And no, not another 9/11 post. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on those, there’s a even a few I haven’t responded to. Granted, I don’t get around to responding to every comment, but I try to respond to many or most of them. I get a lot of international comments, not terribly surprising, I’m a rare breed in the USA, an intellectual. I’ve known that since the 80s when we met some German brothers in New Zealand. Later they hitchhiked across the USA and visited us in California. One of their questions was, where are all the intellectuals? I couldn’t say.
I digress, the topic of today’s blog, fracking. Fracking is a method of drilling oil out of low grade oil deposits like oil sands and oil shales, of which the USA has in abundance. During the last gas crunch a few years ago, some wags tossed fracking around as a solution to our oil problems. The Bakken Formation was a favourite example. Experts in the field pointed out that we were decades away from being able to commercially exploit these deposits in a large way. My own considered opinion was that the experts were right.
Well, apparently I was wrong. So were the experts. The technology is here, now. Fracking wells have become commercially viable, and are sprouting up all over the place. It’s entirely possible that in a decade or less the US could produce its own oil, or even become an oil exporting nation again. This is a pretty big change from the peak oil scare a few years back, apparently peak oil has been put off a few more decades. This is all good, right?
No, not necessarily at least. There’s three points that make this an interesting topic, the first of which is, who knows? This is a wonderful example of how things can change very quickly on the world stage. For decades the exploitation of oil shale and oil sand deposits have largely been a pipe dream. They aren’t any more. This is a huge change. And when the equation changes, all sorts of things can fall out. So this is an important development that might change everything, so people should be aware of it.
Secondly, even if fracking really does produce copious amounts of oil and natural gas, the environmental consequences appear to be non-trivial. Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which basically is pumping heated fluids into the ground to fracture rack and allow oil and gas to flow out. Um, what heated fluids? And um, isn’t there groundwater down there? Who knows, and yes. This is why fracking has been outlawed in a few minor jurisdictions. Like Queensland, Quebec, France, and several US states. At best it’s safe to say there are future unknown costs, possibly significant, due to environmental concerns.
Lastly, are there geopolitical implications? Yes, yes there are. One would think it would be a good thing, but anything is possible. My fear is that this will fuel American militarism abroad for a few more decades. And at our current rate of enemy creation, that means we will be at war with the entire world in a few decades. Yeah, that will work out well.
(The above image is of the burning Piper Alpha oil platform. It’s claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit. It was a disaster that was a classic disaster, a whole string of events led up to it, and it’s a study in disaster prevention to this day. A bunch of guys died. I chose it to illustrate that the exploitation of oil and gas involves costs, sometimes very human ones.)