Casaubon's Book

Shale Hype

Kurt Cobb has a great article at Resource Insights about why I think the best case against fraccing in my area isn’t the water, it is the boom and bust cycle – with a predominance of bust. The last thing rural PA or upstate NY need is another short term boom and bust cycle that leaves them with a lot of played out gas heads and environmental consequences. Or worse, just a plain old bust.

But, in its early release of the Annual Energy Outlook for 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) cut its estimate of technically recoverable resources of U.S. shale gas from 827 tcf to 482 tcf. (That says little about whether all those resources will be economically recoverable.) Much of the decline in the EIA estimate comes from a downgrading of the Marcellus Shale, by far the largest of the U.S. shale gas deposits spanning vast areas of New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia as well as sections of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The downgrade resulted from extensive drilling results now available as the rush to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale accelerates. The EIA cut its estimated technically recoverable resources from 410 tcf to 141 tcf. This estimate remains well in excess of last year’s estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey which put those resources at 84 tcf.

Despite the revisions, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry’s trade lobby, finds the 100-year figure so irresistibly round that API resists reducing it to match the official estimates in its recent ad campaign (see “One Million Jobs”). Why let the facts get in the way of good ad copy?

What ought to be acutely troubling is that the history of revisions to oil and gas resources has heretofore been one of increases. For the first time, we are now seeing not just downward revisions in estimated natural gas resources, but drastic downward revisions. That should tell us that the era of unlimited horizons for fossil fuels has come to a close. All the advanced technology that was supposed to bring unending plenty in the form of fossil fuels is now giving us better estimates of what will be available, namely, not nearly so much as we thought.

Cobb goes on to mention the recent failed attempts at finding profitable shale gas in Poland and Hungary. Just as we wildly overstate the potential of most oil fields at discovery, we do the same with natural gas, and that leaves us in a precarious place. As we’ve seen recently our public officials read the same news stories the rest of us do – and no one ever publishes the headline – “Radical downgrade in extractable resources anticipated” – even when it is entirely true.

We have systematically misled just about everyone who doesn’t read the raw data carefully to expect a future of abundant fossil fuels. The mismatch of expectation and reality, however, is likely to be enormously painful.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Stephen B.
    February 6, 2012

    This: We have systematically misled just about everyone who doesn’t read the raw data carefully to expect a future of abundant fossil fuels.

    Just again today, I was in a regional Maine forum trying to explain a bit of the basics of Peak Oil to a person that thinks that the only reason Maine people are out in the cold is because we are being held hostage to the “environazis”, etc. on drilling.

    The NYT ran an article a few days back on how Maine is suffering so greatly due to its cold climate and undo reliance on heating oil. Over 75% of Maine homes heat with oil, but the percentage is dropping fairly rapidly as one might imagine. The story was a rather sad one detailing a retired couple that was begging for heating oil while trying to make do on $1200 per month.

    Here’s the link: “http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/us/maine-resident-struggles-to-heat-his-home.html”, though including it usually means my comment is doomed to moderation.

  2. #2 dean
    February 6, 2012

    “We have systematically misled just about everyone who doesn’t read the raw data carefully to expect a future of abundant fossil fuels.”

    True – but this is coupled with those who continually repeat the lie that more drilling in the US and elsewhere will cure all problems forever, and that disagreeing brands one as – well, name any of the common oogie-boogie groups used by denialists to label others.

  3. #3 Neil Craig
    February 7, 2012

    Good to see some honesty from the Luddites. The desperate attempts to portray opposition to progress as “environmental” & find some possible environmental argument against shale are over. It is now simply that shale gas is getting America out of recession, despite the best efforts of its President, and that that simply must be prevented in case people like being better off.

  4. #4 dean
    February 7, 2012

    Good to seed neil is still not letting facts get in the way of dogma. some things never change.

  5. #5 Stephen B.
    February 7, 2012

    This comment is going to make Neil’s day, but I think that there really is something to be said for Ludditism.

    Several months ago I was reading a book The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future by a guy named Martin Ford. While I can’t really say the book was terribly well written, I do recommend it as a very important read nevertheless. In it, Martin Ford goes on exploring what our society and economy might look like as we continue automating and mechanizing so many occupations. He goes well beyond the obvious things such as manufacturing and farming – onto automating even things such as lawyer work like writing legal briefings and filing court papers – most easily done by advanced computer software now. His work, in conjunction with some of the data Stuart Staniford has put forth on his blog, demonstrate that the percentage of people employed, full time, especially adult men, has been drifting ever downward for some time as we automate so many things. The thing is, there is no reason for automation and mechanization to stop any time soon. Indeed, a great many people will find their occupations obsoleted out from underneath them. Of course, it’s always been assumed that the economy would have an endless supply of new, more rewarding, and better paying jobs to replace the ones automation and mechanization took away, but what if that’s not the case?

    Not that this has anything to do with your comment above Neil, the latter of course being nothing but off the mark demagoguery. I see no proof that shale gas is getting America out of recession as I see no improving economy around me at all to begin with. Nor do I think it useful to simply say that the president and others wish nothing more than to make people worse off. I think *many* unflattering things about this president, but thinking that he wishes to simply block progress for the hell of it, wouldn’t be one of those them.

  6. #6 Stephen B.
    February 7, 2012

    “Nor do I think it useful to simply say that the president and others wish nothing more than to make people worse off. I think *many* unflattering things about this president, but thinking that he wishes to simply block progress for the hell of it, wouldn’t be one of them.”

  7. #7 Neil Craig
    February 10, 2012

    Hardly make my day but it is refereshing to see some members of the Luddite movement being honest enough not to hide under other colours.

    I disagree with you about the merits of make-work projects. I note, however, that having written of the nobility of preventing progress you take umbrage at the suggestion that the President might do as you wish. The contradiction should be obvious.

    Whether you have noticed there is no factual doubt that the US economy is now back into growth, albeit very slow growth compared to the world average.This position – that facts don’t matter if you choose not to notice them, sometimes known as “triumph of the will” – is a necessary fou8ndation for the entire anti-technology movement.

    I am pleased that, though Sharon regularly shows signs of it she still has enough liberal principle to keep it under control. Unlike all the other “scienceblogs” sites, which are opposed to all the principles freedom depends on.

  8. #8 Stephen B.
    February 10, 2012

    Neil,

    You and I may agree or disagree, but of one thing you can be sure, I would never try to hide my views.

  9. #9 Sesli Chat
    February 12, 2012

    This position – that facts don’t matter if you choose not to notice them, sometimes known as “triumph of the will” – is a necessary fou8ndation for the entire anti-technology movement.

  10. #10 Sesli Chat
    February 13, 2012

    I note, however, that having written of the nobility of preventing progress you take umbrage at the suggestion that the President might do as you wish.

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