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  1. Members of the UK Parliament group, the Environmental Audit Committee, have in a report released last Monday called for a moratorium on the controversial shale gas extraction technology; fracking. This comes in the same week that Lancashire City Council in the North of England, was meant to have decided upon whether to grant fracking company Cuadrilla permission for two shale gas wells. On Wednesday the council said that they would need to defer the decision for eight weeks in response to legal advice. Half of the Environmental Audit Committee’s 16 members called for a moratorium on fracking in the report, which had been ordered following an inquiry on the environmental risk of the activity. The Committee consists of seven Conservative MPs, six Labour MPs, two Liberal Democrat MPs and one Green MP. In related news, on Monday, a cross party group of ten MPs also proposed a fracking moratorium motion in Parliament. One of the MPs, Labour’s Yasmin Qureshi, said: "The public have serious concerns about fracking that need to be listened to. In Lancashire where the council is set to decide on whether to allow fracking imminently, two thirds of the public are opposed. The Government should follow the example of New York and bring in a moratorium so that the risks of fracking can be properly assessed." That motion failed overwhelmingly when a majority of MP’s voted against it, including a large group of Labour MPs. However Labour did manage to insert amendments into the Government’s Infrastructure Bill that would tighten fracking regulation, which were subsequently accepted. Last week, Labour said that if they win May’s general election they will impose stricter regulations on the fracking industry, including banning fracking activities near water aquifers. Supporters of the growing anti fracking movement will say that the case for banning fracking is getting stronger, highlighting decisions like the one by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo decision to ban fracking in the New York state in the US. Environmental group Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Donna Hume stated: ‘’The call for a UK moratorium by senior cross party MPs is a further blow to an industry still reeling from the recent ban on fracking in New York State due to health risks. The truth is people do not want a high-impact fossil fuel industry that would leave a legacy of pollution and disruption and would lock the world into further climate change.’’ But the UK government remains adamant that a fracking revolution should take place in this country, having unveiled a series of tax breaks for the fracking industry and saying it would be foolish not to relish the golden opportunity that a shale gas revolution would bring. Meanwhile Cuadrilla have asked for today’s Lancashire City Council decision to be deferred. Cuadrilla was responding to the news that planning officials were encouraging the council to deny the permit for the two wells and made amendments to their application. It was due to these amendments that the Council was asked to defer for eight weeks for legal reasons, angering anti fracking campaigners. The Council said they regretted the decision but said they were left with no choice due to the legal advice being presented to them.
  2. Will Germany really ban fracking?

    The German government says it will soon move to ban fracking in the country until 2021, which would make it the latest nation (after France and Bulgaria) to eliminate the destructive natural gas drilling process. In a press briefing, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks noted that legislation will be drawn up and approved in the final half of the year. "There won't be fracking of shale gas or coal gas for economic reasons in the foreseeable future," confirmed Hendricks. However, one can read in between the lines and see that there is still room for exploitation by natural gas corporations. Case in point: there are a number of "special circumstances" which would allow fracking to circumvent the legislation. An example is that the law's language states that "unconventional" fracking cannot take place more than 3,000 meters below the surface - but "conventional" fracking can. While this will still effectively prevent fracking from, in most cases, contaminating groundwater, it will not prevent it from triggering small earthquakes. Political parties including the Green Party have reacted with strong criticism; the chairman of the Greens' parliamentary group, Oliver Krischer, went as far as to call it a "fracking-enabling law," recognizing the distinction between this potentially deceptive proposal and an actual fracking ban - "a regulation that does not allow fracking in Germany and without loopholes that are as big as a barn door." Hubertus Zdebel of the Left party agreed, noting, "Fracking must be banned in Germany without any exceptions. To say that there is a fracking ban in the paper is window dressing. They want to enforce a regulation which mostly allows fracking under the guise of an alleged ban." Citing estimates obtained from the Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources, he added, "The planned restrictions will still allow the exploitation of half of all unconventional natural gas deposits in Germany." He also said there are other potential risks associated with allowing deep fracking, including uncontrolled methane gas emissions. Francisco Szekely, writer for EnergyBiz, remarked that the legislation is likely a play to quell environmentalists' fears while also reducing Germany's dependency upon Russia for gas imports. He said, however, "This decision is not a sustainable solution. The temporary relief of geopolitics should not be achieved at the long-term cost of environmental degradation. To put our economy and our world on a path to sustainability, governments and companies need to focus on doing real good for society and not just doing less harm, as seems to be the case" with this fracking issue. "With evidence of climate change becoming clearer than ever," he added, Germany should be "thinking carefully before allowing fracking in their territory. Moreover, whatever short-term promise fracking offers is also taking our sense of urgency away from transitioning to more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power." So in short, one might conclude, Germany's "fracking ban" may be little more than a smoke-and-mirror tactic. Said Szekely: "To quote Albert Einstein, 'We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'"
  3. Debunking the myth of shale gas

    I've recently discussed a report by David Hughes of the Post Carbon institute on my energy blog (see here). The report is called "Drill Baby Drill" and it serves to debunk many of the myths regarding shale gas and tight oil (often referred to as "shale oil"). If you believe the propaganda shale gas / oil "solves" all of the west's energy problems for "a hundred years" (or a thousand years or some other large made up number!)"¦.not so! As this report illustrates shale gas is currently plateauing at an output level of 26 billion cfg/day (about 189 mtoe). Sounds like a lot"¦until you realise that current US gas demand is about 25.4 trillion cfg/yr (or about 60-80 billion cfg/day once you account for seasonal variations). This means that shale gas output within the US can only meet about 37 - 32% of current US gas demand. Total US energy consumption is currently hovering around about 2,200 mtoe. So, neglecting conversion losses and cycle efficiencies (which for certain energy pathways from natural gas to vehicles for example would be significant) you would need to increase shale gas production about 12 fold, just to meet current US domestic energy demand. Now there may be room for more growth, but it's limited. As I've pointed out in a prior post (see "is shale gas a fracking Ponzi scheme?"), many shale gas "plays" are not economic, often being driven more by market speculation than real world gas demand (a number of the same people behind the sub prime crisis have been getting involved in trading in shale gas "plays"). David Hughes suggests that there may be some room for growth in the form of joint gas and oil fracking operations. Even so, it's worth considering that he also notes how the EIA has been gradually downgrading its forecasts for proven reserves of shale gas. The present reserves estimate of 579 trillion cfg would only sustain current production for about two and a bit more decades. Again in reality it's more likely there there might be some further growth in output, before shale gas peaks and enters into a rapid decline. Shale/Tight oil isn't much better. They are a little behind shale gas operations, so further growth is likely. David Hughes estimates, based on DoE and EIA figures, that production will ramp up from a current output of 1.2 milion bbl/day to a maximum of around 2.2 million bbl/day in 2017, before declining sharply (of course I'm for hoping it stops altogether!). As with Shale gas, the oil industry has some wriggle room. They may not reach this high point and sustain less output for longer, or they might overshoot (as with shale gas) and sustain a higher output for less time, but that's about it. Again, 2.2 million bbl/day probably sounds like a lot, until you realise that current US oil demand hovers around 20 million bbl/day (i.e. if Hughes is to be believed the US can only get 11% of its oil needs from tight oil) and global demand is about 80 million bbl/day. It is literally a drop in the ocean, much like the Tar sands I reported on before. And also like those tar sands Shale gas and tight oil both come with a very heavy carbon footprint, many times greater than that associated with conventional fossil fuels extraction. Shale gas, as I discussed in a prior post may be worse than coal. In fact a recent joint study by the LSE and the Grantham Research Institute has pointed out that the bulk of the world's existing fossil fuel reserves are essentially "unburnable" if we want to keep global warming to be below the 2 degrees recommended by scientists. Many billions (about $674 billion last year) are being wasted every year on finding or adding additional fossil fuel reserves which we'll likely never use and thus the companies doing so will never recoup revenue from these operations (again it pretty much meets the definition of a Ponzi scheme). And it's not just the carbon dioxide being released as a result of shale gas production that's the problem. There's also all those nasty chemicals involved in the fracking process and the gas leaking into people's water supply (such that they can actually set their tap water on fire! Watch this video if you don't believe me). In short the advice of the fossil fuel industry to switch from conventional to unconventional fossil fuels is not that far removed from that of a drug dealer telling an addict that the solution to his cocaine addiction is to switch to crack. It is important as green campaigners we challenge this notion of "shale gas will solve all our problems" mantra, for it is tempting certain individuals (particularly those on the political right) to believe that if we just ignore climate change (which we can't) they can still have their SUV in the drive way and air-con on all night and basically maintain business as usual. By way of example, I highlighted a while back how the present UK energy policy is founded on the principle that nuclear power will be cheaply available (actually EDF are looking for a subsidy level that exceeds wind power!) and that natural gas from the UK's shale deposits will be cheap and plentiful. Neither of these conditions are likely to apply. Yet even so several major green energy projects, despite making more economic sense than the Tories obsessions with nuclear and shale gas, have been shelved. The reality is, unconventional fossil fuels are simply not up to the task. While I would accept the argument that the more "pessimistic" peak oil analysts have perhaps underestimated the potential output from these sources, the numbers still do not add up. At best shale gas has bought America maybe a decade or two more of cheap energy addiction. But the come down from the other side of this shale fueled binge is just going to be all that more severe. My advice would therefore be to curtail the use of these sources (if not an outright ban on them) and begin the transition to renewables. Indeed by contrast to America's shale gas splurge Portugal has succeeded in going to 70% on its renewables consistently over the last winter (briefly 100% at times). Another way is possible!