It is not just you thinking the world is not warming the way climate models predicted. The models are flawed, and their estimates of the climate’s future response to rising CO2 are way too hot. Yet these overcooked forecasts are the basis for policy makers to consider all kinds of climate impacts, from sea level rise to food production and outbreaks of Acne.
The models’ outputs are contradicted by the instrumental temperature records. So a choice must be made: Shall we rely on measurements of our past climate experience, or embrace the much warmer future envisioned by these models?
One of the most important numbers in the world goes by the catchy title of Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity, or ECS. It is a measure of how much the climate responds to greenhouse gases. More formally, it is defined as the increase, in degrees Celsius, of average temperatures around the world, after doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and allowing the atmosphere and the oceans to adjust fully to the change. The reason it’s important is that it is the ultimate justification for governmental policies to fight climate change.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says ECS is likely between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius, but it can’t be more precise than that. Which is too bad, because an enormous amount of public policy depends on its value. People who study the impacts of global warming have found that if ECS is low — say, less than two — then the impacts of global warming on the economy will be mostly small and, in many places, mildly beneficial. If it is very low, for instance around one, it means greenhouse gas emissions are simply not worth doing anything about. But if ECS is high — say, around four degrees or more — then climate change is probably a big problem. We may not be able to stop it, but we’d better get ready to adapt to it.
So, somebody, somewhere, ought to measure ECS. As it turns out, a lot of people have been trying, and what they have found has enormous policy implications.
The violins span 5–95% ranges; their widths indicate how PDF values vary with ECS. Black lines show medians, red lines span 17–83% ‘likely’ ranges. Published estimates based directly on observed warming are shown in blue. Unpublished estimates of mine based on warming attributable to greenhouse gases inferred by two recent detection and attribution studies are shown in green. CMIP5 models are shown in salmon. The observational ECS estimates have broadly similar medians and ‘likely’ ranges, all of which are far below the corresponding values for the CMIP5 models. Source: Nic Lewis at Climate Audit https://climateaudit.org/2015/04/13/pitfalls-in-climate-sensitivity-estimation-part-2/
To understand why, we first need to delve into the methodology a bit. There are two ways scientists try to estimate ECS. The first is to use a climate model, double the modeled CO2 concentration from the pre-industrial level, and let it run until temperatures stabilize a few hundred years into the future. This approach, called the model-based method, depends for its accuracy on the validity of the climate model, and since models differ quite a bit from one another, it yields a wide range of possible answers. A well-known statistical distribution derived from modeling studies summarizes the uncertainties in this method. It shows that ECS is probably between two and 4.5 degrees, possibly as low as 1.5 but not lower, and possibly as high as nine degrees. This range of potential warming is very influential on economic analyses of the costs of climate change.***
The second method is to use long-term historical data on temperatures, solar activity, carbon-dioxide emissions and atmospheric chemistry to estimate ECS using a simple statistical model derived by applying the law of conservation of energy to the planetary atmosphere. This is called the Energy Balance method. It relies on some extrapolation to satisfy the definition of ECS but has the advantage of taking account of the available data showing how the actual atmosphere has behaved over the past 150 years.
The surprising thing is that the Energy Balance estimates are very low compared to model-based estimates. The accompanying chart compares the model-based range to ECS estimates from a dozen Energy Balance studies over the past decade. Clearly these two methods give differing answers, and the question of which one is more accurate is important.
Weak Defenses for Models Discrepancies
Climate modelers have put forward two explanations for the discrepancy. One is called the “emergent constraint” approach. The idea is that models yield a range of ECS values, and while we can’t measure ECS directly, the models also yield estimates of a lot of other things that we can measure (such as the reflectivity of cloud tops), so we could compare those other measures to the data, and when we do, sometimes the models with high ECS values also yield measures of secondary things that fit the data better than models with low ECS values.
This argument has been a bit of a tough sell, since the correlations involved are often weak, and it doesn’t explain why the Energy Balance results are so low.
The second approach is based on so-called “forcing efficacies,” which is the concept that climate forcings, such as greenhouse gases and aerosol pollutants, differ in their effectiveness over time and space, and if these variations are taken into account the Energy Balance sensitivity estimates may come out higher. This, too, has been a controversial suggestion.
Challenges to Oversensitive Models
A recent Energy Balance ECS estimate was just published in the Journal of Climate by Nicholas Lewis and Judith Curry. There are several features that make their study especially valuable. First, theyrely on IPCC estimates of greenhouse gases, solar changes and other climate forcings, so they can’t be accused of putting a finger on the scale by their choice of data. Second, they take into account the efficacy issue and discuss it at length. They also take into account recent debates about how surface temperatures should or shouldn’t be measured, and how to deal with areas like the Arctic where data are sparse. Third, they compute their estimates over a variety of start and end dates to check that their ECS estimate is not dependent on the relative warming hiatus of the past two decades.
Their ECS estimate is 1.5 degrees, with a probability range between 1.05 and 2.45 degrees. If the study was a one-time outlier we might be able to ignore it. But it is part of a long list of studies from independent teams (as this interactive graphic shows), using a variety of methods that take account of critical challenges, all of which conclude that climate models exhibit too much sensitivity to greenhouse gases.
Change the Sensitivity, Change the Future
Policy-makers need to pay attention, because this debate directly impacts the carbon-tax discussion.
The Environmental Protection Agency uses social cost of carbon models that rely on the model-based ECS estimates. Last year, two colleagues and I published a study in which we took an earlier Lewis and Curry ECS estimate and plugged it into two of those models. The result was that the estimated economic damages of greenhouse gas emissions fell by between 40 and 80 per cent, and in the case of one model the damages had a 40 per cent probability of being negative for the next few decades — that is, they would be beneficial changes. The new Lewis and Curry ECS estimate is even lower than their old one, so if we re-did the same study we would find even lower social costs of carbon.
If ECS is as low as the Energy Balance literature suggests, it means that the climate models we have been using for decades run too hot and need to be revised. It also means that greenhouse gas emissions do not have as big an impact on the climate as has been claimed, and the case for costly policy measures to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions is much weaker than governments have told us. For a science that was supposedly “settled” back in the early 1990s, we sure have a lot left to learn.
Ross McKitrick is professor of economics at the University of Guelph and senior fellow at the Fraser Institute.
The latest dose of “fake news” about global warming comes from two forecasts of famine due to human activity. Both drew on estimates of extremely high temperatures predicted by the same flawed climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to predict other climate calamities. The climate models used in the studies are estimated to overpredict temperature by 2.5 to 3 times as compared to actually measured temperatures, and both rely on the highest estimates of maximum temperature increase.
The first of the reports warned that future production of vegetables and legumes would decrease by more than 30 percent with an expected rise of 4C. Even the alarmist IPCC says that the most likely case is a rise of about half that.
The primary reason for the prediction of famine is a sharp decrease in water availability, even though recent reports indicate that previously arid portions of the Earth are experiencing a significant net increase in soil moisture due to a combination of increasing precipitation and CO2 fertilization — both effects of our changing climate.
Buried in the report is an admission that contradicts the hysteria engendered by the headlines. According to the authors, a 250-ppm increase in CO2, without the exaggerated temperature increase, would boost crop production by an average of 22 percent! That’s correct, more food as a result of increasing CO2.
The second report projects decreases in corn (maize) production due to increasing heat waves. This increase in extreme heat was based on the same exaggerated 4oC increase in temperature as the first study.
According to the USDA, corn is the largest component of the global grain trade, and the United States is the world’s largest producer. Corn is thus one of the country’s most important agricultural products, processed as sweet corn, cornmeal, tortillas and, thankfully, bourbon. It also is the primary feedstock to fatten cattle, chickens and hogs.
Fortunately, despite a continuing rise in temperatures, the world and America have set new corn records on an annual basis. The world’s remarkable ability to increase food production year after year is attributable to mechanization, agricultural innovation, CO2 fertilization and warmer weather. World grain production figures show that crop and food production has steadily increased, with only positive effects from our changing climate.
World grain production, consumption (LHS) and stocks (RHS) IGC (International Grain Council) data, Momagri formatting
Historically, crop growth has ballooned in times of high temperatures and declined drastically during cold periods. Over the last 4,000 years we find that previous periods of much warmer temperatures coincided with increasing food and prosperity leading to the rise of great civilizations that were relatively rich and well fed. Prosperous periods were interrupted by times of great despair as the Earth plunged into global cooling. With names like the Greek Dark Ages, the Dark Ages and the Little Ice Age, intervening cool periods featured crop failure, famine and mass depopulation.
Corn production in the U.S. presents a conundrum for environmental activists. On the one hand, they engage in fear mongering with predictions of famine based on questionable climate models. On the other hand, as enemies of fossil fuels, the activists promote ethanol production to replace our oil-based transportation fuels. Every acre of corn diverted to ethanol production is an acre that is no longer feeding the world’s hungry. In 2008, Herr Jean Ziegler, the United Nations’ Rapporteur for the Right to Food, claimed that “to divert land from food production to biofuels is a crime against humanity.”
In 2000, the United States imposed the first ethanol mandate, dictating the level of ethanol that must be incorporated into American fuels. At that time, 90 percent of corn production was used for food. Today, only 60 percent of corn produced is used for food, driving up the cost of corn as food. The climate alarmists who claim to care about the world’s hungry could improve their lot overnight by simply canceling the ethanol mandate.
Rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide are leading to multiple benefits and perhaps the most important of those is increasing crop production. Sleep well users of fossil fuels; you aren’t causing famine.
Gregory Wrightstone is author of the new book, “Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You To Know.” Wrightstone is a geologist with more than 35 years of experience researching and studying various aspects of the Earth’s processes. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America.
This message from the Eagles goes out to all those social justice warriors on campus.
Jordan Peterson: “So the first thing that you might want to know about Postmodernism is that it doesn’t have a shred of gratitude — and there’s something pathologically wrong with a person that doesn’t have any gratitude, especially when they live in what so far is the best of all possible worlds. So if you’re not grateful, you’re driven by resentment, and resentment is the worst emotion that you can possibly experience, apart from arrogance. Arrogance, resentment, and deceit. There is an evil triad for you.”
Previous posts addressed the claim that fossil fuels are driving global warming. This post updates that analysis with the latest (2017) numbers from BP Statistics and compares World Fossil Fuel Consumption (WFFC) with three estimates of Global Mean Temperature (GMT). More on both these variables below.
The reporting categories are:
Renewables (other than hydro)
This analysis combines the first three, Oil, Gas, and Coal for total fossil fuel consumption world wide. The chart below shows the patterns for WFFC compared to world consumption of Primary Energy from 1965 through 2017.
The graph shows that Primary Energy consumption has grown continuously for 5 decades. Over that period oil, gas and coal (sometimes termed “Thermal”) averaged 89% of PE consumed, ranging from 94% in 1965 to 85% in 2017. MToe is millions of tons of oil equivalents.
Global Mean Temperatures
Everyone acknowledges that GMT is a fiction since temperature is an intrinsic property of objects, and varies dramatically over time and over the surface of the earth. No place on earth determines “average” temperature for the globe. Yet for the purpose of detecting change in temperature, major climate data sets estimate GMT and report anomalies from it.
UAH record consists of satellite era global temperature estimates for the lower troposphere, a layer of air from 0 to 4km above the surface. HadSST estimates sea surface temperatures from oceans covering 71% of the planet. HADCRUT combines HadSST estimates with records from land stations whose elevations range up to 6km above sea level.
Both GISS LOTI (land and ocean) and HADCRUT4 (land and ocean) use 14.0 Celsius as the climate normal, so I will add that number back into the anomalies. This is done not claiming any validity other than to achieve a reasonable measure of magnitude regarding the observed fluctuations.
No doubt global sea surface temperatures are typically higher than 14C, more like 17 or 18C, and of course warmer in the tropics and colder at higher latitudes. Likewise, the lapse rate in the atmosphere means that air temperatures both from satellites and elevated land stations will range colder than 14C. Still, that climate normal is a generally accepted indicator of GMT.
Correlations of GMT and WFFC
The next graph compares WFFC to GMT estimates over the five decades from 1965 to 2017 from HADCRUT4, which includes HadSST3.
Over the last five decades the increase in fossil fuel consumption is dramatic and monotonic, steadily increasing by 227% from 3.5B to 11.5B oil equivalent tons. Meanwhile the GMT record from Hadcrut shows multiple ups and downs with an accumulated rise of 0.9C over 52 years, 6% of the starting value.
The second graph compares to GMT estimates from UAH6, and HadSST3 for the satellite era from 1979 to 2017, a period of 38 years.
In the satellite era WFFC has increased at a compounded rate of nearly 2% per year, for a total increase of 87% since 1979. At the same time, SST warming amounted to 0.44C, or 3.1% of the starting value. UAH warming was 0.58C, or 4.2% up from 1979. The temperature compounded rate of change is 0.1% per year, an order of magnitude less. Even more obvious is the 1998 El Nino peak and flat GMT since.
The climate alarmist/activist claim is straight forward: Burning fossil fuels makes measured temperatures warmer. The Paris Accord further asserts that by reducing human use of fossil fuels, further warming can be prevented. Those claims do not bear up under scrutiny.
It is enough for simple minds to see that two time series are both rising and to think that one must be causing the other. But both scientific and legal methods assert causation only when the two variables are both strongly and consistently aligned. The above shows a weak and inconsistent linkage between WFFC and GMT.
Going further back in history shows even weaker correlation between fossil fuels consumption and global temperature estimates:
Figure 5.1. Comparative dynamics of the World Fuel Consumption (WFC) and Global Surface Air Temperature Anomaly (ΔT), 1861-2000. The thin dashed line represents annual ΔT, the bold line—its 13-year smoothing, and the line constructed from rectangles—WFC (in millions of tons of nominal fuel) (Klyashtorin and Lyubushin, 2003). Source: Frolov et al. 2009
In legal terms, as long as there is another equally or more likely explanation for the set of facts, the claimed causation is unproven. The more likely explanation is that global temperatures vary due to oceanic and solar cycles. The proof is clearly and thoroughly set forward in the post Quantifying Natural Climate Change.
The NFU has warned farmers they face rises in climate change taxes unless they register for a discount scheme before the 31 July deadline.
The Climate Change Levy (CCL) is a tax charged on gas, electricity, LPG, coal and coke used by UK businesses.
In April 2019, CCL rates levied on energy bills will increase by about 3% for electricity and 7% for gas for any businesses that do not register for a discounted rate under an NFU scheme.
Under the CCL scheme, eligible businesses can receive a discount in return for meeting energy-efficiency or carbon-saving targets. Achieving these targets will enable the business to receive a discount until March 2023, the NFU says.
The NFU CCL scheme gives up to 93% levy reductions on electricity and 78% on gas to qualifying businesses in the pig, poultry and protected horticulture sectors. It is therefore imperative to sign up to the scheme before the deadline of 31 July, the union warns.
Example of annual CCL savings for poultry farm using 350,000 kWh of import electricity and 45,000 litres of LPG
Ontario will scrap the province’s cap-and-trade program and pull out of the carbon-trading market with Quebec and California even as pollution pricing expands in other regions of the world.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives will follow through on a campaign promise to withdraw from the environmental program that required companies to buy credits to offset pollution blamed for global warming. Premier-designate Doug Ford also said he will challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s authority to make local governments put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions.
The move comes as carbon-pricing programs are expanding in the U.S. even as President Donald Trump seeks to ease restrictions on coal companies. Europe already has a large regional cap-and-trade system while China, the world’s biggest polluter, has committed to a national pollution program that could open by 2020.
Ontario’s election results were largely priced into California’s carbon market. Despite Friday’s announcement, emitters in Ontario remain obligated to manage their carbon pollution until the province formally withdraws from the system, said John Battaglia, head of carbon markets at BGC Environmental Brokerage Services LP.
“The market is stable here,” Battaglia said in an interview. “We expect a bit of short-term volatility, but long term, the show will go on.” (Comment: It is all about the show, isn’t it?)
Ontario’s PCs will be sworn in June 29 after defeating the Liberals in an election earlier this month. Ending what Ford called a job-killing carbon tax was one of his major commitments during the campaign. Ontario will also quit the Western Climate Initiative, Ford said Friday from Toronto.
“Eliminating the carbon tax and cap-and-trade is the right thing to do and is a key component in our plan to bring your gas prices down by 10 cents per liter,” Ford said in a statement.
But the move may not spare Ontario from a carbon price. Trudeau’s government is bringing in carbon pricing rules to cover all provinces and a “backstop” for local governments that don’t come up with their own plans this year.
“Ontario is going to still have an obligation under the federal architecture and the cost of meeting that obligation could be higher,” said Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future. “The costs of the cap-and-trade program are small on retail gasoline rates.”
Another wheel comes off the Ontario Green Energy bus.
In June, ice extents are declining as usual, except for the early melting in Bering and Okhotsk Seas. The image above from DMI shows widespread thick ice across the Arctic core, likely to melt more slowly. The graph above shows how much volume was added since March 2018, bringing it close to 2014, a particularly icy year.
The graph below shows how the Arctic extent from MASIE has faired the first two weeks of June up to yesterday, compared to the 11 year average and to some years of interest.
Note that 2018 is now matching the 11-year average, as well as 2017 and 2007. SII 2018 is tracking MASIE 2018 closely.
The table shows regional ice extents compared to average and 2007.
Note that Bering and Okhotsk account for the 2018 deficit to average. Chukchi, Laptev and Greenland Seas are down somewhat, but offset by surpluses in Kara Sea, Beaufort Sea and Hudson Bay. The differences from 2007 are similar.
The Pacific basins of Bering and Okhotsk are the first to lose ice, and it will be interesting to see how the core Arctic Seas holds up this summer. Chukchi is down, perhaps influenced by the early melting in Bering, but is offset by surpluses in Beaufort and East Siberian.
Special snow goggles for protection in polar landscapes.
Someone triggered Antarctica for this week’s media alarm blitz.
Antarctic ice loss increases to 200 billion tonnes a year– Climate Action
Antarctica is now melting three times faster than ever before– Euronews
Antarctica is shedding ice at an accelerating rate– Digital Journal
Al Gore Sounds the Alarm on 0.3 inches of Sea Level Rise from Ice Sheets– Daily Caller
Antarctica is losing an insane amount of ice. Nothing about this is good. – Fox News
Looks like it’s time yet again to play Climate Whack-A-Mole. That means stepping back to get some perspective on the reports and the interpretations applied by those invested in alarmism.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet extends almost 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles), roughly the area of the contiguous United States and Mexico combined. The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains 30 million cubic kilometers (7.2 million cubic miles) of ice. (Source: NSIDC: Quick Facts Ice Sheets)
The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area larger than the U.S. and Mexico combined. This photo shows Mt. Erebus rising above the ice-covered continent. Credit: Ted Scambos & Rob Bauer, NSIDC
The study of ice sheet mass balance underwent two major advances, one during the early 1990s, and again early in the 2000s. At the beginning of the 1990s, scientists were unsure of the sign (positive or negative) of the mass balance of Greenland or Antarctica, and knew only that it could not be changing rapidly relative to the size of the ice sheet.
Advances in glacier ice flow mapping using repeat satellite images, and later using interferometric synthetic aperture radar SAR methods, facilitated the mass budget approach, although this still requires an estimate of snow input and a cross-section of the glacier as it flows out from the continent and becomes floating ice. Satellite radar altimetry mapping and change detection, developed in the early to mid-1990s allowed the research community to finally extract reliable quantitative information regarding the overall growth or reduction of the volume of the ice sheets.
By 2002, publications were able to report that both large ice sheets were losing mass (Rignot and Thomas 2002). Then in 2003 the launch of two new satellites, ICESat and GRACE, led to vast improvements in one of the methods for mass balance determination, volume change, and introduced the ability to conduct gravimetric measurements of ice sheet mass over time. The gravimetric method helped to resolve remaining questions about how and where the ice sheets were losing mass. With this third method, and with continued evolution of mass budget and geodetic methods it was shown that the ice sheets were in fact losing mass at an accelerating rate by the end of the 2000s (Veliconga 2009, Rignot et al. 2011b).
A new 2015 NASA study says that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers.
The research challenges the conclusions of other studies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 report, which says that Antarctica is overall losing land ice.
According to the new analysis of satellite data, the Antarctic ice sheet showed a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001. That net gain slowed to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008.
“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published on Oct. 30 in the Journal of Glaciology. “Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica – there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.” Zwally added that his team “measured small height changes over large areas, as well as the large changes observed over smaller areas.”
Scientists calculate how much the ice sheet is growing or shrinking from the changes in surface height that are measured by the satellite altimeters. In locations where the amount of new snowfall accumulating on an ice sheet is not equal to the ice flow downward and outward to the ocean, the surface height changes and the ice-sheet mass grows or shrinks.
Snow covering Antarctic peninsula.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Such reports often include scary graphs like this one and the reader is usually provided no frame of reference or context to interpret the image. First, the chart is showing cumulative loss of mass arising from an average rate of 100 Gt lost per year since 2002. Many years had gains, including 2002, and the cumulative loss went below zero only in 2006. Also, various methods of measuring and analyzing give different results, as indicated by the earlier section.
Most important is understanding the fluxes in proportion to the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Let’s do the math. Above it was stated Antarctica contains ~30 million cubic kilometers of ice volume. One km3 of water is 1 billion cubic meters and weighs 1 billion tonnes, or 1 gigatonne. So Antarctica has about 30,000,000 gigatonnes of ice. Since ice is slightly less dense than water, the total should be adjusted by 0.92 for an estimate of 27.6 M Gts of ice comprising the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
So in the recent decade, an average year went from 27,600,100 Gt to 27,600,000, according to one analysis. Other studies range from losing 200 Gt/yr to gaining 100 Gt/yr.
Even if Antarctica lost 200 Gt/yr. for the next 1000 years, it would only approach 1% of the ice sheet.
If like Al Gore you are concerned about sea level rise, that calculation starts with the ocean area estimated to be 3.618 x 10^8 km2 (361,800,000 km2). To raise that area 1 mm requires 3.618×10^2 km3 or 361.8 km3 water (1 km3 water=1 Gt.) So 200 Gt./yr is about 0.55mm/yr or 6 mm a decade, or 6 cm/century.
By all means let’s pay attention to things changing in our world, but let’s also notice the scale of the reality and not make mountains out of molehills.
Let’s also respect the scientists who study glaciers and their subtle movements over time (“glacial pace”). Below is an amazing video showing the challenges and the beauty of working on Greenland Glacier.
Hydraulic fracturing (AKA “fracking”) is in the news every day, and often in a disparaging way, despite the great benefits bestowed on nations applying the process, especially the US.
On a recent river cruise I found myself at a table with a couple from California, and the woman began spouting about the dangers and horribleness of fracking. My civility censor was suppressed by the wine I’d consumed, and I interrupted to say she was talking Bullshit. She halted, then asked her husband, a retired geologist, to comment, and he stated that fracking is a risky business. The geologist husband did not present any evidence for his view, IMO he was only speaking to support his spouse. I said I respected his opinion but still disagreed. The next day I apologized for my rudeness but said I still think she has been misled. We shared a congenial dinner later on, but avoided the subject.
The experience revealed I had been unprepared to engage on the details of the fracking issue. So this post is to summarize some research to assemble persuasive facts and resources to counter the fear mongering on this subject.
1.Obama’s EPA Found Fracking Has Not Contaminated Drinking Water
First, let me provide a bit of background on hydraulic fracturing. I find that most people who are against fracking don’t actually know what it is. The EPA report goes out of its way to blur the lines as well by lumping it all into “activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.” By doing this, if a guy driving a truck filled with fracking chemicals has a wreck, it’s a “fracking issue.” So let’s define some terms.
Hydraulic fracturing has been around since the late 1940s, and has now been used in the U.S. more than a million times to increase production from oil and gas wells. Fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and a proppant down an oil or gas well under high pressure to break open channels (fractures) in the reservoir rock trapping the deposit. Oil and gas do not travel easily through these some formations, which is why they need to be fractured. The proppant is a granular material (usually sand) designed to hold those channels open, allowing the oil (or natural gas) to flow to the well bore. While fracking has been around for decades, two developments in recent years are responsible for thrusting the technique into the public eye. The first is the fairly recent development in which fracking was combined with horizontal drilling, another common technique used in the oil and gas industry.
Like fracking, horizontal drilling was invented decades ago, and has been widely used in the oil and gas industry since the 1980s. As its name implies, horizontal drilling involves drilling down to an oil or gas deposit and then turning the drill horizontal to the formation to access a greater fraction of the deposit.
The marriage of these two techniques of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling enabled the shale oil and gas boom in the U.S.
But the second development is what primarily thrust the technique(s) into the public spotlight. Some of the shale oil and gas formations are in areas that had never experienced significant fossil fuel development. Many locals resented this intrusion into their lives, and anti-fracking sentiments fed into a great deal of misinformation around the technique.
The movie Gasland is a perfect example. Director Josh Fox, whose family farm lies atop the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, relied on misinformation and appeals to emotion instead of scientific data. Nevertheless, it was embraced by anti-fracking activists, and many who had never heard of fracking became convinced the technique was regularly polluting water supplies.
The concern among anti-fracking activists was that the fractures that allowed oil and gas to reach the well bore could also allow oil, gas, and chemicals to seep into the water supplies. But the reason this is a remote possibility is that a mile or more of rock will separate an oil and gas formation that is being fractured and an underground water resource. The fractures themselves extend for a few hundred feet, thus unsurprisingly there has never been a proven case where chemicals migrated from a fracked zone into water supplies.
That hasn’t stopped some from claiming that fracking has contaminated water supplies. However, those cases have always been a result of some activity peripheral to fracking. For example, if a well is improperly cemented it can leak. That in fact has happened, leading to the charge that “fracking contaminated the water.” There is an important distinction, however, and that is that this is not a result of the fracking process. A well may leak regardless of whether it was fracked. But activists (and now the EPA) seem bent on blurring the lines to the greatest extent possible by lumping lots of peripheral activities into the “fracking process.”
In 2010, Congress asked the EPA to investigate the safety of fracking. In 2015, the EPA issued a draft report. The bombshell statement from that report was that there was no evidence that fracking had “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” This report was cheered by the fossil fuel industry, but caused a backlash with environmentalists, and spawned many counterclaims that the “fracking process” had led to contaminated water.
In December 2016 the EPA released its final report on the topic: Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States. Environmentalists were quick to note that the EPA had deleted its previous claim of no evidence of widespread water contamination, and were now reporting that “hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.” This story from The New York Times, for instance, was pretty typical of the reporting on the issue: Reversing Course, E.P.A. Says Fracking Can Contaminate Drinking Water.
But did the EPA actually reverse course? No. They gave examples where fracking could contaminate water. For instance they state that “Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources” can cause contamination. Yeah, no joke. Likewise, filling your car with gasoline can contaminate drinking water, because if you spill the gasoline all over the ground, it can get into the drinking water.
The EPA’s final report on hydraulic fracturing wasn’t that much different from the draft report. As in the previous report, the EPA noted that activities related to — but not exclusive to — fracking, have contaminated water supplies. Chemical spills happen all the time, but if the chemicals in question are for fracking, it becomes a “fracking issue.” Note that if the chemicals in question are to be used for fighting fires, we don’t say “firefighting contaminates water.” We should properly identify and address the actual problem, which in this instance would be the cause of the chemical spill.
Ultimately, the final report deleted a phrase from the draft report that there was no evidence of widespread impact on water supplies, and selectively used hypotheticals to show how fracking “could” contaminate water supplies. This is the Obama Administration laying down one more speed bump for the oil and gas industry while it still can.
A new Environment America “report” uses a couple old anti-fracking tactics — exploitation of children and blatant misinformation from activist studies — to try to stoke fears and rally support for its extremist call to ban fracking nationwide.
The ominously-titled “Dangerous and Close: Fracking Puts the Nation’s Most Vulnerable People at Risk” finds there are nearly 2,000 child care facilities, better than 1,300 schools, nearly 250 nursing care providers and more than 100 hospitals within a one-mile radius of fracked wells in the nine states examined, stating:
“Given the scale and severity of fracking’s impacts, fracking should be prohibited wherever possible and existing wells should be shut down beginning with those near institutions that serve our most vulnerable populations.”
Here are the report’s most egregious claims, followed by the facts.
Environment America Claim: “Fracking creates a range of threats to our health, including creating toxic air pollution that can reduce lung function even among healthy people, trigger asthma attacks, and has been linked to premature death. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to fracking’s health risks.”
A pumpjack works in the Bakken shale of North Dakota.
REALITY: There is actually ample evidence that fracking is improving overall air quality and health by reducing major pollutants such as fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Furthermore, all three studies EA singles out as “evidence” close proximity to fracking sites can lead to the myriad of adverse health effects have been thoroughly debunked.
EA even cites an Earthworks study that claims “A series of 2012 measurements by officials of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found VOCs levels so high at one fracking location that the officials themselves were forced to stop taking measurements and leave the site because it was too dangerous for them to remain.”
EA fails to mention TCEQ responded to Earthworks’ report by saying the agency has collected “several millions of data points for volatile organic compounds” in the Barnett Shale and Eagle Ford Shale and “Overall, the monitoring data provide evidence that shale play activity does not significantly impact air quality or pose a threat to human health.”
EA also conveniently ignores that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPH) have conducted air monitoring near well sites as well and found no credible risk to public health.
Environment America Claim: “Currently, oil and gas companies are exempt from key provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.”
REALITY: The notion that the oil and natural gas industry is under-regulated is absolutely absurd narrative activists such as EA continue to push. Oil and gas production activities are subject to eight federal laws: including all relevant provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA); Clean Water Act (CWA); Clean Air Act (CAA); Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); the EPCRA; Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Additionally, the oil and gas production sector is also heavily regulated at the state level.
A drilling rig works in the Eagle Ford shale, South Texas region.
Environment America Claim: “Exposure to low levels of many of the chemicals used in or generated by oil and gas extraction activities can contribute to a variety of health effects, including asthma, cancer, birth defects, damage to the reproductive system and impaired brain development. For example, children’s long-term exposure to low levels of benzene, generally classified as a carcinogen, also harms respiratory health.”
REALITY: It is essential to understand that toxicity is completely dependent on dose level and exposure. The mere presence of benzene, for example, does not mean that it is present in toxic levels, as the numerous studies air monitoring studies referred to earlier illustrate. EA insinuates that even low-level benzene exposure is harmful. But benzene is actually present in countless everyday products such as shampoo, tooth paste, paint, PVC pipes and countless plastic products.
Environment America Claim: “Fracking targets the oil and gas trapped in shale formations… Sometimes that means wells are drilled in rural areas, such as portions of Colorado or North Dakota, and sometimes that wells are in densely populated areas, such as Los Angeles…”
REALITY: There are no fracking or unconventional oil production operations in the city of Los Angeles — none. EA attempts to justify this claim by employing the common activist tactic of expanding the definition of fracking to encompass all oil and gas related activity:
“Throughout this report, we refer to “fracking” as including all of the activities needed to bring a well into production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing. This includes drilling the well, operating that well, processing the gas or oil produced from that well, and delivering the gas or oil to market. The oil and gas industry often uses a more restrictive definition of “fracking” that includes only the actual moment in the extraction process when rock is fractured – a definition that obscures the broad changes to environmental, health and community conditions that result from the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas extraction.”
Fracking is not used as a completion technique at any of the urban drill sites in the city. All of the facilities recover oil through traditional water flood operations. The report’s attempt to shoehorn fracking and unconventional production into its report proves that it is not engaged in an honest attempt to inform the public.
Environment America Claim: “Because of the health hazard created by radon, Pennsylvania has a long record of radon measurements in homes. An analysis of those radon measurements by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that radon levels have increased in counties with extensive fracking since 2004, and also found elevated radon levels on the first floor of houses located within 12.5 miles of a fracked well.”
REALITY: The Johns Hopkins study EA is referring to actually found the highest concentrations of radon were in areas with no shale development and direct sampling found radon not linked to fracking. As is the case with so many of the studies EA uses as evidence, the authors merely speculated fracking was the cause.
Environment America Claim: “Oil and gas production at fracked wells releases volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides that contribute to the formation of smog.”
REALITY: Oil and gas production is not a major contributor to ground-level ozone.
As EID has emphasized before, publicly available information demonstrates oil and gas production is not the significant contributor to ozone levels. Vehicle exhaust adds far more non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) — both precursors to ground-level ozone — to the atmosphere than oil and gas production, as data from the EPA’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Inventory clearly demonstrates.
Not only do oil and gas activities account for just six percent of total NOx emissions, which play more of a role in ground-level formation than VOCs, another recent NOAA report found that “The increased use of natural gas has…led to emissions reductions of NOx (40%) and SO2 (44%).”
Environment America Claim: “Contaminants can reach water supplies through faulty well construction, through surface spills, through improper wastewater disposal, or potentially through migration from the shale layer itself.”
REALITY: The EPA’s landmark five-year study confirmed, “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” and at least 15 other studies say the fracking process, specifically, have not contaminated groundwater.
EA’s claims in this report — aimed at generating headlines — are quite profound.
“Schools and day care centers should be safe places for kids to play and learn,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately our research shows far too many kids may be exposed to dirty air and toxic chemicals from fracking right next door.”
The problem is EA’s “research” merely found that there are some schools, nursing homes and hospitals near oil and natural gas development. It made no effort to collect its own data to support their claim that this is leading to adverse health effects.
Instead, it relied on long-debunked studies and tired fear tactics. Maybe that’s why the report’s hyperbolic claim that it “serves as a reminder of the unacceptable dangers of fracking, its potential to harm, and the need to bring this risky form of drilling to an end” was virtually ignored by the media.
3. Extensive research Study Found No link between groundwater pollution and fracking.
(Source: National Science Foundation and Duke University study summarized by Jeffrey Folks for American Thinker The science is settled, fracking is safe.)
Among the 130 wells studied, the researchers found only a subset of cases, including seven in Pennsylvania and one in Texas, in which faulty well construction or cementing was to blame for the seepage of gases into groundwater. According to Professor Avner Bengosh of Duke University, “[t]hese results appear to rule out the migration of methane up into drinking water aquifers from depth because of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing.” That is to say, in the rare cases where it occurs, gases are entering the water supply from outside the borehead as a result of faulty well construction or poor cementing, both of which are manageable problems.
While the new report answers the most important question, proving beyond doubt that fracking itself does not cause gas to seep into the water supply, it does not address several other important questions. One of these is the frequency of contamination of water supplies by naturally occurring petroleum, methane, and other gases.
Natural pollution of this kind would seem to be extremely common, and in fact this natural process has been known for millennia. At sites where petroleum seeped to the surface, as in the vicinity of the 19th-century Drake oil field in Pennsylvania, Native Americans had made use of the oily substance as a lubricant for hundreds if not thousands of years. That oil, flowing naturally to the surface, was “contaminating” nearby streams and groundwater.
What humans add to natural emisions as a result of drilling is so minor as to be of little consequence. If some future study confirmed this fact, it would help to counter the myth that oil and gas drilling is polluting an otherwise pure land and sea environment. The reality is that wherever shale and other carbon-rich formations occur, natural leakage of petroleum and/or methane is inevitable. Oil and gas are naturally occurring features that are constantly interacting with the environment and entering the water supply through natural processes. As is so often the case, the idea that there once existed an environment free of all that modern intellectuals might consider unpleasant is simply a fantasy.
The NSF/Duke report is crucial to the debate over the safety of hydraulic fracturing. The oil and gas industry has already achieved a near perfect safety record, given the handful of failed wells in proportion to more than one million that have been fracked. The industry needs to continue working to achieve certainty that wells do not fail. It also needs to do a better job of communicating its intention to do so to a skeptical public.
Members of Congress, gas companies, news organization, drilling opponents: They’ve all made bold claims about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the U.S. supply of underground natural gas. We take on 10 controversial quotes about natural gas and set the record straight.
WE ARE THE SAUDI ARABIA OF NATURAL GAS.” SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS., MAY 2010
Less than a decade ago, industry analysts and government officials fretted that the United States was in danger of running out of gas. No more. Over the past several years, vast caches of natural gas trapped in deeply buried rock have been made accessible by advances in two key technologies: horizontal drilling, which allows vertical wells to turn and snake more than a mile sideways through the earth, and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Developed more than 60 years ago, fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of chemically treated water into deep shale formations at pressures of 9000 pounds per square inch or more. This fluid cracks the shale or widens existing cracks, freeing hydrocarbons to flow toward the well.
These advances have led to an eightfold increase in shale gas production over the past decade. According to the Energy Information Administration, shale gas will account for nearly half of the natural gas produced in the U.S. by 2035. But the bonanza is not without controversy, and nowhere, perhaps, has the dispute over fracking grown more heated than in the vicinity of the Marcellus Shale. According to Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Penn State, the vast formation sprawling primarily beneath West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York could produce an estimated 493 trillion cubic feet of gas over its 50- to 100-year life span. That’s nowhere close to Saudi Arabia’s total energy reserves, but it is enough to power every natural gas—burning device in the country for more than 20 years. The debate over the Marcellus Shale will shape national energy policy—including how fully, and at what cost, we exploit this vast resource.
HYDRAULIC FRACTURING SQUANDERS OUR PRECIOUS WATER RESOURCES.” Green Party of Pennsylvania, April 2011
There is no question that hydraulic fracturing uses a lot of water: It can take up to 7 million gallons to frack a single well, and at least 30 percent of that water is lost forever, after being trapped deep in the shale. And while there is some evidence that fracking has contributed to the depletion of water supplies in drought-stricken Texas, a study by Carnegie Mellon University indicates the Marcellus region has plenty of water and, in most cases, an adequate system to regulate its usage. The amount of water required to drill all 2916 of the Marcellus wells permitted in Pennsylvania in the first 11 months of 2010 would equal the amount of drinking water used by just one city, Pittsburgh, during the same period, says environmental engineering professor Jeanne VanBriesen, the study’s lead author. Plus, she notes, water withdrawals of this new industry are taking the place of water once used by industries, like steel manufacturing, that the state has lost. Hydrogeologist David Yoxtheimer of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research gives the withdrawals more context: Of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas development consumes 1.9 million gallons a day (mgd); livestock use 62 mgd; mining, 96 mgd; and industry, 770 mgd.
“NATURAL GAS IS CLEANER, CHEAPER, DOMESTIC, AND IT’S VIABLE NOW.” OILMAN TURNED NATURAL-GAS CHEERLEADER T. BOONE PICKENS, SEPTEMBER 2009
Burning natural gas is cleaner than oil or gasoline, and it emits half as much carbon dioxide, less than one-third the nitrogen oxides, and 1 percent as much sulfur oxides as coal combustion. But not all shale gas makes it to the fuel tank or power plant. The methane that escapes during the drilling process, and later as the fuel is shipped via pipelines, is a significant greenhouse gas. At least one scientist, Robert Howarth at Cornell University, has calculated that methane losses could be as high as 8 percent. Industry officials concede that they could be losing anywhere between 1 and 3 percent. Some of those leaks can be prevented by aggressively sealing condensers, pipelines and wellheads. But there’s another upstream factor to consider: Drilling is an energy-intensive business. It relies on diesel engines and generators running around the clock to power rigs, and heavy trucks making hundreds of trips to drill sites before a well is completed. Those in the industry say there’s a solution at hand to lower emissions—using natural gas itself to power the process. So far, however, few companies have done that.
“[THERE’S] NEVER BEEN ONE CASE—DOCUMENTED CASE—OF GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION IN THE HISTORY OF THE THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF HYDRAULIC FRACTURING [WELLS]” SEN. JAMES INHOFE, R-OKLA., APRIL 2011
The senator is incorrect. In the past two years alone, a series of surface spills, including two blowouts at wells operated by Chesapeake Energy and EOG Resources and a spill of 8000 gallons of fracking fluid at a site in Dimock, Pa., have contaminated groundwater in the Marcellus Shale region. But the idea stressed by fracking critics that deep-injected fluids will migrate into groundwater is mostly false. Basic geology prevents such contamination from starting below ground. A fracture caused by the drilling process would have to extend through the several thousand feet of rock that separate deep shale gas deposits from freshwater aquifers. According to geologist Gary Lash of the State University of New York at Fredonia, the intervening layers of rock have distinct mechanical properties that would prevent the fissures from expanding a mile or more toward the surface. It would be like stacking a dozen bricks on top of each other, he says, and expecting a crack in the bottom brick to extend all the way to the top one. What’s more, the fracking fluid itself, thickened with additives, is too dense to ascend upward through such a channel. EPA officials are closely watching one place for evidence otherwise: tiny Pavillion, Wyo., a remote town of 160 where high levels of chemicals linked to fracking have been found in groundwater supplies. Pavillion’s aquifer sits several hundred feet above the gas cache, far closer than aquifers atop other gas fields. If the investigation documents the first case of fracking fluid seeping into groundwater directly from gas wells, drillers may be forced to abandon shallow deposits—which wouldn’t affect Marcellus wells.
“THE GAS ERA IS COMING, AND THE LANDSCAPE NORTH AND WEST OF [NEW YORK CITY] WILL INEVITABLY BE TRANSFORMED AS A RESULT. WHEN THE VALVES START OPENING NEXT YEAR, A LOT OF POOR FARM FOLK MAY BECOME TEXAS RICH. AND A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE—ESPECIALLY THE ECOSENSITIVE NEW YORK CITY CROWD THAT HAS SETTLED AMONG THEM—WILL BE APOPLECTIC AS THEIR PRISTINE WEEKEND SANCTUARY IS CONVERTED INTO AN INDUSTRIAL ZONE, CRISSCROSSED WITH DRILL PADS, PIPELINES, AND ACCESS ROADS.” New York magazine, Sept. 21, 2008
Much of the political opposition to fracking has focused on the Catskill region, headwaters of the Delaware River and the source of most of New York City’s drinking water. But the expected boom never happened—there’s not enough gas in the watershed to make drilling worthwhile. “No one has to get excited about contaminated New York City drinking water,” Penn State’s Engelder told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., in April. The shale is so close to the surface that it’s not concentrated in large enough quantities to make recovering it economically feasible. But just to the west, natural gas development is dramatically changing the landscape. Drilling rigs are running around the clock in western Pennsylvania. Though buoyed by the economic windfall, residents fear that regulators can’t keep up with the pace of development. “It’s going to be hard to freeze-frame and say, ‘Let’s slow down,’?” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., said last fall. “That makes it more difficult for folks like us, who say we want to create the jobs and opportunity in the new industry, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of water quality and quality of life.”
“NATURAL GAS IS AFFORDABLE, ABUNDANT AND AMERICAN. IT COSTS ONE-THIRD LESS TO FILL UP WITH NATURAL GAS THAN TRADITIONAL GASOLINE.” REP. JOHN LARSON, D-CONN., CO-SPONSOR OF H.R. 1380, A MEASURE THAT WOULD PROVIDE TAX INCENTIVES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT AND PURCHASE OF NATURAL GAS VEHICLES, MARCH 2011
That may be true. Plus, there’s another incentive: Vehicles powered by liquefied natural gas, propane or compressed natural gas run cleaner than cars with either gasoline or diesel in the tank. According to the Department of Energy, if the transportation sector switched to natural gas, it would cut the nation’s carbon-monoxide emissions by at least 90 percent, carbon-dioxide emissions by 25 and nitrogen-oxide emissions by up to 60. But it’s not realistic: Nationwide, there are only about 3500 service stations (out of 120,000) that offer natural gas—based automotive fuel, and it would cost billions of dollars and take years to develop sufficient infrastructure to make that fuel competitive with gasoline or diesel. And only Honda makes a car that can run on natural gas. That doesn’t mean natural gas has no role in meeting the nation’s short-term transportation needs. In fact, buses in several cities now rely on it, getting around the lack of widespread refueling opportunities by returning to a central terminal for a fill-up. The same could be done for local truck fleets. But perhaps the biggest contribution natural gas could make to America’s transportation picture would be more indirect—as a fuel for electric-generation plants that will power the increasingly popular plug-in hybrid vehicles.
“DO NOT DRINK THIS WATER” HANDWRITTEN SIGN IN THE DOCUMENTARY GASLAND, 2010
It’s an iconic image, captured in the 2010 Academy Award—nominated documentary GasLand. A Colorado man holds a flame to his kitchen faucet and turns on the water. The pipes rattle and hiss, and suddenly a ball of fire erupts. It appears a damning indictment of the gas drilling nearby. But Colorado officials determined the gas wells weren’t to blame; instead, the homeowner’s own water well had been drilled into a naturally occurring pocket of methane. Nonetheless, up to 50 layers of natural gas can occur between the surface and deep shale formations, and methane from these shallow deposits has intruded on groundwater near fracking sites. In May, Pennsylvania officials fined Chesapeake Energy $1 million for contaminating the water supplies of 16 families in Bradford County. Because the company had not properly cemented its boreholes, gas migrated up along the outside of the well, between the rock and steel casing, into aquifers. The problem can be corrected by using stronger cement and processing casings to create a better bond, ensuring an impermeable seal.
“AS NEW YORK GEARS UP FOR A MASSIVE EXPANSION OF GAS DRILLING IN THE MARCELLUS SHALE, STATE OFFICIALS HAVE MADE A POTENTIALLY TROUBLING DISCOVERY ABOUT THE WASTEWATER CREATED BY THE PROCESS: IT’S RADIOACTIVE.” ProPublica, November 2009
Shale has a radioactive signature—from uranium isotopes such as radium-226 and radium-228—that geologists and drillers often measure to chart the vast underground formations. The higher the radiation levels, the greater the likelihood those deposits will yield significant amounts of gas. But that does not necessarily mean the radioactivity poses a public health hazard; after all, some homes in Pennsylvania and New York have been built directly on Marcellus shale. Tests conducted earlier this year in Pennsylvania waterways that had received treated water—both produced water (the fracking fluid that returns to the surface) and brine (naturally occurring water that contains radioactive elements, as well as other toxins and heavy metals from the shale)—found no evidence of elevated radiation levels. Conrad Dan Volz, former scientific director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh, is a vocal critic of the speed with which the Marcellus is being developed—but even he says that radioactivity is probably one of the least pressing issues. “If I were to bet on this, I’d bet that it’s not going to be a problem,” he says.
“CLAIMING THAT THE INFORMATION IS PROPRIETARY, DRILLING COMPANIES HAVE STILL NOT COME OUT AND FULLY DISCLOSED WHAT FRACKING FLUID IS MADE OF.” Vanity Fair, June 2010
Under mounting pressure, companies such as Schlumberger and Range Resources have posted the chemical compounds used in some of their wells, and in June, Texas became the first state to pass a law requiring full public disclosure. This greater transparency has revealed some oddly benign ingredients, such as instant coffee and walnut shells—but also some known and suspected carcinogens, including benzene and methanol. Even if these chemicals can be found under kitchen sinks, as industry points out, they’re poured down wells in much greater volumes: about 5000 gallons of additives for every 1 million gallons of water and sand. A more pressing question is what to do with this fluid once it rises back to the surface. In Texas’s Barnett Shale, wastewater can be reinjected into impermeable rock 1.5 miles below ground. This isn’t feasible in the Marcellus Shale region; the underlying rocks are not porous enough. Currently, a handful of facilities in Pennsylvania are approved to treat the wastewater. More plants, purpose-built for the task, are planned. In the meantime, most companies now recycle this water to drill their next well.
“THE INCREASING ABUNDANCE OF CHEAP NATURAL GAS, COUPLED WITH RISING DEMAND FOR THE FUEL FROM CHINA AND THE FALL-OUT FROM THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR DISASTER IN JAPAN, MAY HAVE SET THE STAGE FOR A ‘GOLDEN AGE OF GAS.” WALL STREET JOURNAL SUMMARIZING AN INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY REPORT, JUNE 6, 2011
There’s little question that the United States, with 110 years’ worth of natural gas (at the 2009 rate of consumption), is destined to play a major role in the fuel’s development. But even its most ardent supporters, men like T. Boone Pickens, concede that it should be a bridge fuel between more polluting fossil fuels and cleaner, renewable energy. In the meantime, the U.S. should continue to invest in solar and wind, conserve power and implement energy-efficient technology. Whether we can effectively manage our natural gas resource while developing next-gen sources remains to be seen. Margie Tatro, director of fuel and water systems at Sandia National Laboratories, says, “I think natural gas is a transitioning fuel for the electricity sector until we can get a greater percentage of nuclear and renewables on the grid.”
The United States has made massive improvements in air quality over the past decade and study after study has shown that the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation – made possible by the shale revolution – is the reason we’ve achieved this feat.
This progress is the centerpiece of Energy In Depth’s new report – Compendium of Studies Demonstrating the Safety and Health Benefits of Fracking – which includes data from 23 peer-reviewed studies, 17 government health and regulatory agencies and reports from 10 research institutions that clearly demonstrate: • Increased natural gas use — thanks to hydraulic fracturing —has led to dramatic declines in air pollution. The United States is the number one oil and gas producer in the world and it has some of the lowest death rates from air pollution in the world. Numerous studies have shown that pollution has plummeted as natural gas production has soared. • Emissions from well sites and associated infrastructure are below thresholds regulatory authorities consider to be a threat to public health – that’s the conclusion of multiple studies using air monitors that measure emissions directly. • There is no credible evidence that fracking causes or exacerbates asthma. In fact, asthma rates and asthma hospitalizations across the United States have declined as natural gas production has ramped up. • There is no credible evidence that fracking causes cancer. Studies that have directly measured emissions at fracking sites have found emissions are below the threshold that would be harmful to public health. • There is no credible evidence that fracking leads to adverse birth outcomes. In fact, adverse birth outcomes have decreased while life expectancy has increased in areas that are ramping up natural gas use. • Fracking is not a credible threat to groundwater. Study after study has shown that there are no widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing. It is well known that the shale revolution has been a boon to our nation’s economy, its geopolitical position, and the millions of consumers and manufacturers who continue to benefit from historically low energy costs. But the case in support of shale’s salubrious effect on air quality and health continues to be an underreported phenomenon – this new report puts the health benefits of our increased use of natural gas in the spotlight.
Conclusion To be clear, no form of energy development, whether we’re talking about fossil fuels or renewables, is risk free. But the data clearly show, time and time again, that emissions from fracking are not a credible risk to public health.
In fact, the data show that enormous reductions in pollution across the board are attributable to the significant increases in natural gas consumption that hydraulic fracturing has made possible.
They show power plant emissions of SO2 declining by 86 percent, emissions of NOx declining by 67 percent, and emissions of mercury by 55 percent. They also show hospitalizations for asthma declining as natural gas ramps up. At the same time life expectancy and birth outcomes have improved.
And, of course, all these positive health outcomes can be largely traced back to significantly cleaner air, thanks to fracking.
A man who has not been a socialist before 25 has no heart. If he remains one after 25 he has no head.—King Oscar II of Sweden
H/T to American Elephants for linking to this Jordan Peterson video: The Fatal Flaw in Leftist Thought. He has an outstanding balance between head and heart, and also applies scientific analysis to issues, in this case the problem of identity politics and leftist ideology.
As usual Peterson makes many persuasive points in this talk. I was struck by his point that we have established the boundary of extremism on the right, but no such boundary exists on the left. Our society rejects right wingers who cross the line and assert racial superiority. Conservative voices condemn that position along with the rest.
We know from the Soviet excesses that the left can go too far, but what is the marker? Left wingers have the responsibility to set the boundary and sanction the extremists. Peterson suggests that the fatal flaw is the attempt to ensure equality of outcomes for identity groups, and explains why that campaign is impossible.
From Previous Post on Head, Heart and Science
Recently I had an interchange with a friend from high school days, and he got quite upset with this video by Richard Lindzen. So much so, that he looked up attack pieces in order to dismiss Lindzen as a source. This experience impressed some things upon me.
Climate Change is Now Mostly a Political Football (at least in USA)
My friend attributed his ill humor to the current political environment. He readily bought into slanderous claims, and references to being bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. At this point, Bernie and Hilliary only disagree about who is the truest believer in Global Warming. Once we get into the general election process, “Fighting Climate Change” will intensify as a wedge issue, wielded by smug righteous believers on the left against the anti-science neanderthals on the right.
So it is a hot label for social-media driven types to identify who is in the tribe (who can be trusted) and the others who can not. For many, it is not any deeper than that.
The Warming Consensus is a Timesaver
My friend acknowledged that his mind was made up on the issue because 95+% of scientists agreed. It was extremely important for him to discredit Lindzen as untrustworthy to maintain the unanimity. When a Warmist uses: “The Scientists say: ______” , it is much the same as a Christian reference: “The Bible says: _______.” In both cases, you can fill in the blank with whatever you like, and attribute your idea to the Authority. And most importantly, you can keep the issue safely parked in a No Thinking Zone. There are plenty of confusing things going on around us, and no one wants one more ambiguity requiring time and energy.
Science Could Lose the Delicate Balance Between Head and Heart
Decades ago Arthur Eddington wrote about the tension between attitudes of artists and scientists in their regarding nature. On the one hand are people filled with the human impulse to respect, adore and celebrate the beauty of life and the world. On the other are people driven by the equally human need to analyze, understand and know what to expect from the world. These are Yin and Yang, not mutually exclusive, and all of us have some of each.
Most of us can recall the visceral response in the high school biology lab when assigned to dissect a frog. Later on, crayfish were preferred (less disturbing to artistic sensibilities). For all I know, recent generations have been spared this right of passage, to their detriment. For in the conflict between appreciating things as they are, and the need to know why and how they are, we are exposed to deeper reaches of the human experience. If you have ever witnessed, as I have, a human body laid open on an autopsy table, then you know what I mean.
Anyone, scientist or artist, can find awe in contemplating the mysteries of life. There was a time when it was feared that the march of science was so advancing the boundaries of knowledge that the shrinking domain of the unexplained left ever less room for God and religion. Practicing scientists knew better. Knowing more leads to discovering more unknowns; answers produce cascades of new questions. The mystery abounds, and the discovery continues. Eddington:
It is pertinent to remember that the concept of substance has disappeared from fundamental physics; what we ultimately come down to is form. Waves! Waves!! Waves!!! Or for a change — if we turn to relativity theory — curvature! Energy which, since it is conserved, might be looked upon as the modern successor of substance, is in relativity theory a curvature of space-time, and in quantum theory a periodicity of waves. I do not suggest that either the curvature or the waves are to be taken in a literal objective sense; but the two great theories, in their efforts to reduce what is known about energy to a comprehensible picture, both find what they require in a conception of “form”.
What do we really observe? Relativity theory has returned one answer — we only observe relations. Quantum theory returns another answer — we only observe probabilities.
It is impossible to trap modern physics into predicting anything with perfect determinism because it deals with probabilities from the outset.
― Arthur Stanley Eddington
Works by Eddington on Science and the Natural World are here.
The science problem today is not the scientists themselves, but with those attempting to halt its progress for the sake of political power and wealth.
Eddington: Religious creeds are a great obstacle to any full sympathy between the outlook of the scientist and the outlook which religion is so often supposed to require … The spirit of seeking which animates us refuses to regard any kind of creed as its goal. It would be a shock to come across a university where it was the practice of the students to recite adherence to Newton’s laws of motion, to Maxwell’s equations and to the electromagnetic theory of light. We should not deplore it the less if our own pet theory happened to be included, or if the list were brought up to date every few years. We should say that the students cannot possibly realise the intention of scientific training if they are taught to look on these results as things to be recited and subscribed to. Science may fall short of its ideal, and although the peril scarcely takes this extreme form, it is not always easy, particularly in popular science, to maintain our stand against creed and dogma.
― Arthur Stanley Eddington
But enough about science. It’s politicians we need to worry about:
“Asked in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood the theory of general relativity, [Eddington] allegedly replied: ‘Who’s the third?”