There are divisions within the renewable energy camp that may prove to be irreconcilable. The best known is the disagreement over the role of nuclear energy. There are effective advocates for continued use of nuclear energy, such as George Monbiot and James Lovelock. Critics of nuclear energy are just as effective, referring to issues such as the large costs of instalation, collateral security risks and problems of disposal of spent uranium.
So it is with fracking, a process that extracts natural gas from reserves that cannot be exploited by conventional drilling methods.
Environmentalists in favour of fracking, such as Lovelock, refer to the world’s continuing need for fossil fuels to generate electricity. GHG emissions from natural gas are well below emissions from coal and conventional oil. So fracking, which has greatly increased the supply of natural gas, enables the US to reduce its GHG emissions by phasing out use of coal in the production of electricity.
Yet despite considerable research by academic and industry scientists, the long term consequences of extensive use of this technique are not that well known. Mindful of how serious these consequences could be, the Province of Quebec has not approved use of fracking.
Louis Allstadt, a senior Mobil Executive retired to Cooperstown, upper New York State. Certain neighbours came to him as they were concerned about proposals to use fracking in “their back yard” [actually the local lake!]. Fracking was not his expertise, but he agreed that he would put his experience as a Mobil executive to work. He studied the available literature, and what he read concerned him greatly.
Here are brief extracts from recent interview of Allstadt about the risks of fracking.
. . . horizontal drilling and fracturing have been around for a long time. The industry will tell you this over and over again – they’ve been around for 60 years, things like that. That is correct. What’s different is the volume of fracking fluids and the volume of flow-back that occurs in these wells. It is 50 to 100 times more than what was used in the conventional wells.
20, 30, 100 years down the road we don’t know how much methane is going to be making its way up. And if you do hundreds of thousands of wells, there’s a good chance you’re going to have a lot of methane coming up, exacerbating global warming. …
What you [also] don’t know [is that] when you plug that well, how much is going to find its way to the surface without going up the well bore. And there are lots of good indications that plugging the well doesn’t really work long-term. There’s still some pressure down there even though it’s not enough pressure to [enable natural gas to] be commercially produced. And sooner or later the steel casing there is going to rust out, and the cement sooner or later is going to crumble. We may have better cements now, we may have slightly better techniques of packing the cement and mud into the well bore to close it up, but even if nothing comes up through the fissures in the rock layers above, where it was fracked, those well bores will deteriorate over time. And there is at least one study showing that 100 percent of plugs installed in abandoned wells fail within 100 years and many of them much sooner. (Reprinted with permission from the Website Truthout.org.)
Is fracking human hubris on a larger than average scale? Before you make up your mind where you stand read our blog Eye Opener! You will discover how resource companies operating in Canada’s north failed to recognize the long term risks created from mining of gold. Now the Canadian taxpayer has to underwrite huge costs for restoration of the environment.
A similar outcome may well be the consequence of fracking.