which only a few smart people bought, Global Shale Gas, What Now, What Next? The Imminent Global Impact of Abundant Natural Gas. You can find it for free in the library now.
Looking back, I got far more right than wrong, even if global shale has had teething problems. This was the era of peak oil, and even I had never heard of any possible shale gas in the UK. That was then, and this is still now, in my description of No Hot Air:
Positively Disruptive: We have ideas that turn conventional wisdom upside down, but always positively. We think it’s more important to be right than consistent.
Rationally Optimistic: We think society could be on the verge of something wonderful, in any number of fields apart from our expertise in energy. We want to share the excitement.
Bad news travels fast in anti-shale world and although I’ve never met a European activist who could tell the difference between Pennsylvania and Peru or has ever been to a US shale site, the connection between groups like Food and Water Watch in both the US and Brussels means mis-information moves especially fast. REAF, No Dash for Gas and Talk Fracking all highlighted this story in the past week, thinking they finally had a smoking gun. The potential danger from the story is shown that it was widely reported in both the WSJ and here at Platts:
More than 200 private drinking water wells have been contaminated by natural gas drilling activity in Pennsylvania since 2007, according to documents released late Thursday by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP released a list of 243 well contamination complaints that led to investigations and, in most cases, some form of resolution.
The number of complaints amounts to 2.8% of the 7,536 unconventional wells drilled since 2009.
A particularly tiresome strand in the UK shale “debate” is how people insist to me to that I’m wasting my time (and my money – not theirs), in even thinking about producing shale gas. The fact they haven’t even heard about shale oil, speaks volumes about the level of the debate, but for now, let’s just look at gas.
One of my favourite quotes about shale comes from one of it’s biggest doubters, Art Berman who said last year than anything over 45 days ago in shale is history. I’ve noted before how energy in general, and gas in particular, has until recently, moved in multi-decade time frames: One could reliably look at gas in one year through the spectacles of three or five or ten years before and accurately predict outcomes.
Shale is first and foremost a technological development. Modern drilling and completion techniques depend on technology and raw computing power. It’s no accident that some of the largest users of computing power today are oil and gas companies. It’s taken some of the fun out of geology, which depended for years on educated hunches of people like George Mitchell or Mark Papa of EOG or Harold Hamm of Continental Resources.