Monday, May 10, 2010

Don't worry, shale gas will rock your world

By some estimates, there's 1,000 trillion cubic feet recoverable in North America alone—enough to supply the nation's natural-gas needs for the next 45 years.

The new techniques of horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing--to literally blast the gas out out of rocks thousands of feet below ground--makes the extraction of shale gas suddenly economical.

This newly accessible energy supply will be a game changer. Shale gas will revolutionize the energy industry—and change the world. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics.

It will lessen world dependence on the output of dangerous countries. It will bring the U.S. and China closer together.

And it will slow the transition to renewable energy.

These are the conclusions of Amy Myers Jaffe, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Her ebullient prognosis, How Shale Gas Is Going to Rock the World, appears, not surprisingly, in today's edition of the Wall Street Journal. The drill-baby-drill editorial department there must be in terrible state of anxiety over the political damage to offshore drilling caused by the disastrous eruption of the BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

With thousands of new gallons of crude adding daily to the widening pollution damage--and no remedy currently in sight--Ms Jaffe provides what must be for the WSJ a welcome opportunity to divert attention to the next great reason not to invest in non-polluting energy sources like wind and solar.

We love the blog format that many online newspapers have adopted, since it allows for a variety of responses from readers. The writer gets to have his/her say but readers no longer have to silently accept it. And we all benefit from the exchange.

While Ms. Jaffe quickly dismisses potential environmental harm from hydrofracturing, reader Jeffrey LaMarca responds with this:

The problem is that fracking not only carries risks of contamination in the event of accidents (which are inevitable) but that we have little clue as to the long-term consequences of injecting millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground at high pressure and creating underground explosions and fractures. Pointing out that the fracking is taking place 1000+ feet underground is like saying that it's fine to dump all our garbage and waste into the ocean so long as it's 1000+ miles offshore.

The feeling of euphoria at having found a cost-free solution to a problem is invariably followed years later by the realization that the costs are huge and often irreversible. Shale gas has potential but how about a sober look as opposed to the unabashed cheerleading of this article written by a Houston oil guy.

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