Fracking is still not the answer: Gas will not solve the climate-warming problem https://t.co/mOJQgjnaEB
— Salon.com (@Salon) December 5, 2015
I’ve come to the position that the relatively recent hydraulic fracturing boom here in Oklahoma has been extremely bad for the state, and that fracking, in general, should be completely banned here.
I’ve evolved to this position. I used to consider the shale gas produced by fracking as a bridge to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, which I think no one doubts will power our future. It’s just a matter of timing. Will we be relying mostly on renewable energy in 50 or 100 or 200 years?
I took the time to read an excerpt from the book Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis by Tim Flannery on the larger issues of natural gas and fracking over the weekend. The excerpt which you can find in the above tweet, was published in the always-insightful Salon.com site, which used to reprint posts from Okie Funk during its first years when it promoted smaller blogs throughout the country. Salon.com has since outgrown that model and has become a major player in mainstream journalism while retaining its edginess and creativity.
Flannery’s main point, and I don’t want to simplify his cogent arguments and rebuttals so please read the excerpt if not the entire book, is that, no, gas is not the answer to reducing the greenhouse effect, which is increasing because of manmade global warming emissions. He also outlines various comparison costs between fracking for gas and the costs of solar and wind power, giving supporters of the fossil fuel industry plenty of space to make their point for the validity and utility of natural gas. Meanwhile, the United Nations Climate Change Conference is meeting in Paris right now and is debating this and other issues as our planet deals with catastrophic rising sea levels and damaging severe weather events that could eventually displace millions of people and lead to food shortages, producing panic and peril never seen on such a scale in recorded history.
John Kerry on climate change and the challenges that lie ahead at the United Nations Climate Summit https://t.co/mUN71Oe17M
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) December 5, 2015
Will the boom in gas make climate change better or worse? A recent study, using complex models, found that ‘market-driven increases in global supplies of unconventional natural gas do not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions or future climate change.’ In other words, gas is definitely not going to solve the climate problem. The models assume that the consumption of gas will have increased by up to 170 per cent by 2050. This might result in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 decreasing from what might otherwise have occurred, by 2 per cent at most. Or it might see them increase by up to 11 per cent. So, whatever else is claimed for it, we know that the gas boom will not alter our current trajectory from its worst-case scenario progress towards catastrophic warming.
But my interest in fracking and the global warming crisis has definitely been influenced by the fact I’m from Oklahoma, which has experienced a natural gas/fracking boom here for several years. I agree with Flannery that, overall, gas is not the bridge or answer to solve the climate crisis, but I have also seen the havoc wreaked on the environment here by fracking, the surreal surge in earthquakes associated with the process, and the natural gas and oil glut that has now destabilized the Oklahoma economy.
The state now has a web site titled “Earthquakes in Oklahoma” that tries but comes up short in an effort to pass along information about fracking-induced earthquakes. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, made up of three elected politicians who have all accepted campaign money from the oil and gas industry, have come up short as well as they try to micro-manage the injection well process scientists say is causing the earthquakes here. The earthquakes keep shaking things up. Now, Gov. Mary Fallin, who has also accepted campaign money from the oil and gas industry, has formed a group to look into how water used in fracking might be recycled and reused, which is just a delay tactic that gives the impression that something is getting done to make fracking safer for the environment. I simply don’t think that’s possible. Fracking is a dirty business that uses too much potable water. It’s not sustainable.
In the fracking process, saltwater laced with toxic chemicals and materials is injected deep underground to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels, such as natural gas. The leftover water is then stored underground in what are known as wastewater disposal or injection wells. Scientists, in study after study, have concluded it’s the injection well process that now makes Oklahoma one of the if not THE world leader in the number of 3.0-magnitude earthquakes or above. The state is on track to experience 900 such earthquakes this years. Scientists are also predicting it’s only a matter of time before a major quake in the 6.0-magnitude range or above could hit here, which could cause massive damage and casualties depending on its location.
Here’s a breakdown of my evolution from a minor supporter of the use of natural gas to someone who thinks we should stop or phase out fracking for natural gas altogether and focus even more on renewables:
(1) I believed that natural gas turbines in electrical plants were far better for the environment than the use of coal. I was intrigued somewhat by the use of natural gas to power vehicles. I know several people who work in the energy industry, and I had to concede that the mini-boom was helping the state’s economy.
(2) I witnessed how politicians, especially Republicans, fought any new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that might make the transition from coal in our power plants a reality. Coal interests have their own lobby, too.
(3) I saw that it would take a major retooling and refitting to use natural gas in our cars. It’s just not feasible. Why not just generate electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, and then plug into electrical outlets that could be easily produced and refitted into energy stations. That’s easily feasible. All you need is a power line that goes into an outlet.
(4) I began to read reports and watch documentaries about how fracking has been linked to water contamination. Josh Fox’s Gasland films were heavily criticized by the oil and gas industry, but I still believe their basic premise is truthful. Anytime you inject millions upon millions of toxic substances into the earth there will be a negative effect of some type.
(5) Beginning in November, 2011 the earth began to move in Oklahoma, especially in the central and north-central part of the state. The surge in earthquakes grew at an alarming rate. Scientists concluded the earthquakes were caused by the injection well process, which triggered quakes along previously dormant fault lines.
(6) Because of over production and the boom and bust cycle inherent in the fossil fuel industry–a cycle, by the way, which theoretically can be managed–state revenues declined because of reductions in gross production and sales taxes. The industry began to shed jobs, although unemployment here remains relatively low.
(7) All of it pushed me into an existential position. What’s the point of growing through this boom and bust cycle over and over again in Oklahoma because of a fossil-fuel production process that is terrible unhealthy for the environment and has caused an earthquake crisis where I live?
(8) I argued in favor of shutting down or reducing volume amounts in injection wells.
(9) I argued in favor of issuing a moratorium on new injection wells.
(10) I argued in favor of shutting down ALL injection wells.
(11) My position now is this: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should be banned completely, especially here in Oklahoma.
People will argue that such a position is naive or that I’m some sort of environmentalist extremist and that the powerful corporate power structure here and elsewhere in this country will never let that happen, but I’ve concluded this is the only morally feasible position for the long-term survival of our planet after The Fossil Fuel Age and in the best interests of Oklahoma’s financial and geological stability. We have the technology to produce renewable energy sources on a much larger scale than we do. We know the benefits of public transportation even in the sprawls of the prairie in which we live. We can deploy incremental changes, but they need to come in larger chunks and much faster. The environmental clock is ticking.