Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NO FRACK (ing)

Cryptic black signs with an X through the word "Frak" have appeared all over town. This failure of graphic design is an abomination.

"Ok, you have my attention... so howabout adding a website or something so I can actually find out what you're trying to advertise!?!?"

Luckily, one of our local papers had a story describing the proposed extraction (fracking) of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale (which I had heard about). NPR's On Point got me up to speed.

The U.S. has massive untapped reservoirs of natural gas, which burns much cleaner than coal (which I already knew thanks to SimCity). "Hydrofracking" fractures natural gas containing formations with high pressure water, making the formation more permeable and allowing the more rapid collection of natural gas (or other fuels). According to the guests, this process has been used extensively in many parts of the country (e.g. Texas) with little to no environmental impacts. Apparently, one of the major suburbs of Houston is completely undercut by hydrofracking equipment and pumps are located within 100 feet of houses!

Contrarily, operations in other locations (especially Pennsylvania), have been blamed for groundwater contamination with all sorts of toxic industrial chemicals, in addition to more fanciful claims, such as generating earthquakes. One guest seemed to say that, while operations in places like Texas have been shown to be pretty much 100% safe, it is not unlikely that the unique geological characteristics of the Marcellus Shale may cause additional hazards.

So I guess I would be against it? (at least until the safety has been investigated further?)

I do think it's important to balance these pros and cons against greater concerns though. One caller reminded us that potential environmental contamination may be the alternative to our ongoing military involvement in the Middle East. I don't know what the right decision is, but I'd hate to see the wrong decision be made just for NIMBY.


  1. Let's hear it for SimCity! I've been wanting to get my hands on CitiesXL but I'm on linux and haven't had time to get things properly set up.

    I thought Fracking was a BSG Reference. Now I know it's an actual word...

  2. haha, no kidding. it's been a long time since i haven't been able to find an answer just by googling it - but all my initial searches for "frak" were predictably saturated by fan sites.

  3. I suppose the question will be: can the money generated by the gas cover the replacement or cleaning of an entire region's water supply and still turn a profit?

    It's nice to see a game given credit for something! (I am a game developer.)

  4. cool! have you worked on any games we'd have heard of?

    I can't imagine ANY mined resource would be worth enough to "cover the replacement or cleaning of an entire region's water supply and still turn a profit", but if damage was slight or uncertain, we may want to consider it.

    I'll be real happy when we get our renewable energy online. I met a guy who works for the EPA whose job it is to walk along creeks over active coal mines. Occasionally, a coal tunnel collapses and whole creeks/rivers drain into the bedrock. The coal company is then required to "fix" the waterway, whatever that means...

  5. Btw, you should read the signpost I used as a picture in this post. A reminder to look before you leap with this type of stuff...

  6. in addition to more fanciful claims, such as generating earthquakes.

    Not fanciful at all. Drilling and water injection for geothermal energy production has this problem. Not saying that it necessarily did cause earthquakes in this case, but it's not out of the question.

    potential environmental contamination may be the alternative to our ongoing military involvement in the Middle East.

    This is a false dichotomy. Fracking is a form of enhanced recovery. It increases the rate of extraction, and sometimes the ultimate extractable resource, but it is not going to make the US energy self sufficient, or change the fact that our oil production peaked in the 1970's.

    Energy demand historically correlates directly with economic activity. So long as that remains the case, and we continue to worship at the altar of continuous growth, increasing marginal fossil energy supplies will only serve to slightly reduce their price, encouraging more, and more wasteful, consumption.

    Any pure supply-side approach to energy is a non-solution, because you can't beat exponential growth. We have to change the relationship between energy and material prosperity; anything less is just another way to delay (or accelerate) the failure of industrial civilization.

  7. also btw, here's NY's Department of Environmental Conservation's proposal to allow drilling. It's a MASSIVE document offered for public comment.


  8. GreenEngineer,

    Thanks for the input!

    I don't think I've heard anyone suggest that these natural gas resources will do anymore than stall the inevitable. The proponents seem to be pitching it as a transitional fuel (like nuclear) that, while not a long term solution, may be a good bridge between oil and renewable fuels.

    For better or worse, I think the fluctuations in gas prices over the past few years have shown us that people will rapidly adapt once fossil fuels prices spike (and stay there), but not before then. Hopefully our technology will be advanced enough when this happens that it won't be too disruptive.

    Do you work in the energy sector? What do you think the U.S. should do policy-wise at this point?

  9. LOL, when I first looked at the sign image, I was too busy wondering where the X'd out "frak" was to pay attention. Heh.

    "cool! have you worked on any games we'd have heard of?"

    Thanks! And maybe? I'm on the dev team of Dungeons and Dragons Online. Also worked on Lord of the Rings Online, and a few others that are pretty obscure.

  10. In answer to your question, I design HVAC systems for green buildings. So I'm in the energy business, albeit indirectly. I'm also a Certified Permaculture Designer through the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

    Unfortunately, the most rational energy policy -- a revenue neutral carbon tax with rebates to taxpayers -- is a political non-starter. Given the state of politics and citizen non-involvement in the US, I have no idea what a politically palatable yet effective energy policy would look like. I'm not sure that such a beast exists.

    From a technical perspective, the energy problem is challenging but solvable. I would place the immediate focus on efficiency (particularly of buildings), renewable energy systems, and on-site cogeneration, in roughly that order. In the medium term, the focus needs to shift to urban design and sane urban transportation infrastructure (the two being closely related).

    In this context, the idea of transition technologies has some place. But for the most part, the proposed "transition technologies" (ethanol, CCS, natural gas vehicles) are an excuse to spend a pile of money on R&D and infrastructure to replace short-term solutions that are obviously failing with short-term solutions that are not obviously failing only becuase they have not yet been built.

    At any rate, there are huge barriers, mostly political, that have been erected by vested interests who prefer the status quo and supported by a citizenry that fears change and totally fails to understand energy, or the central role it plays in their lives.

  11. By the way, it's proving very hard to reliably post comments. I've tried using both Firefox and IE (on windows) and Firefox and Safari on Mac. After I hit "post" the page typically reloads without indicating that my comment was accepted; if I do this multiple times, eventually it "sticks". I don't have this problem with any other Blogger blog, so I think it's something about how this blog is configured.

  12. Thanks for the heads up, I'll look into it.

  13. And I thought Indiana was only good for limestone! Looks like it had 4 years of natural gas up its sleeve!

  14. hahaha!

    maybe Indiana should look to a better state's example and start mining usury.

  15. what you fail to see is that this gas is going overseas, it is not about energy independence. The companies are multi national (and the pipelines run to ports and many of the companies buying in are from India and Norway etc...do a little more research scientist........

  16. Since when does energy independence require isolationism? I don't get what point you're trying to make but the goal of this site is discussion, not indoctrination, so I encourage you to clarify it.



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