By Bob Sheak
President Obama has echoed the oil and gas industry’s claim that the U.S. has a 100-year supply of natural gas, mostly from shale formations. And these claims will make the U.S. energy independent, a new Saudi Arabia. This claim has been challenged by Richard Heinberg, J. David Hughes, and others, at the website The Post Carbon Institute and sites like shalebubble.org.
Their position is that the natural gas embedded in shale rock formations/fields varies considerably. There are “sweet spots” that produce large quantities of natural gas/methane, but they don’t represent most drilling results. Most drilled wells produce little natural gas, not enough to justify the expense of drilling, or no accessible natural gas at all. And production even in the high-producing natural gas wells falls off after a year or two. This position, not accepted by the government, the industry, or generally in mainstream media, is documented by J. David Hughes, Drill, Baby, Drill: Can Unconventional Fuels Usher in a New Era of Energy Abundance, and by Richard Heinberg, Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promises of Plenty Imperils Our Future.
Chris Nelder is another analyst, consultant, writer of articles for highly reputed journals and news organizations, as well as co-author of Profits from the Peak and Investing in Renewable Energy, who challenges the industry’s and President’s 100-year claim, most notably in his Slate Magazine article “What the Frack? Is there really 100 years’ worth of natural gas beneath the United States?” Two of the key sentences from Nelder’s well-documented article are these: “Assuming that the U.S. continues to rise about 24 cfm per annum, the, only an 11-year supply of natural gas is certain. The other 89 years worth have not yet been shown to exist.” These undemonstrated supplies fall into three categories: probable, possible, speculative. Nelder has graphs that illustrate his arguments.
What if the government and industry keep on the same mistaken course? And what if the critics, like Heinberg, Hughes, and Nelder, are right?
- One, we continue being tied to fossil fuels, which may reach their peaks, decline within a couple of decades or so, and cause energy prices to soar.
- Two, government and industry put off the needed support for wind, solar, geothermal renewables, and the requisite infrastructures and other related planning. That is, we don’t fund the renewables and related restructuring enough.
- Three, catastrophic climate changes increase, leaving us with massive destruction and costs both here and around the globe.
While more and more evidence is a necessary component in strengthening the arguments against the 100-year argument, and while there are hundreds of local communities and organizations that have contested fracking and the continuing rise in fossil fuel production, and while the number of solar and wind sites increase, all of this has not yet proven to be sufficient for the transformative changes in energy that are necessary.