Email of the day (1)
Comment of the Day

November 11 2011

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day (1)

Comments in last Friday's Audio regarding shale oil and gas:
"I've thought about this for several days before emailing. We live in such a polarized society and you've always been careful not to politicize or take sides in a controversial argument. I was taken back by your statement on Friday which I quote:

'"Administration which is obsessed with promoting green energy and blocking the development of shale oil and gas [then US will have more financial problems.]" (Nov 4, 8:24)

"I do not want my country to take a short-sighted view of this. I'm not asking development to be blocked but want a careful and balanced approach. Green energy is a technology which can yield future benefits and should be promoted at some level. Shale oil and gas must be carefully explored but there are some things to consider:

"As much as 30% of the natural gas extracted in shale fields is flared off- dumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the air. Please look at the graph on this page.

"Do we really know how dangerous hydraulic fracturing is? Are earthquakes such as last weeks 5.6 in Oklahoma precipitated by fracturing in the area?

"I also was able to find this interesting article (because it's so old) in an associated search where deep well injection was stopped in 1966 after the area had several earthquakes.

"This correlation of induced seismicity shouldn't be ignored. From a business perspective there may be no provable culpability but it's ethically questionable. And will there be a future ground water contamination. Even the Army states there is some risk - albeit small.

"So, do we really want a "no-holds-barred" approach to shale oil development?"

David Fuller's view Thank you for this email; I am glad that you sent it because Eoin and I are interested in subscriber's views, not least regarding important issues such as energy policies.

I agree that you live in a polarised society and so also do many of us who do not live in the USA. These are interesting and challenging times and people often feel passionately about the main issues of the day, and so they should, in my opinion.

That said, I have learned that it is best to avoid making partisan political comments, not least because that is not what subscriber's pay for. However, I certainly have views on many of the major issues of the day, not least when it comes to economic and social policies, as clearly do most of the Collective.

Few policies are more controversial than energy and some subscribers have expressed reservations about nuclear energy, fossil fuels and fracking in recent years, and we have included their comments in the discussion, as I am doing with the email above, in addition to adding the links that were included.

I played last Friday's Audio to hear the comment mentioned above, and while you quoted me accurately, it was only part of the sentence which begins at 8.2 minutes. What I said was: "If we have an administration which is obsessed with promoting green energy and blocking the development of shale…"

In other words, this unscripted remark in a 30 minute extemporaneous Audio was meant as a hypothetical comment, and followed by another beginning with: "If they encourage the drilling…", the US can become energy self-sufficient in 12 to 15 years. I have made this same comment on a number of occasions.

For the record, based on what I have been able to observe from London, the Obama Administration has not blocked shale drilling projects or proposals, and has allowed individual States to set their own policies on this matter. That seems appropriate to me.

Regarding the links above in sequence, that 30% flared statistic applies to North Dakota's oil shale drilling. The companies are burning the gas because it is not commercial at today's prices so they are only after the oil. The flaring is wasteful and it clearly adds to CO2 emissions, although it is preferable to allowing the gas into the atmosphere in its mostly methane form.

The second article on earthquakes was based on events in Arkansas, where fracking has taken place. Texas and West Virginia were also mentioned but not Oklahoma. There seemed to be no scientific consensus expressed in the article, but it is not beyond the bounds of my imagination that the disposal of wastewater in injection wells could lead to a low level increase in seismic activity. This occurred to the Army as well, according to the third article

Re: "So, do we really want a 'no-holds-barred' approach to shale oil development?" My answer is obviously not. I advocate enlightened regulation, rather than a driller's free-for-all, or a radical green agenda that would ban it all. There are inevitably tradeoffs and the extraction of fossil fuels is a nasty dirty business, as I have said on many occasions. However, done in a way that strives to reduce environmental damage, I would say that countries are far better off with fossil than shivering in the dark or bankrupting their economies on energy imports and green technologies that are still a long way from delivering the affordable energy that modern societies require.

(See also my shale leader on 7th November.)

Lastly, this link from, kindly provided by another subscriber, does claim that there is a link between earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, although there is a degree of editorial license in the headline.

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