Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fracking: this issue is huge. I didn't realise how huge

Here's a story that’s crept up on me unawares. Fracking for shale gas.  Until a Guardian feature last Thursday I thought this was just the latest get rich quick scheme for oil companies, and that a few well aimed protests about ground water pollution would hopefully see it off. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I've clearly not been paying close enough attention.

An attack on a pipeline during the Iraq war. Photograph: Jamal Nasrallah/EPA
It seems the US is predicted to become the world's largest oil producer by 2035. Cheap energy from shale oil and gas is being touted as the dawn of a new US golden age. I had no idea. With all that at stake, deep pessimism beckons. The photo of an attack on a pipeline during the Iraq war is used by The Guardian to illustrate its argument that shale oil will end a 30-year preoccupation with ensuring enough energy to meet the US economy's needs. 

"Gazprom feels the chill as its dominance is weakened" tells that shale oil and shale gas are so plentiful in North America, that they offer the US self-sufficiency in energy which could end American reliance on despotic Gulf regimes and pull the rug from under Russia’s Gazprom.  This is a massive prize.

The point is that not only is the extraction process environmentally destructive in itself, but the burning of all this shale gas and oil entails greenhouse gas emissions that will far outstrip our ability to adapt to the climate change they will cause. See Friends of the Earth briefing “Shale gas: energy solution or fracking hell?” and another Guardian feature Shale offers freedom and security – but it could be a trap.

In his victory speech Barack Obama used the expression "the destructive power of a warming planet" and thereby raised expectations of climate change action in his second term.  But other indicators all point the other way. In his first term he made a strategic decision to downplay climate change; he avoided the issue during the recent campaign; and the Republicans continue to control the House of Representatives.  

If the prize for shale oil extraction is as massive as the Guardian article says it is, then it's going to be like a gale blowing on a reed.