Carbon dioxide emissions in US drop to 20 year low. Why?

I mentioned this article from briefly yesterday, but it’s worth putting on here as well as it does rather poke a bit of stick into the ribs of the local environMENTALists currently going nuts over the SA Government moratorium on fracking being lifted.

Carbon-dioxide emissions in the United States have dropped to their lowest level in 20 years. Estimating on the basis of data from the US Energy Information Agency from the first five months of 2012, this year’s expected CO2 emissions have declined by more than 800 million tons, or 14 percent from their peak in 2007.

The cause is an unprecedented switch to natural gas, which emits 45 percent less carbon per energy unit. The U.S. used to generate about half its electricity from coal, and roughly 20 percent from gas. Over the past five years, those numbers have changed, first slowly and now dramatically: In April of this year, coal’s share in power generation plummeted to just 32 percent, on par with gas.

It is tempting to believe that renewable energy sources are responsible for emissions reductions, but the numbers clearly say otherwise. Accounting for a reduction of 50 Mt of CO2 per year, America’s 30,000 wind turbines reduce emissions by just one-10 the amount that natural gas does. Biofuels reduce emissions by only 10 megatons, and solar panels by a paltry three megatons.

All of which further demonstrates the benefits of shale gas, not just for the South African economy, but also for the environment. And with Eskom currently building the  largest dry-cooled coal fired power station in the world at Medupi in Limpopo, which will burn through almost 15 million tonnes of coal each year for the next 40 years, it would be nice to have a safer, cleaner, more efficient yet viable alternative.

UK fracking gets the go ahead

Hate to say I told you so.

A hugely slanted article in the Guardian this morning informs us that a report recommending that fracking be given the go ahead in the UK is “all but certain to be accepted by ministers”, effectively allowing trial wells to be drilled as a first stage in tapping the estimated 4.7 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in Lancashire.

Still, as one of the comment on the article points out:

As for the risks, I doubt this a good place to gauge them. Mainstream papers are pretty clueless when it comes to gauging the real risks of anything to do with science or engineering.

The fact that the health and safety obsessed “nanny state” in the UK is prepared to go ahead with fracking and for deposits beneath Lancashire – which amount to around 1% of South Africa’s estimated reserves – is further evidence that when the process is considered rationally and independently, without the emotional hubris of the misinformed and misinforming green brigade, sensible decisions can be made. See here for more of the terms and conditions included in the report (the bits the Guardian chose not to report).

There’s a lesson for South Africa to learn here. I just hope Ms. Dipuo Peters is watching.

When Fracking Goes Wrong…

Saw this on twitter and had to share…

When fracking goes wrong the environmental impacts aren’t as severe as when coal mining goes right.

— Francois Fourie (@FrancoisFourie) March 5, 2012

This after an Econometrix report suggested that if estimates of the amount of shale gas under the Karoo were confirmed:

 …it could provide the equivalent of 400 years’ worth of energy consumption in South Africa.

Economist Tony Twine described it thus:

This is a big chicken; she is a big puppy.

And he doesn’t chuck his animal comparisons around lightly.

The decision on fracking in the Karoo isn’t going to be made any time soon, but while the (poorly put and misleading) environmental argument has been stated for some time now, the economic benefits of South Africa’s shale gas resources could literally turn the fortunes of this country around.
Much like the UK, I’m not sure that we – or the Government – can ignore that for very much longer.

Who blew up ‘the bridge to the future’?

And more to the point – why?

We should applaud the views of progressive environmentalists, according to 6000 miles… commenter stickman:

Monbiot’s been giving it to fellow greenies on this particular issue for a while. Google his comments on Fukushima, for example.
Actually, the good news is that there is an increasingly vocal environmental contingent that is embracing the science on things like nuclear and GM crops.

and he’s probably right. But what happens when they are persuaded to go back to the dark green side?

An article by Jon Entine – visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute – investigates one such occurrence – whereby the views of the progressive environmental lobby have turned, for no good scientific reason, on the subject of shale gas – a potential energy source close to our hearts (although not nearly so close to our surface as the Karoo aquifers) in South Africa.

Natural gas was seen as a marriage of enlightened capitalism and pragmatic progressivism—a fossil fuel, whose reserves would gradually diminish, as the price of alternative energy became cost competitive.

Now… inexpensive comparatively clean natural gas is portrayed as a Trojan horse that will bring “water contamination, air pollution, global warming, and fractured communities.” The morphing of natural gas from ‘a necessary alternative to dirtier energy’ to ‘worse than oil and coal’ happened, metaphorically, almost overnight. What’s behind this seismic turnaround?

It’s certainly not the science. Nor does it relate to any genuine concerns based around environmental issues involved in getting the gas out of the ground. So perhaps it’s the fact that the once-heralded ‘bridge to the future’ actually seems to be just too good:

while we are awash in natural gas, skepticism over the mass scale feasibility of alternatives has escalated. Overflowing supplies destroy Big Green’s argument that fossil fuels will get more and more costly till even wind and solar power are competitive. That undermines the argument for massive subsidies of alternatives that may never deliver competitive bang for the buck. No longer is natural gas a bridge to the alternative energy future. Much to the chagrin of energy activists, natural gas now is the future.

The result of this realisation is an almost desperate propaganda war by the green lobby – well funded by certain individuals through certain academic institutions, and faithfully reported via certain news sources. Entine goes into great (and well referenced) detail over how Cornell University professor Robert Howath and his wife have manipulated the debate over fracking and how it has been lapped up by the press, while criticism of Howath’s methodologies, rationale and conclusions are not reported;

The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory reviewed the same data, concluding that natural gas, even from shale, results in far less emissions than coal. But that study did not make it into the NYT.

Whatever your take on fracking, Entine’s essay is well worth a read. His exposure of what he describes as the “media-philanthropy-university complex” and the “web of connections” in the anti-fracking lobby should sound warning bells for those looking for objective research into the subject – it seems that while environmentalists (probably rightfully) bemoan “Big Oil” spinning stories to support their work, “Big Green” is just as adept at managing the media. And, after all, as Entine says:

What if wealthy donors are deploying their money to manipulate public opinion and support research whose conclusions often conflict with science? That in a nutshell is the media rationale for scrutinizing public relations efforts by Big Business.

So why aren’t people looking with more scepticism at what they hear from all sources, rather than just those whose views disagree with their own?

That’s just human nature, I guess, but as I’ve said all along when blogging about fracking, there’s no point in relying on subjective data or unscientific rhetoric. Entine’s piece is a well-researched lesson for us all in that regard.

Private Eye on shale gas

South Africa isn’t the only country to have potentially economy-changing amounts of shale gas underneath it. The UK has some too. According to the usually politically-left In The Back section of Private Eye magazine:

Cuadrilla, the gas exploration company drilling for shale gas in Lancashire, has announced its discovery of 200 trillion cubic feet of gas – a seriously big find.
If only a tenth of that were to be produced, it would still make it far larger than any gas field discovered in the North Sea, with the added benefit of it being accessible from dry land.
It represents a potential lottery win: not just for Cuadrilla, but for UK plc as a whole.

And here we are talking about 200 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas.
South Africa’s shale gas deposits are estimated to be at least 450tcf. That’s 450 000 000 000 000 cubic feet of gas. Putting that into some sort of perspective, Mossgas, the successful refinery in the Southern Cape, was built on the assumption that there was just 1 (one) tcf in deposits under the seabed.

The article continues:

Recent shale gas discoveries in the US have already transformed the North American gas market, changing it from a net importer to a net exporter in just two years, and significantly lowering gas prices there. If the Lancashire discovery turns out to be even remotely as big as has been announced, the UK will be in a position to keep its lights on cheaply – and cleanly – for a very long time to come.

Yes – locally produced shale gas means cheaper, cleaner energy.

The technology for shale gas production is controversial [including] the alleged – but disputed – potential for contamination of groundwater. Again, if the amounts of gas are as large as stated, the highest environmental standards could be imposed on its production and it would still be profitable.

Because abundant shale gas undermines the case for subsidising nuclear and renewable power generation, it faces a well-funded hostile lobby, keen to play up any negatives it can find.
Lurid films of gas-flames shooting out of bath-taps in America have comprehensively been shown to have nothing to do with shale gas production (it is a naturally-ocurring phenomenon in part of the US) but they capture the public imagination.
We can therefore expect largescale anti-shale gas protest from a range of vested “green” interests.

Indeed. I wonder if the British-born Lewis Pugh will take time out from poking his nose into other country’s affairs for long enough to “save” his homeland from an economic boom and cheaper, greener energy like he is trying to do here in South Africa.