Friday, June 10, 2011

FRACK YOU - The government-industry-university complex

I came across a piece on Dot Earth today about a recent report out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the future of natural gas in this country. What is written and recommended in this report is all that you'd expect from the government-industry-university complex that holds neoclassical/neoliberal economics as key, that is technocratic and technology-driven, that is committed in continuing behaviour that has led to ecological degradation, and that will continue to tradeoff the environment and local peoples in pursuit of broader policies. The fundamental question the study asked was, What is the role of natural gas in a carbon-constrained economy? What a lousy, narrow, and short-sighted question to ask. I fully recognise that the answers that come from such a question are those that the question askers want to hear - investing in fracking is the way forward. What is more disturbing though is the power such documents wield in policy-making and politicking, as well as the recommendation that there must be a reliance on industry best-practices, given that regulation is difficult, with an eternally constrained and curtailed EPA. Here are some key bullet points, with emphases and comments added by myself.
  • In a carbon-constrained economy, the relative importance of natural gas is likely to increase even further, as it is one of the most cost-effective means by which to maintain energy supplies while reducing CO2 emissions. This is particularly true in the electric power sector, where, in the U.S., natural gas sets the cost benchmark against which other clean power sources must compete to remove the marginal ton of CO2. (So it's not that continued energy use is the problem. It's just the source.)
  • The current supply outlook for natural gas will contribute to greater competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, while the use of more efficient technologies could offset increases in demand and provide cost-effective compliance with emerging environmental requirements.
  • The environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable. (?) There has been concern that these fractures can also penetrate shallow freshwater zones and contaminate them with fracturing fluid, but there is no evidence that this is occurring. (?) There is, however, evidence of natural gas migration into freshwater zones in some areas, most likely as a result of substandard well completion practices by a few operators. There are additional environmental challenges in the area of water management, particularly the effective disposal of fracture fluids. (to where?) Concerns with this issue are particularly acute in regions that have not previously experienced large-scale oil and natural gas development, especially those overlying the massive Marcellus shale, and do not have a well-developed subsurface water disposal infrastructure. It is essential that both large and small companies follow industry best practices. (How do we trust them? Why should we trust them? Please some one try to convince me.)
  • Government-supported research on the fundamental challenges of unconventional natural gas development, particularly shale gas, should be greatly increased in scope and scale. In particular, support should be put in place for a comprehensive and integrated research program to build a system-wide understanding of all subsurface aspects of the U.S. shale resource. In addition, research should be pursued to reduce water usage in fracturing and to develop cost-effective water recycling technology. A concerted coordinated effort by industry and government, both state and Federal, should be organized so as to minimize the environmental impacts of shale gas development through both research and regulation. 
  • The U.S. should support unconventional natural gas development outside U.S., particularly in Europe and China, as a means of diversifying the natural gas supply base.
Sweet! So there'll be money to be made, so industry is happy, there'll be more jobs, so the government is happy, and of course, there will need to be research, so universities are happy. If you were to take a look at the participants and advisory committee members in this study, you would find only those names on it who stand to profit from fracking. Indeed, the report was written at MIT, not at Lehigh University or Bucknell University or West Virginia University or any university close to the Marcellus Shale (picture below), where much fracking is going on and anticipated. The ill-effects of fracking I've written about previously, with much more to be found in the work done by ProPublica.

No comments:

Post a Comment