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The Forum > Article Comments > How our energy future has been fracked > Comments

How our energy future has been fracked : Comments

By Dan Denning, published 29/7/2011

Unconventional oil and gas fields will revolutionise geopolitics as well as patterns of energy consumption

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A deftly written piece of international political economy.

The author's super blog The Daily Reckoning http://www.dailyreckoning.com.au/ seems to be very useful in these times of GFC and related politico-economic problems in the US.

Pete
Posted by plantagenet, Friday, 29 July 2011 8:55:22 AM
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Shale gas is known as coal seam gas in Australia.

If the anti-mining lobby gets its way, we'll never see any of the benefits.
Posted by DavidL, Friday, 29 July 2011 9:49:36 AM
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There is no doubt that shale gas (and coal seam gas) will improve energy security for those countries lucky enough to have significant quantities of new gas resources.

There are two downsides. The first and most obvious is the potential risk of rock fracturing to underground water resources. This is a hot political potato where I live in northern NSW. There is no doubt in my mind that many of the vigorous campaigns against fracking mislead and overstate their case but it remains a real concern for the people located in new gas well locations. This issue needs urgent attention before the storm troops arrive Ė not afterwards.

The second downside is less well understood but actually concerns me more. It is true that today, the only viable path away from coal fired power stations in Australia today is natural gas. Shale and coal seam gas makes this practical from a resource supply point of view.

My concern is around the need for us to reduce our world GHG emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Natural gas may reduce our emissions from electricity generation by 40% but it will not get us to the needed target. A big financial investment over the next 10 to 20 years to replace our coal plants with gas plants will discourage our power plant owners from further investment to replace those gas plants with something that will get us to the GHG reduction target.

To those that donít believe we need to reduce our GHG emissions, shale gas ticks the energy security box Ė at least for the next 50 years or so when we will face the problem again. In the mean time the industry needs to settle down the anxious farmers and local activists by clear demonstration that their concerns are unfounded.

For those that do believe we need to reduce our GHG emissions then we need to be cautious about diving into the coal to gas shift. It isnít going to cut the mustard and, apart from nuclear energy, we donít have a viable alternative to coal plants today.
Posted by Martin N, Friday, 29 July 2011 10:00:01 AM
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Many others including industry insiders do not share the author's enthusiasm. The problems are
1) groundwater contamination or disruption
2) early depletion of wells
3) fugitive methane
4) disposal of saline pond water
5) roads and well heads taking up farmland
6) still half as dirty as coal.
A report detailing some EU concerns is here
http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-07-25/impacts-shale-gas-and-shale-oil-extraction-environment-and-human-heath-report
Energy Bulletin also has several reports from a US perspective. Some fracking chemicals are highly toxic. Even if they don't poison the animals and crops the freshwater aquifers above the gas bearing layer may be diverted or suffer reduced pressure.

Since methane has about 25 times the medium term atmospheric warming potential of CO2 even tiny leaks can nullify any advantage. If combined cycle gas power plant has half the emissions per megawatt hour of coal it only takes 2% leakage to get back to line ball. That is 50% CO2 saving + (25 X 2%) equivalence = 100%.

Shale gas from fracking is a sideshow that will divert our attention from the main objective. That is to transition to genuinely low carbon. I fear the big business and their captive politicians will think the low carbon problem is solved when it is only slightly postponed.
Posted by Taswegian, Friday, 29 July 2011 10:12:03 AM
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David L

Shale gas is not coal seam gas...they are completely different. For instance one is from coal and one is from shale - two different organic-based rock types.

The main issue with fraccing is often its depth and proximity to groundwater supplies. The current problems in NSW and Qld are the result of shallow coal seams being fracced and gas leaking all over the place - a disaster for the local farming community. Badly managed, likely it seems to pollute water and probably not going to contribute a great deal to the state in the long run.

Over here in the West we have plenty of shale gas and tight gas, but, as far as I know, no coal seam gas...yet. The shale gas is usually kilometres deep and out of the way of aquifers...so far.

The major issue is probably how the fraccing liquid is managed once it is returned to the surface.
Posted by Phil Matimein, Friday, 29 July 2011 12:01:05 PM
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It will continue and further entrench dependence on fossil fuels and increase GHG emissions for the foreseeable future.

Of course there must be lots of people like this, who see only the old, petty international rivalries and business as usual. Still it's amazing to encounter such obliviousness.

Welcome to a world 4, 5, 8 degrees warmer, and a crashing human population. Long before all these grand myopic visions of yesteryear come to fruition the planet will have blown the global economy and such hubris the way of the dinosaurs.

(Yes, I know there's a coterie of warming deniers here ... save your fingers, we know what you'll say.)
Posted by Geoff Davies, Friday, 29 July 2011 1:12:49 PM
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