Math Unmasks Oil and Gas Boom as Bubble

a natural gas well using hydraulic fracturing

In the midst of a natural gas “boom,” fracking rigs like this are fast becoming an endangered species. The reason? Mathematics.

There are three kinds of people in this world: the kind who understand mathematics, and the kind who don’t (Irony alert). You can find the latter buying lottery tickets, leaning over casino tables and conducting news conferences about the new American oil boom.  It has become conventional wisdom (oxymoron alert), an assertion not even worthy of discussion by Serious People, that the United States is, as an NPR program host said offhandedly the other day,  “on its way to energy independence.” Here’s what mathematics has to say about this titanic (metaphor alert) scam. Continue reading

Expert: Shale Gas Boom a Bubble About to Pop

oil jacks

In the old days, when you poked holes in the ground and pumped out oil with jacks like these, it was a boom. Now, it’s just a fracking bubble.

One of the top geologists in the oil exploration and production business says: 1) shale gas production by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a commercial failure. Is. Present tense. 2) shale gas will be the next financial “bubble” to collapse. 3) holding out the possibility of energy independence for the United States is “absurd.” To suggest it could be done in five years is “garbage.”

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Fossil Fools Ignore Arithmetic

These oil wells were thick as fleas along the Texas coast in 1978, when America was awash in oil. But production has been declining since 1970, and simple-minded hype will not change that. (Photo by Roger Wollstad (Roger4336)/Flickr)

If you don’t believe in arithmetic — if your political or religious tenets require you to deny that 2 + 2 always equals 4 — then by all means stop right here and go read something by Glenn Beck. For the remaining minority, then, of people clinging to outmoded faiths in things like gravity and mathematical truth, here’s the headline: we are running short of oil. There is no renaissance, no triumph of technology, no sudden reversal of the rules of the universe. And it is still true that running short is almost as bad as running out. Continue reading

NPR: The Lost Best Hope

(Photo by timsamoff/flickr)

The last bastion of intelligent and balanced journalism in this country is apparently now the lost bastion: on Morning Edition last Wednesday, NPR ran a piece on the oil bidness that was a travesty of journalism. The piece by John Ydstie “reported” on the “huge boom” in US oil and natural gas production and claimed — not by quoting an idiot, but by making the idiotic statement with no attribution or qualification — that it “could help the nation reach the elusive goal of energy independence.” That was the lede sentence, and things went downhill from there.
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US Oil Boom Busted

These oil wells were thick as fleas along the Texas coast in 1978, when America was awash in oil. But production has been declining since 1970, and simple-minded hype will not change that. (Photo by Roger Wollstad (Roger4336)/Flickr)

The latest version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” being sung by the Big-Oil Tabernacle Choir is a variant of the old favorite,  “Drill, Baby, drill.” The new lyric is that we have drilled, baby, drilled (or more accurately, fracked) and that now there is plenty of oil and gas in America, and there will continue to be plenty as long as you don’t dare tax or regulate Big Oil. You can even hear the backup singers muttering, “Energy independence! Energy independence!” Alas, the song is wrong.

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Damn Right, NIMBY!

“Not in my back yard” campaigns directed against industrial projects are thought to be fundamentally different (progressive) from those against renewable-energy projects (regressive). It’s not so. (Photo by blakophoto/Flickr)

The NIMBY (“Not in my back yard!”) movement bears the contemptuous brand assigned by the industrial media to people who oppose things such as power plants, refineries, power lines and urban sprawl. NIMBYans contradict the relentless logic of industry — “You gotta have electricity, right? Gotta have a place to live.” — with demonstrations and signs that complain about aesthetics, pollution, the danger of increased cancer rates, the ruination of quality of life or, to use the industry’s term, trivia. Now, to the bemusement of the uninformed who see a conflict here, NIMBYans are turning their wrath on so-called renewable-energy projects. [See The New Look of NIMBYism” -- The Daily Climate] And so they should. Continue reading

Oil and Troubled Waters

Monster machines scrape tarry sand from the surface of Alberta, Canada. By applying enormous quantities of water and natural gas, they make a low quality, corrosive crude oil and proclaim a “new Saudi Arabia.” (Photo by HowlMontreal/Flickr)

Like some crazed fan-dancer, the oil industry (along with its wholly owned subsidiaries such as the US Congress) is doing its best to conceal and distract us from the naked truth. It has waved in our faces during the past year such ostrich feathers as “Canadian tar sands; another Saudi Arabia!” and “shale gas; another Saudi Arabia!!” and “hyper-deep ocean drilling; another Saudi Arabia.” But when we step back from the year, and look at the unhyped numbers, it doesn’t matter any more whether the dancer has any clothes on or not.

World’s Top Energy Economist: Brace for Impact

According to the chief economist of the IEA, this is where we’re headed. (Photo by Cherryllynx/Flickr)

Fatih Birol is the chief economist for the International Energy Agency. Throughout most of its history, the Agency (like its American counterpart, the U.S. Energy Information Administration) gave short shrift to alarms about peak oil and global climate change. But now its top analyst says (in a recent talk to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)  that “the world is perfectly on track to six degrees Celsius [warming due to global climate change]…which is very bad news. And everybody, even school children, know[s] this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.” In other words, Brace for Impact.

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Oil: More Peaked Than Ever

Coming soon to a gas station near you: higher prices, fewer gallons. (Photo by Jason Langheine/Flickr)

Masked by speculation, eased by the great economic contraction in the United States and Europe, the terminal industrial disease known as Peak Oil continues to ravage the industrial world, which has not yet noticed that it is infected, and is just now beginning to feel a little woozy. Peak oil is a little like the Ebola virus — by the time you feel the symptoms, you’re dead.

If you look, you will find the symptoms. Continue reading

Saudis Try Drinking Oil, Burning Water, Eating Money

An oil-and-water cocktail is hard to burn and nasty to drink, but the Saudis, running out of both, are drinking hard and burning bright. (Photo by Yortw/Flickr)

While the industrialized world approaches the brink of peak oil — the point at which supply can no longer, ever, meet demand — the supplier of much of that oil, Saudi Arabia, is teetering on the brink of peak water. With increasing desperation, the kingdom is juggling the rising, competing demands for its limited water supplies, and trying to repeal the iron laws of supply and demand.

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