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Category — Peak Oil

Fracking boom threatens US water supplies

Valerie Brown


Mixed message: a warning sign at a fracking site in Pennsylvania. Image: Ostroff Law via Wikimedia Commons

Campaigners in the US warn that fracking for oil or gas, which has transformed the country’s energy market, is seriously depleting or contaminating supplies of the most vital asset − water

Since the onset of the fracking boom almost a decade ago, every state in the US has been examining its geological resources in the hope of finding oil or gas it can access through this extraction method. Almost half the states are now producing at least some shale gas, with a few – Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, North Dakota – sitting on massive deposits.

Nearly half a million wells in the US were producing shale gas in 2012. But while many countries now seek to bolster their economies by following the American lead in exploiting this controversial new source of fossil fuels, campaigners in the US are warning of serious collateral damage to the environment: the depletion and contamination of vital water supplies.

The process of fracking, short for “hydraulic fracturing”, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals down vertical wells and along horizontal shafts − which can be several miles long − to open up small pores in the rock. This releases the methane for capture.

Fracking a well just once uses upwards of five million gallons of water, and each well can be fracked 18 times or more. Texas alone used an estimated 25 billion gallons of water for fracking in 2012, according to a recent report by Ceres, a not-for-profit group advising investors on climate change. [Read more →]

June 19, 2014   No Comments

Oil companies take trillion-dollar gamble

 Paul Brown


Wasteland: the unrehabilitated site of a former shale oil mine in Estonia. Image: Hannu via Wikimedia Commons

Financial experts warn investors that their money is being used by oil companies for high-risk extraction projects on the dubious assumption that oil prices will go on rising, and with little or no regard for climate change factors

Investors are being urged to warn oil companies that they are risking trillions of dollars in exploiting oil fields that will probably never be profitable − and to consider selling their shares if the companies fail to listen to them.

A report out today from the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation of specialists who assess climate risk in today’s financial markets, says it was surprised to find that many of the investments by oil companies were financially dubious − even without taking into account climate change factors.

To justify the high capital costs of extracting oil from shale deposits, oil sands, ultra-deep sea sites and Arctic regions, the companies are making assumptions that the price of oil of will rise and stay high. [Read more →]

May 9, 2014   No Comments

US fracking revolution dilutes EU climate & energy plan

Kieran Cooke


Mixing water with fracking fluid before injection into the ground: It’s not the answer, says Jeremy Leggett. Image: By Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

Tackling climate change comes off second best in the European Union’s latest package of climate and energy targets. Instead, maintaining economic competitiveness – particularly with the US – is the priority. 

On the face of it, this week’s EU climate and energy package, with its targets for cutbacks in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the uptake of renewable energy up to the year 2030, looks impressive.

The central element in the package is a binding EU-wide 40% reduction in GHG emissions over 1990 levels by 2030. Significantly, this has to be achieved “through domestic measures alone” – meaning member states can’t meet emissions reductions obligations by making offsetting GHG cutbacks in other countries.

There’s also a binding target of achieving at least a 27% share of the European energy mix from renewables by the same year and plans for a major overhaul of the EU’s ill-performing Emissions Trading System(ETS), with the aim of lifting the market price for carbon and encouraging emission reductions across the industrial sector.

“If all other regions were equally ambitious about tackling climate change, the world would be in significantly better shape”, says Connie Hedegaard, the EU Climate Commissioner.

Yet while the figures might impress, it’s clear the fracking revolution in the US has the EU’s energy strategists on the run. According to the European Commission, US gas prices fell by 66% between 2005 and 2012 while in Europe they rose by 35% over the same period. [Read more →]

January 25, 2014   No Comments

Fracking won’t avert energy crisis, Davos is told

 Alex Kirby


Mixing water with fracking fluid before injection into the ground: It’s not the answer, says Jeremy Leggett. Image: By Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the planet’s richest nations, meeting at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, are to hear a warning that a global oil crisis could happen as early as next year. 

A British businessman will tell world leaders meeting in Switzerland today that it is dangerous to argue that fracking for shale oil and gas can help to avert a global energy crisis.

Jeremy Leggett, a former Greenpeace staff member who founded a successful solar energy company, has been invited to the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos from 22 to 25 January. The theme of the meeting is The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.

Leggett told the Climate News Network: “The WEF likes to deal in big ideas, and last year one of its ideas was to argue that the world can frack its way to prosperity. There are large numbers of would-be frackers in Davos.

“I’m a squeaky wheel within the system. I’m in Davos to put the counter-arguments to Big Energy, and I’ll tell them: ‘You’re in grave danger of repeating the mistakes of the financial services industry in pushing a hyped narrative.” This refers to the way in which banking leaders had “their particular comforting narrative catastrophically wrong, until the proof came along in the shape of the financial crash”. [Read more →]

January 25, 2014   No Comments

What happens when the oil runs out?

Kieran Cooke


Lost Hills oil field, California: The sun sets on a beleaguered industry. Image: Arne Hückelheim via Wikimedia Commons

A new book by Jeremy Leggett, The Energy of Nations: Risk blindness and the road to renaissance, predicts a grim future if our oil-dependent society refuses to change.

It is early 2007 and Jeremy Leggett, environmental campaigner and renewable energy entrepreneur, is on the top floor of a skyscraper in Hong Kong, taking part in a BBC debate on fossil fuels with the head of Shell and other chief executives.

Though Leggett is cast in the role of attack dog in the debate, the exchange – initially at least – is polite. The man from Shell says fossil fuels will continue to be a dominant part of the global energy scene for years ahead. Leggett says if that’s the case, then we’re all in for a very rough ride. As CO2 levels go up, the polar ice will melt and sea levels rise. The world economy could collapse.

The Shell executive says the world has to have energy – and that’s what companies like his provide. And anyway, energy companies are enterprises, not governments – Shell is not ultimately responsible for the type of energy produced around the globe.

“There you have it, I think”, says Leggett. “Shell is not responsible for the energy used in the world. The drug pusher’s argument.”

Those of us who write about climate change, fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions do not have an easy time of it. These subjects are not, after all, particularly sexy ones. Pessimism abounds. We struggle to find some good news. Heaven forbid that we might, at times, be glum and boring. [Read more →]

September 24, 2013   No Comments

Tools for the Transition

John Micheal Greer

The Long Descent, Chapter 5

Excerpt: pages 168-172 (taken from longer excepts on the Post Carbon Institutes’s resilience.org)

One of the most hopeful features of this side of our predicament is that the revitalization of old technologies can be done successfully by individuals working on their own. It’s precisely those technologies that can be built, maintained, and used by individuals that formed the mainstay of the economy in the days before cheap, abundant energy made a global economy seem to make sense. These same technologies – if they’re recovered while time and resources still permit – can make use of the abundant salvage of industrial civilization, help cushion the descent into the deindustrial future, and lay foundations for the sustainable cultures that will rise out of the ruins of our age.

Another practical example shows how this can work. Some time ago, after mulling over the points just mentioned, I started looking into the options for climbing down the ladder a rung or two in the field of practical mathematics. The slide rule was an obvious starting place. A few inquiries revealed that most of my older friends still had a slipstick or two gathering dust in a desk drawer, and not long afterward I found myself being handed a solid aluminum Pickett N903-ES slide rule in mint condition. The friend who gave it to me is getting on in years and has a short white beard, and though he looks more like Saint Nicholas than Alec Guinness, I instantly found myself inside one of the fantasies burned into the neurons of my entire generation:

“This,” Obi-wan Kenobi tells me, “is your father’s slide rule.” I take the gleaming object in one hand, my gaze never leaving his face. “Not so wasteful or energy-intensive as a calculator,” he says then. “An elegant instrument of a more sustainable age.” I press my thumb against the cursor, and…

Well, no, a blazing blue-white trigonometric equation didn’t come buzzing out of the business end, and of course that’s half the point. The slide rule is an extraordinarily simple, low-tech device that lets you crunch numbers at what, at least in pre-computer terms, was a very respectable pace. Even by current standards it’s not slow. I’ve only begun to learn the ways of the Force, so to speak, but I can easily multiply and divide on my Pickett as fast or faster than I can punch buttons on a calculator. [Read more →]

April 2, 2013   No Comments

Dmitry Orlov: Peak Oil Lessons From The Soviet Union

Dmitry Orlov, engineer and author, warns that the US’s reliance on diminishing fuel supplies might be sending it down the same path the Soviet Union took before it collapsed.

In this fifth video (uploaded on Jan 24, 2011) in the series “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, Orlov, who was an eyewitness to the collapse of the Soviet Union, asserts that run-away debt and national bankruptcy will lead the US to its demise, just as it did for Moscow. As oil becomes more expensive and scarcer, the US will no longer be able to finance its importation and the economy will hit a wall, he says.

“Sixty percent of all of our transportation fuels are imported—a lot of that is on credit. A large chunk of the trade deficit is actually in transportation fuels. When those stop arriving because of our inability to borrow more money, then the economy is at a standstill,” he says.

He discusses his five stages of collapse, which he expanded into his latest book.

March 26, 2013   No Comments

Talk by John Michael Greer: Surviving the Collapse

Leslie Evans

 An excerpt from Boryanabooks

I spent several days at the end of May on a farm in the Appalachian Mountains near Artemas, Pennsylvania. Some 180 people had gathered there for a conference billed as The Age of Limits: Conversations on the Collapse of the Global Industrial Model.

We reconvened in the afternoon for another session with John Michael Greer.

“It is common for empires to claim they are eternal just before they collapse,” he began. “Rome, Byzantium, Russia, which called itself the Third Rome. Civilizations have a recognizable life cycle. Joseph Tainter, in his The Collapse of Complex Societies, pointed to a buildup of layers of complexity. His list took from 100 to 300 years to fall, not a few decades. In 2005 I wrote an article, ‘How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse.’ There I argued that there is a fixation on overnight collapse, taken from Christian mythology. This is the idea of the apocalypse – when evil reaches its peak, God will smash the crap out of it. Just think of Harold Camping.

“Our society thinks in straight lines – to the apocalypse, then everything will be rebuilt perfectly, and last forever. We don’t look like we will dodge collapse, but it is likely to last one to three centuries, slipping down a notch, stabilizing for a while, then down another notch. The apocalyptic model competes with the progress model, where we keep getting better and better forever.” [Read more →]

March 3, 2013   No Comments