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Opinions and observations from environmental experts, activists, and luminaries
Connecting the Dots: The Marcellus Natural Gas Play Players – Part 1 Connecting the Dots: The Marcellus Natural Gas Play Players – Part 2 Chesapeake Energy – Peeking Behind the Curtain
Mr. Quigley, thank you so much for your service to our Commonwealth. Among many I have been inspired by your frank words about the impacts of this unconventional gas drilling. As an organic farmer watching this scourge march closer to me, I have put together from many sources - including your writings and warnings - the following 75-minute PowerPoint that makes a case for a moratorium on drilling in PA. I am trying with all my might to educate my neighbors and to link with others resisting the drilling so that we can get it stopped before it is too late. Perhaps even you are not willing to go so far as recommending a moratorium, but in my view the Precautionary Principle requires it. If there is a key ethic at the heart of our love for our environment, it has to be that principle; not negotiations and regulations in the face of an industry that should never have been allowed to get underway in Pennsylvania, and other places.
Thank you for the kind words, Stephen. I'm sorry for the loss of your wife. Your presentation is powerful. While I am deeply concerned about the future of our natural resources in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) because of the impacts of shale gas development, and while I support the moratorium on further leasing of Pennsylvania's public lands that Governor Rendell put into place in 2010, I am not in the statewide moratorium camp at this point for two basic reasons. First is the threat of climate disruption, which grows more perilous every day. On a life cycle basis, according to at least 6 post-Howarth studies, gas is 50% cleaner than coal from a carbon standpoint, to say nothing of other toxic emissions. We must turn off coal now, and low gas prices and EPA's new air toxics rule are moving us down that path. We must travel it urgently and use gas as a bridge - the shorter that bridge, the better. We cannot scale renewables quickly enough to meet the threat. Right now, a vote for a moratorium is a vote for burning more coal. For more mercury and soot and NOX and SOX pollution, and all the rest. A gas-fired power grid lends itself to distributed generation and the kind of transmission system needed to support more renewable energy. The Worldwatch Institute has done compelling work on this front. We need a real national energy policy that favors renewables and efficiency, multiplies federal investment in their development, and eliminates fossil fuel subsidies. The second reason that I don't yet support a moratorium is that I believe that the risks of shale gas development can be managed. I hope I am not wrong. Every citizen has a stake in this. Thank you for adding your voice.
Mr. Quigley: You say that natural gas should be used as a bridge fuel, but right now that "bridge" appears to be leading nowhere, as we do not have a national plan for quickly moving away from fossil fuel use via conversion to renewable energy sources and a strong program of energy conservation and improved energy efficiency. Instead, shale gas threatens to continue and perhaps even increase our dependence on fossil fuel. Its production discourages conservation efforts and diverts a great deal of investment capital away from other uses--including the development of renewable energy. Further, after much research, I am convinced that the risks of shale gas extraction cannot be managed unless/until the technology involved improves considerably and the culture of the shale gas industry undergoes dramatic changes. The industry appears to be only very marginally interested in public safety; in PA, the industry appears to view fines as a cost of doing business. None of this is likely to change any time soon. Moveover, the sheer number of shale gas wells required to extract appreciable amounts of gas is enormous. I live in Broome County, NY--a county which is likely to be heavily drilled if/when NY permits shale gas extraction. In NY's ongoing environmental study, an "average" development scenario is discussed. This scenario would result in a shale-gas well density in my county (which is home to about 200,000 people) of about 13 gas wells per square mile--that's about one shale gas well for every 16 residents. The vast majority of the wells would be the huge, horizontal wells. Each of these wells would require millions of gallons of fracking fluid and there is at present no viable way for safely disposing of the contaminated fluid that would flow back out of the wells. The people living in my county rely either on groundwater from public or private water wells, or on the Susquehanna River. Much of the county draws its water from a sole source aquifer; there is no feasible replacement for this aquifer should it become polluted. The gas wells would be accompanied by a gridwork of pipelines and compressor stations. Even with multiple shale gas wells sited on each well pad, there is no way to drill at this density without industrializing the landscape and creating the potential for many, many serious accidents that would threaten homes, schools, businesses, water supplies, and the safety of the air we breathe. The huge environmental impact of shale gas extraction has to be viewed in the context of how much shale gas we are likely to extract after enduring all of the accompanying damage. The USGS figure for technically recoverable gas in the entire Marcellus region is 84 tcf--that's less than four years' worth of natural gas at current rates of U.S. consumption. In order to get that 84 tcf of gas, enormous amounts of money will be required, not counting the money that will be needed to attempt to address the environmental and public safety issues accompanying shale gas extraction. If this is the best we can do, that is truly pathetic. If we want to rapidly reduce our contribution to greenhouse gases (and we certainly should), a faster, safer route would be a crash program in energy conservation. Such a program would spread the sacrifice nationwide, instead of asking those of us who live above the shale to put our homes, our health, and even our lives at risk.
Thank you for commenting, Mary. You hit on all the right issues and well state their magnitude and complexity. We are certainly not there yet in any respect - understanding and regulating the impacts of gas exploration...the industry's culture...a coherent national energy policy... There is much work to do. But the train is moving and I don't think it's possible, or necessarily desirable - to stop it. But we must move it onto a safer track. That will not be easy to do, nor will it be done quickly. And the climate disruption train is coming at us from the other direction, full steam ahead. I do not believe that energy conservation along is enough to reduce emissions sufficiently to avoid catastrophe. Individual landowners must decide if they will lease their properties, but for all citizens like you who live in exploration areas, it is critically important that you participate in New York's process, fight for the best regs and for retention of local control over drilling and pipelines. NRDC and other great organizations are in this fight with you. Ultimately, this is a test of basic government - in its primary duty of protecting people and the environment. We all have a responsibility to make sure that this test is passed with flying colors.
John, I wanted to add my voice to Steve Cleghorn's in warmly thanking you for your thoughtful, pro-environmental article with its MANY informative links. I also wanted to thank you generally for your great work as head of DNCR and for your continued courageous public stances on behalf of the environment. I'd add that I wish we still had you as head of DCNR, but under current PA government we know I'd only be wishing you a world of frustration. I too have been in touch with Steve, having seen his pro-moratorium PowerPoint, which I find intelligent, well-researched, and thorough and therefore value highly. In my position, I lean more toward Steve's; my intuition--in line with the Precautionary Principle--makes me suspect that the many things we don't yet know about unconventionally drilled natural gas (in its lifecycle, not its burning) may make it hasty to conclude that it's all that much better than coal. But I try to keep an open mind and be guided by the best science, as I perceive Steve and you do also; I see, for example that you really do believe NG is ONLY a bridge fuel--and that you prudently seek to keep the bridge short. If only all gas supporters did! I did wish to raise a few questions. First, I've heard (assuming this remains true) that we still have a gas glut. Wouldn't this give us enough time for a moratorium in PA (other states would keep producing) while we seek far better, more researched policies than our current PA government has given or is likely to give us? Second, while I see no reason to accept everything the Howarth study has to say, doesn't it seem reasonable to use (as Howarth does) Shindell's figures on the greenhouse potency of methane, as being the more recent peer-reviewed science? I know some are guided here by the prestige of IPCC, but isn't this rather academic, since Shindell is about to assume an influential position at IPCC, making it likely his figures will BECOME the official IPCC ones? Finally, in the absence of thorough science, I'd like to raise a question about how we should form our intutitions on unconventional drilling. I'm reading a great book, "Fool Me Twice" by Shawn Lawrence Otto, on fighting the assault on science in America. In that book, Otto cites the naive, rapid-fire technological implementations of science (ignoring what he terms "biocomplex systems"), followed by the inevitable environmental catastrophes from the 1950s on, as one of the several factors that brought science into its current state of disrepute with the public. Doesn't the "full steam ahead" rush into unconventional drilling seem to perfectly repeat the pattern of paying too little heed to "biocomplex systems"? My best to a great environmentalist, whatever our differing intuitions.
Thank you for the very kind words, Patrick. I'm trying to keep an open mind, too. This is a very difficult, complex issue, which can become heartbreaking when considering the impacts on people and the environment when things go acutely wrong. And I too worry deeply about what we don't know any may not learn until years from now. But no form of energy development is benign. I grew up in the Anthracite country of northeastern PA, where dirt was black, forests were scrub birch, and streams ran orange and turquoise from iron and aluminum discharges from the mines. Those problems persist, as does longwall mining and man-made subsidence in southwest PA, mountaintop removal in West Virginia, and the continued slow murder of children and vulnerable populations from the air pollution from coal combustion (which President Obama has taken decisive action to combat). To comment on your questions, there is indeed an abundance of gas, and prices at the end of 2011 were below $3/mcf. This has reduced consumer's utility bills and by some estimates saved every US household almost $1000 last year. It has helped spur the shutdown or conversion of over 200 coal-fired powerplants to cleaner-burning gas, which will greatly improve public health and take a bite out of carbon emissions. But in my view, this surplus is no reason to stop production. We should use this period to encourage the further shutdown of coal plants, conversion of vehicles to LNG, and propel the development of distributed generation, and smart girds - the necessary infrastructure to support more renewable energy. Developing that backbone is the best way to capture the increasing economic competitiveness of wind and solar power sooner, and hasten the day when renewables outcompete even gas. That is the holy grail, and I think, properly used, a short and wide gas bridge can help us get there. As to Shindell, I would urge you to look at the other studies that have debunked Howarth's conclusion. Lastly, I received the same book you are reading as a Christmas gift from my nephew and look forward to reading it. I honestly think that science is not in disrepute with the public. It is under attack by a political ideology that denies facts and engages in know-nothingism. Politics has become a fact-free, science-free zone,. It is that which we must change.
John, Thanks for your reply. I'm glad Mary Sweeney has added her always-thoughtful voice to this discussion. I wonder, in light of her comments about the amount of NG that's really extractable from shale, do we even have enough gas to buid the bridge you're thinking of (especially the vehicle conversion; particularly wherethe needed gas is ALREADY extracted, I favor the coal plant conversions)? I find comfort in the thought that enough shale gas may not exist to build a very long bridge, but I pray this drives us toward hard-core conservation and renewable use, rather than insanely risky strategies. No public leader's even preparing the public (except Engelder, unfairly to the people in drill zones) for "necessary sacrifice," which needs to include us all. I wanted to clarify a point: neither Otto nor I wished to say science is in disrepute with the overall public, which too obviously relies on it for its favorite techno-toys; what Otto does say is the that the naive rush of science into technological implementation created environmental problems that unfairly tarnished the overall reputation of science in the '60s and '70s. This helped pave the way for precisely the sort of ideology-based denial we face today. Two quick thoughts for discussion. It seems to me that if we want any chance of seeing the desirable energy future you envision, we need a rapid-fire public education effort; it's obviously ill-informed voters (generally, but not universally, Republican) who gave us the toxic energy policies we now see in Harrisburg and the know-nothing part of Congress. I'd like to see support for climate-change action and environmentalism generally be made litmus tests for ALL politicians. I hope that Occupy Wall Street, with its stance against corporate personhood and propaganda in politics, can raise public consciousness on this point; I also thought we could use the likely Christian self-identification of Republicans to steer them toward more Christlike envrionmental (and economic) policies. Any thoughts? Second--and this scheme requires defeating the Republican/Libertarian antitax ideology--what do you all think of a Shared Energy Sacrifice Tax (I like to nickname it a "nimby tax"), where people who don't live in extraction regions must pay a tax acknowledging that they benefit from the energy gained and therefore should share the sacrifice of people who live in extraction zones. Logically, people who live in the extraction zones would themselves be exempt, and would actually receive revenues to compensate their sacrifice; one possible use would be payment for independent pre-drill water testing. Logically also, there would be exemptions for use of renewables, in both vehicles and homes. I suspect having to share the "necessary sacrifice" would motivate people toward quicker acceptance of renewables. Again, any thoughts? Thanks to everyone for the high tone and politeness of this discussion.
Patrick, Public education is vital. As are an energy policy - and energy pricing - that internalizes all of the external costs currently foisted on the public. The price of the energy we use does not reflective all of the damage done in its extraction, generation, transmission, or use. I don't think we need a special tax; an all-in price will do as well. Which is more politically viable? John F. Kennedy once said that "In a democracy, every citizen - regardless of his interest in politics - "holds office." Each of us is in a position of responsibility, and in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill that responsibility. We the people are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership - be it good or bad - that we demand, and deserve."
John, Your comment on the all-in price is a good one, especially about its relative political viability. The one feature I like about the "nimby tax" is its precisely its value as a public ecucation tool: people are left in no doubt about why they're paying, why people are exempt, and who benefits from the proceeds. Also, by whatever means, we MUST make sure people in drill regions are compensated for their "necessary sacifice"--especially those of us who were simply steamrolled and, without being informed or asked our consent, were FORCED to accept externalities (like the $60,000 my wife and I lost in property value, simply from living close enough to drilling.) I also think it's grossly unfair that people in our shoes--if we wish to protect ourselves--have to pay for water testing that's thorough enough to hold up in court (and therefore quite expensive); subsidized, independent water testing MUST be part of any equitable drilling policy. In the existing toxic political climate, neither a nimby tax nor an all-in price looks particularly politically viable. One final comment that I forgot to add in my last post. I checked your link to Ken Klemow's site on the studies since Howarth, and on a quick scan, I don't find anything that amounts to a clear "knockout refutation." But my point about Shindell was unrelated to that particular judgment call (which, as a layman, I feel myself on shaky grounds in making). What I was getting at was that on this one point, Howarth's study is superior to any study that doesn't use Shindell's figures; don't the Shindell figures represent the "best science" on methane's GG potency, and therefore, shouldn't we generally prefer studies that use them rather than the old IPCC figures? That DOESN"T necessarily mean Howarth is right. Thanks for all the trouble you're taking in answering.
People living in the drill areas and communities must be compensated for impacts - an essential purpose of a reasonable drilling tax. PA does not yet have one...As to Shindell, I don't know if his numbers represent the best science or not. That is for scientists, the scientific method, and peer review to vet. And hopefully translate into layman's terms for the rest of us. Thanks for the discussion.
Mr. Quigley - I was deeply disturbed by your reasoning against a moratorium. Two points you made disturbed me the most. You asserted: "Right now, a vote for a moratorium is a vote for burning more coal" (and for the attendant climate and health impacts). Secondly, you stated: "I believe that the risks of shale gas development can be managed. I hope I am not wrong." That first assertion strikes me as a deeply unfair and inaccurate characterization of those like myself who propose a moratorium, and somewhat of a self-serving justification on your part. (None of us are immune to that, so please do not take offense.) It’s a nice clean-cut phrase that seems to close the door, for present-day pragmatic reasons, on even considering a moratorium. Yet its core assumption seems to me a falsity that we have a binary choice between using coal versus using natural gas to generate a cleaner brand of electricity. It appears to narrowly commit us to a deeply risky and extreme form of fossil fuel extraction when our choices are actually much broader than that, as Mary Sweeney points out in her comment and you certainly know. Let me try to expand on this point with a few numbers. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that 23.7 tcf of natural gas was consumed in the U.S. in 2010. About 7.4 tcf of that consumption (or 31%) was used for electric power generation. The USGS estimates 84 tcf in recoverable gas from the Marcellus Shale, enough for only 3.5 years of natural gas consumption (for all uses) in the U.S. at the current rate. The CIA estimates that 1.14 tcf of natural gas was exported in 2010 and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported that in 2011 foreign interests accounted for 61% of the capital investment in American shale gas. Now let's look at how these numbers relate to one another. That 1.14 tcf in exports, if it were used here in America, could immediately increase electric generation from natural gas by 15%. If we were to have a national energy policy that invested more heavily in conservation of renewable energy sources we could reduce by 15% or so, pretty quickly, the use of natural gas for generating electricity. So we could get 30% more of our electric needs met almost right away by ending natural gas exports, conservation and more investment in renewable energy sources. None of that improvement in cleaner energy requires that we rush to drill the Marcellus Shale in PA or that we lay off the coal companies in terms of cleaning up their act. We do not know how high natural gas exports will go, but they have been rising steadily in the era of unconventional drilling for gas in tight shale formations, and that 61% foreign investment and those LNG ports being considered for Cove Point, MD and other places on the Gulf and west coasts are not good signs. If things continue to trend in that way, then the "promise" of Marcellus gas gets reduced to maybe two years, probably less, of U.S. consumption. With such a meager payoff, and in the context of allowing multinational companies to occupy Pennsylvania and foreign governments to call the tune as to what happens to the shale gas, and with current American energy policy such as it is sending ten times more in subsidies to fossil fuels than it does to renewables, and all of this crowding out the sort of alternatives I have suggested, then your second assertion is even more troubling. "I believe that the risks of shale gas development can be managed. I hope I am not wrong." I am sorry, Mr. Quigley, but what you or I believe and what you or I hope is not at issue here. The issue is that you, me, all of us, cannot afford to be wrong on this matter of causing irreparable harm to the environment, water aquifers and public health over one-half the land mass of Pennsylvania and the downstream communities of millions of people, including my grandchildren who drink Philadelphia's water. The entire enterprise is a huge gamble. There does not yet exist a scientific consensus that what the drilling puts down into the shale (including extremely toxic, cancer-causing and endocrine-disrupting chemicals) or what the drilling mobilizes from the shale (including water-soluble radioactive elements) cannot get into groundwater aquifers over time. There are documented cases of that having already happened, despite industry claims to the contrary. Then there is this: "The shale gas boom combined with hydraulic fracking will cause wellbores to leak more often than run-of-the-mill conventional wells," says Karlis Muehlenbachs, a geochemist at the University of Alberta. "The problem is going to get worse, not better." Problems are already occurring during the drilling. Witness Dimock, PA or Pavillion, WY or Jackson County, WV back in the 1980s. Now we are supposed to be assured by the gas industry telling us that after they get the gas out their plugged well bores – which may number up to 200,000 in Pennsylvania alone by some estimates before they are done - and their steel and concrete will stand up against cracking and leakage in perpetuity, with disastrous consequences if they are wrong. The ethic that is "at play" in Pennsylvania right now is an ethic of money, and the raw power that attends money. That is not an environmental ethic. Of course we cannot end natural gas exports because corporations control that decision based on their ethic of profit. So be it. But it is the Precautionary Principle which expresses the environmental ethic by which we should be making public policy, not pragmatic accommodations with an industry that is already causing great harm (most of it not documented by government design) and could render one-half of this state a toxic environment for human and animal habitation. We are not justified to make such an accommodation even because other industries like the coal industry also cause harm. NRDC and PennFuture proceed at their ethical peril as environmental organizations that hope to have my support if they ignore the Precautionary Principle and advocate instead to "hope and believe" that this industry will "do the right thing" or be forced to do so by stronger regulations, when even the industry does not know (none of us know) the long-term consequences of what they do. When there is evidence that irreparable harm is possible, then those who undertake the activity must prove that it cannot happen. The gas industry has not done that. You and NRDC and PennFuture appear willing to let the natural gas industry escape this fundamental environmental ethic. That disturbs me greatly despite all the good things you do.
Stephen, I don't take offense to your comments at all and appreciate your candor. First, I cannot speak for NRDC or PennFuture; their work speaks for itself. Neither organization has adopted a "hope and believe" approach to shale gas. Quite the contrary. Both organizations are in the vanguard in the fight to protect public health and the environment: engaging in legal battles, fighting for good policies and vastly better regs, better and more benign industry practices and processes, advocating for science and study, and demanding accountability of industry and government. In practical terms, given today's markets and technology, I think that shutting down the gas industry, even if it was politically possible, is a gift to the coal industry. That is not meant in any way to characterize or disparage moratorium proponents. They have my deepest respect and much of my sympathy. They need to be heard. But the outcome of a moratorium on gas exploration would have the effect, right now, of prolonging if not increasing the burning of coal, with demonstrably harmful impacts that are well understood. A moratorium will not spur a boom in efficiency (the President's initiatives have been rejected by Congress). It would prolong business as usual. It will not lead to a surge in renewables. (The fossil fuel subsidies must end, and government must invest vastly more in renewables, something the right wing will fight to the death.) These are in my view the hard truths. It is a far from perfect world. If I thought we could instantly turn to renewables and efficency and get them to the necessary scale in the short term, and get the right policies in place, I would be for a moratorium on gas development. All the alternatives you and Mary mention are available, but imply a considerable sea-change in the political landscape and will require many years of big investment. I am not resting on hope. I am working - and groups like NRDC and PennFuture are fighting - to give the Precautionary Principle the fullest possible voice in shaping how we approach shale gas development.
With all due respect, John (may I call you that?), the Precautionary Principle requires a stop under these circumstances, plain and simple. The "fullest possible voice" unfortunately means in this case that the Precautionary Principle is not being articulated in the halls of power; is not really any sort of voice at all. "Abundance of caution" yes, but not the Precautionary Principle. My oldest brother Dave, after reading all these exchanges, and being a lifelong engineer given to finding the most succinct way to describe a problem, has summed up our exchange in three sentences: "The key point is that the risk is too great to proceed and no way to know if it can be managed since we don't know what needs to be managed. All this applies even if there were substantial benefits. But the benefits are meager and other paths to avoid climate disruption are available to take."
Stephen, please do call me John. I think we have different perspectives. I don't live in the gas fields, though I spent the first 40+ years of my life another region of PA that was devastated by energy extraction and that colors my views on these things. I also think that we have different evaluations (quantitative, not qualitative) of the risks, unknowns, benefits, and alternatives. I respect yours very much.
Oh, I like the numbers, too, John. I am not just a squishy qualitative type, although I did prefer works of qualitative sociology over the quantitative work. I liked Kai Erikson's Everything in Its Path much better than Emile Durkheim's Suicide. Not that you were calling me squishy, but you were alluding to how you must consider the hard numbers, and I do know that in science numbers matter a great deal. That's why in my PowerPoint you see some numeric calculations about what the gas industry is doing and saying that may be original work in this fracking debate. At least I have never seen them elsewhere. For example, the industry lobby likes to crow about only 0.49% of the fracking fluid being chemicals. Some figures put it as high as 2%. But even 0.49% of a typical hydraulic fracturing job or 4 million gallons is still a lot – 90 tons or so by weight. (The references for this number are in the PowerPoint, and I have the spreadsheets for examination if anyone calls for them.) If 90% of drilling fluids stay in ground - a figure I got from Penn State's Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) - then a typical four million gallon frack job will leave 81 tons of chemicals in the ground, per well bore. So each square mile of shale, assuming eight wells drilled at 80-acre spacing, will have 648 tons of chemicals injected into and staying in the shale. That’s one ton per acre of chemicals left below 22,835 square miles in PA that are expected to be drilled. Thus the gas industry over 50 years will place 14.8 Million tons of chemicals under half of Pennsylvania, many of them toxic at extremely low concentrations when they migrate to our aquifers as the drilling infrastructure deteriorates, as it inevitably will. Those numbers have not yet made it into the public's consciousness. You also see in the PowerPoint, based on an 8.8 acre figure that the Nature Conservancy uses as the land to be consumed by typical Marcellus well pad development, that one Marcellus well pad development will take up 26 times more than the land needed to drill a conventional vertical gas well. One Marcellus Shale production pad will be about 22 times larger than the pad left behind from a conventional vertical well. Thus Marcellus well pads will require 72% more land during the construction and 52% more land after reclamation than all 350,000 conventional shallow wells estimated by DEP as ever having been drilled in PA since 1859. This debunks the gas industry claim of lowering surface impact by drilling multiple wells from one pad, and it does not even include the other developments necessary to building a widespread gas field. Those are hard numbers I asked my contact at MCOR to critique and they still stand. I also looked at natural gas prices for Pennsylvania as reported by the US Energy Administration Information, which showed a recent drop in prices since about 2006, but then I applied inflation data since 2000 from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and discovered that while the "cost of natural gas in PA is dropping, in constant 2010 dollars natural gas costs 20% more per thousand cubic feet than it did in 2000." So much for the claim of cheaper energy costs. And finally, let me offer you one last line of inquiry and analysis based on the numbers, one that does not appear in the PowerPoint. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that 23.7 tcf of natural gas was consumed in the U.S. in 2010. About 7.4 tcf of that consumption (or 31%) was used for electric power generation. The USGS estimates 84 tcf in recoverable gas from the Marcellus Shale, enough at the 23 tcf annual consumption figure for only 3.5 years of natural gas consumption (for all uses) in the U.S. The CIA estimates that 1.14 tcf of natural gas was exported in 2010 and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported that in 2011 foreign interests accounted for 61% of the capital investment in American shale gas. Now let's look at how these numbers relate to one another. That 1.14 tcf in exports, if it were used here in America, could immediately increase electric generation from natural gas by 15%. If we were to have a national energy policy that invested more heavily in conservation of renewable energy sources we could reduce by another 15% or so, pretty quickly, the use of natural gas for generating electricity. So we could get 30% more of our electric needs met almost right away by ending natural gas exports, conservation and more investment in renewable energy sources. None of that improvement in cleaner energy requires that we rush to drill the Marcellus Shale in PA or that we lay off of the coal companies in terms of them cleaning up their act. Focusing our efforts at cleaning up the coal industry, and perhaps paying some more for electricity, and that perhaps stimulating conservation, makes much more sense in the light of these numbers than does allowing an industry to operate with unknown risks that could make all the damage done by coal-fired electric plants pale by comparison. Additionally, we do not know how high natural gas exports will go, but they have been rising steadily in the era of unconventional drilling for gas in tight shale formations, and that 61% foreign investment and those LNG ports being considered for Cove Point, MD and other places on the Gulf and west coasts are not good signs. If things continue to trend in that way, then the "promise" of Marcellus gas gets reduced from 3.5 years of American consumption to much less than that depending on how much of the gas the foreign interests want to claim for their own consumption. That is out of our control, because of our current choices in public policy, so how do we plan around a factor out of our control? And why, based on these numbers, do we give any credence to the gas company propaganda that this is about American energy independence or a "bridge" to renewables? The "bridge" to renewables may be dismantled before our very eyes by multinational interests who are willing to foist all the environmental and human health downsides on the people here in Pennsylvania and take all the upsides of clean-burning natural gas for themselves. These numeric (and social) realities force hard choices on us, and we have a future generation to which we must answer. When one-half of Pennsylvania is rendered uninhabitable (this is not an extreme hypothesis by any means) by water laced with carcinogens and chemicals that interfere with human and animal reproduction, and when my grandchildren ask me why I let that happen, then I can tell them I did everything in my power to stop it, from the most reasoned presentation of the facts that I could make to my fellow citizens up to an including direct action at deep personal sacrifice to stand in the way of the destruction when I found myself abandoned by our political and environmental leaders. I can also tell them that I resisted mountaintop removal for coal and supported people on the front lines of that. I can tell them I tried to stop the environmental catastrophe of tars sands development in Alberta, Canada, to the point of civil disobedience as and many others tried to give our president the backbone to stand up to Big Oil by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. I can tell them that I called nuclear power a chimera, a foolish fantasy of clean energy production since its waste product has no solution. I can tell them I turned off my lights more often. I can tell them I invested in solar panels and solar thermal heat for our farm and dairy operation. I can tell them that I belonged to several organizations that advocated for technologies to control the worst effects of coal-fired electricity generating plants. I can tell them I started an organic farm. I can tell them that I supported efforts to reduce gasoline consumption in our cars, to drive less myself. What I could not bear to tell them is that I allowed the start-up of a natural gas industry that destroyed half their state. I could not tell them that I let all these bad consequences fall on their heads because I thought 3.5 years of American gas consumption, or maybe only half that much if more of it gets shipped out of country, was worth risking one-half of my state to ruination as a habitat for human or animals. I could not tell them that I was willing to make a deal with that devil the gas industry because of other devils I was trying to control. I could not bear to tell them that I did not give it my all to stop this activity when we had the chance. I could not bear to tell them that we environmentalists voluntarily took it off the table because we did not consider it politically feasible to achieve. John, we all have to imagine within ourselves this conversation with future generations. When would the drilling end? Would it ever? And what will we be doing then to clean up the mess left behind as our grandchildren strike out on their own to possess a piece of the American dream? Will fewer of them choose Pennsylvania for that? How do you imagine your conversation with your adult grandchildren, or great-grandchildren? What would your "backcast" be – your look backward from a future place you would hope to be if you continue to oppose a moratorium? Tell me. If you can write up that vision for 20-30 years from now, then I will know if I can follow your lead or if I will have to go around you. I know we are allies at the deepest level, and I bet I would like you a lot in person, but I fear where you are taking me and others nonetheless. Let's end this conversation for now by telling me and others listening in here how you will explain it all to a future generation. You can have the last word on that until, I hope, we meet in person someday
Stephen, I would like to be able to talk, 20 years from now about what I was for. That I worked for protecting Pennsylvanians and their irreplaceable naturals resources - their birthright. That I worked to understand and to build understanding of complex issues as best as I could - especially listening carefully to and considering the positions of those whose views were different - and made the best decisions I could about how to solve complex, interrelated problems, and worked hard for those solutions that I believed in. That I worked for responsible shale gas development and the public policies that prevented harms and that built a strong, short bridge to a sustainable, renewable energy future and an undisrupted climate. That I worked for collaboration - not compromise - and for the greater good. That I did my best. Thank you for a very thoughtful and enlightening discussion. You have given me and other readers much to think about. I hope that we will meet as friends and continue this conversation.
John, I hope you are still there on this post and can answer some questions I have. I was reading in Bloomberg an article about the shale gas bubble. (See link at end of this comment.) In there it mentions this: "The U.S. holds an estimated 2,543 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet domestic demand for more than a century at current rates of consumption, according to the Energy Department in Washington. Shale accounts for 862 trillion of that total, or 34 percent." Where is the other 66% that the US "holds"? Is it in the US? Is it readily accessible? What does "holds" mean? Is it easier to get than shale gas? Is it extracted through conventional drilling means? If we have that much gas in other reserves, what is the rush to get shale gas? If we want to convert electric generation to natural gas, don't we already have enough to do that? It seems that unconventional drilling is the dirtiest and riskiest of the means to get natural gas for a "wide and short" bridge to renewable energy sources. Doesn't this Bloomberg (Energy Dept) fact suggest that we could forgo shale gas development for the time being, maybe even never need to do it if we have enough in other reserves to take us 50-60 years forward? I hope you can shed some light on these questions. - - Stephen
Stephen, EIA estimates are of the technically recoverable domestic natural gas resources. Shale accounts for 34% of the total; the rest is from conventional drilling, both on- and off-shore. I'd suggest that, given the move to shale gas, it may be "easier to get" than other gas resources for a variety of reasons; otherwise, it would not be growing in production. What is clear is that the rapid rise in production of shale gas has depressed market prices and made the conversion from coal to gas attractive economically. Gas was not displacing coal until the new supplies of shale gas pushed prices down and made it an attractive alternative.
John – I just watched this video by Deborah Rogers. Have you seen it? These shale gas reserves may not even be there. They are not independently audited. They may be cooked numbers. The major gas and oil companies have financial incentives to overstate reserves. That may be WHY they are entering the shale gas market. This shale gas rush is mostly about a g/d financial game being "played" on us. The rush to shale gas is getting in the way of developing conventional reserves that are there, which might (as you hope) bridge us to something better. The consumer (be it the average person needing to heat their home, or the trucking company that converts to natural gas because T. Boone Pickens made that happen, or the power company that substitutes natural gas for coal) are in for a price shellacking as the "majors" send LNG overseas for the highest profit and domestic prices skyrocket in the future. Dear, dear John, environmentalist that you are at the very seat and normal swaying of your good heart, why do you allow yourself to be associated with this industry that would frack us over this way? Why do you allow yourself to be "played" for the fool? You need to get as far away from this as you can, as fast as you can.
Stephen, I did not see that clip before but I have read about Ms. Rogers and seen her presentations on the web. I have read the NYT articles. I have looked at the EIA reports. I have talked to experts in the field. There is so much contradictory information available that it is dizzying. But I also see the highly sophisticated power sector embracing cleaner burning gas as a substitute for coal. I see other industries investing to take advantage of gas production. None of that investment takes place in a vacuum. What I am certain of is this: responsible, regulated, and managed production of natural gas, combined with an enlightened national energy policy, can provide a short bridge to a renewable energy future. Whether it is the shortest, safest bridge is always open to debate, as it should be. But with climate disruption upon us, I think that that bridge is worth building in a very imperfect world where political will is in perilously short supply. Each of us must make our own best judgments and carry on.
Thank you, Mr Quigley, for your sevice to the environment. I must take exception to your support for gas. By all accounts, it does burn cleaner than coal --any positive comparison ends there. Granted, I am a lay person and new to environmental activism but here is what i see and read: I hsve followed the "potable water" truck delivering water to houses outside of Lairdsville, Pa where drilling kicked up the methane and it bubbled into wells and Little Muncy Creek. Last week there was a spill on 287 on the way to Oregon Hill ski area where my family has skiied for many years. To cross the street in the beautiful town of Hughesville I have to covered my face so as not to breath the diesel fumes from the trucks (I have asthma), the pipeline via legislation it has been granted, is comdemning right of ways to lay pipe down along 220 by once pristime streams. Regulations for these pipelines are sketchy at best and the materials used are finite--consider the number of pipeline explosions in the just the last year. The Barto compressor station has been granted permission to expand. Science tells us these compressor stations do give off fumes--fumes that contribute to global warming AND comtamniate some farm crops like alfalfa. The water being pumped into and dumped in to in the Susquehanna River Valley supplies millions of people w/ their water and waters our farm land AND moves into the Chesapeake Bay....I could easily keep going to include aquifer comtamination, earth quakes, medical and first responder issues in the marcellus region. I made my contribution to PennEnv. but need more support on this issue to do so again.
Thank you for commenting. I support only responsible gas development, and the examples you give illustrate - along with many others - that there is much work to do on regulations, enforcement, industry practices, and science before the entire process can be considered responsible.
With all due respect, I too am very concerned about climate change, yet I think the precautionary principle needs to be applied before we adopt the use of natural gas as a bridge fuel. There is not a scientific consensus as to whether the use of natural gas really is the answer to mitigating climate change and there are arguments that it could be catastrophic. Please consider some of the alternate studies and commentary on this. In addition, the use cng powered vehicles has not been the answer in India where they are used, the air quality has actually worsened. Are you aware that radon is released in the combustion of natural gas? Radon has a half life of 4 days, wouldn’t this increase the cancer rates of the populace? Video Investigation of Gas Drilling Sites Reveals Invisible Air Pollutio Council of Scientific Society Presidents, representing 1.4 million scientists in 150 disciplines. Their response regarding shale gas production and climate change “The development of methane from shale formation is another example of policy that has preceded adequate scientific study” Natural Gas Bombshell : Switching from Coal to Gas Increases Warming for Decades,Has Minimal Benefit Even in 2100 IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change Switching from coal to natural gas would do little for global climate, study indicates The study by Tom Wigley, who is a senior research associate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) UN: Only Green Technology Can Avert 'Planetary Catastrophe' Shale Gas: A Provisional Assessment of Climate Change and Environmental Impacts Author: Ruth Wood, P Gilbert, M Sharmina, K Anderson Published: January 2011 Technical Report. Series,Tyndall Center Processes and Consequences in Business Ethical Dilemmas: The Oil Industry and Climate Change Threaten World By Natural Gas And Fracking Dr Gideon Polya “They are going to leak because the cement will shrink and when the cement shrinks it pulls away from the geological layer that it is sealed from, and then it serves as a conduit straight up into ground water aquifers,” said Conrad Volz
Thank you for reading and commenting. I have read most of the studies you linked to (thank you), as well as the seven post-Horwath studies that have contradicted, if not demolished, his findings, including one by some fellow Cornell professors: Howarth did provide an important service in elevating this issue. Strict regulations on methane emissions are the answer to the immediate problem. The larger need is for a comprehensive climate/energy policy that moves us to efficiency and renewables - and to the point where the latter can outcompete fossil fuels on a level playing field. There is much work to do on all fronts.
Mr. Quigley, I appreciate all your efforts for PA and its environment, and I agree that IF we can control fracking then it makes a small move away from our dependence on foreign energy sources. At the same time, we need to concentrate more on developing and implementing alternate energy programs for all energy needs. Fracking in one respect can be viewed as a delaying factor to that march toward alternate energy. This is almost as big a worry to me as the potential environmental and human dangers fracking may introduce. We supposedly had all kinds of alert (?) safeguards associated with offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and we are seeing the dreadful impact of that failure. We must not experience a similar crisis here in PA. If you were in charge of monitoring and approving safety systems associated with fracking I would feel more assured. I fear both political and lobbying interference that could diminish even minimum safety measures at each fracking site. EPA is concentrating on evaluating the impact on potable water, and that is good, but it is also quite insufficient.Fracking spills or its waste-water mismanagement can be devasting for our environment as well as human health. At this point I do not see a solid assurance that this is under CONSTANT control. Here are my views relative to fracking and our Chesapeake Bay and our Susquehanna River watershed. Thank you for considering my comments. Waddell Robey Harrisburg, PA
Thank you for your comment, Waddell, and for the kind words. Your post on the Bay is excellent. I agree that we need to concentrate on alternative energy. I am influenced by a 2010 report of the Worldwatch Institute: "Powering the Low Carbon Economy", which articulates a path to using natural gas to leverage more alternative energy and create the infrastructure that supports it. That must be accompanied by the enactment of the right standards for and monitoring of shale gas development. Energy and environmental policy must work hand in hand. Government policy at both the state and Federal levels will be key. We have much work to do.
I disagree with the premise that high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale can be conducting safely and economically. Even if there are no storm water run offs, well blowouts, well water contamination, no one knows where all the water that will be used for fracking is going to come from and where the waste water will be stored in perpetuity. No one knows how much that will cost. We have already seen earthquakes caused by deep well injection of fracking fluid. And now drillers are selling the brine from wells to companies to spread on their roads for dust and snow/ice removal. Do you want bromine in your well water and watershed? Do you want radioactive NORM in your groundwater, well water and water supply. Fracking is as safe as cyanide and DDT. If it is so safe why is it exempt from the Clear Water, Clear Air, Safe Drinking Water and Superfund Acts? Why are companies hiding the real names of the chemicals they are using from the public and First Responders? What are they trying to hide? Before any moratorium is lifted and any more wells drilled or permits granted, everyone should read the November Scientific American article by Jacobson and De Lucci on converting our energy economy to a renewable, safe energy path by 2030, that won't destroy or contaminate our most precious resource, our drinking water. We don't need this natural gas from fracking. It is unnecessary for our energy needs and not needed as a "transition fuel". The gas extracted will be sold overseas and not lead to our independence from foreign oil. Already, solar and wind energy has surpassed the amount of electrical energy generated by nuclear power. Fracking is too dangerous, too expensive and unnecessary for our energy needs now and in the future. Fracking shouldn't be regulated, it should be banned forever.
Why is hydrofracturing done? To extract natural gas. What is done with the gas? It is burnt, and there lies the problem, the big one, global warming, the one for which there is no mitigation and no escape. Fossil fuels are obsolete. Fossil fuels ARE the "bridge fuel" to sustainable, renewable power, and it's time to land on the other side and burn the bridge. The conclusion I wish you would reach is that, like coal extraction and oil extraction, hydrofracturing is the worst investment that can be made, that any private or public funds directed at extracting fossil fuels and minimizing and mitigating its undesirable impacts is misspent, that the only way out of here, and the proper place for us to devote our resources, is conservation and alternative energy. There is no time to wait. Just how much climate destabilization does anyone want? How big a mess do we want to dump on our grandchildren?
Hello from Wisconsin, where our rolling sandhills are being leveled by frac sand miners (including some from PA) to perpetuate the destruction you are seeing in there. We rural WI citizens are under siege, as sand prospectors plant visions of million-dollar royalty checks into the minds of retired dairy farmers and low-income rural folks who have been laid flat by a bad economy. The sand mining they have launched here (40 projects--mines/washplants/loading facilities--in the last three years) are already polluting pristine trout streams, drying up homeowners' wells, and compromising air quality with dust from five-story-high piles of dusty sand. A moratorium on fracking is the only way. My rural town board just passed a one-year moratorium on sand mining, as did the adjacent town and our neighboring village, in response to energetic citizen pressure. Nearly 400 town officials and concerned citizens attended a frac sand mining conference in Eau Claire, WI yesterday, sponsored by the WI Towns Association and the WI Farmers' Union. The overwhelming take-home message was: put a moratorium in place so you can take the time to write reasonable ordinances, examine site-specific hydrogeology for each permit, project and assess municipal costs, and investigate other environmental and public nuisance impacts. Pennsylvania would benefit from a moratorium also. I love PA, grew up there, graduated from Penn State, and am very saddened to see my beloved Midstate Trail now pillaged by a frac pad. Please keep up your efforts to instill a statewide moratorium on fracking, and you will bless countless folks in your state and ours. We do not need fracking at all, not even as a "bridge." Many of us in rural Wisconsin and around the country have been using reliable solar power for years. My 16 solar panels are doing just fine at supplying energy to our farm and to the rural electric cooperative we belong to. This morning's Wall Street Journal noted that the natural gas market is glutted and, with pipelines already full, gas is being flared off wells from northern PA to southern TX. These are greenhouse gases needlessly thrown into the atmosphere while investment companies like "Preferred Unlimited" (a big player here in WI, with headquarters in Radnor and Conshohocken PA) speculate recklessly with our--and my grandchildren's--futures.
Thank you for commenting. This is the first news I have heard of sand mining impacts.