Fracking and Global Warming: What’s the Connection?
I gave a talk this past week called Fracking and Global Warming: What’s the Connection? I appreciate the invite by Dr John Korstad who teaches two different courses on Sustainability at Oral Roberts University (ORU).
Sustainability is getting to be a hot subject: it implies conserving the present environment for our grand-kids, to use a simple definition. For businesses the application is People, Planet and Profits: People meaning quality of life and employee retention, Planet being environmental stewardship and waste reduction, and Profit meaning responsible economic growth. At ORU, staff like Dr Korstad are leading the way.
The world-class lecture room at ORU, where I was video’d automatically.
I did a lot of research on the topic and decided some critical slides would be of interest and make a good summary. My one-hour talk covered the following aspects:
Fracking is the key to the shale revolution – which has led the USA to become almost self-sufficient in oil and gas. This saves billions of dollars in our trade imbalance.
This is what fracking is. People often ask me, “Is fracking good or bad?” I reply, “It can be bad… but it doesn’t contaminate aquifers, and it doesn’t create earthquakes.”
This is what fracs look like – each of these six fracs is a complex network of cracks shown in blue. Fracking is the key to the shale revolution. The latest fracking numbers for 2019 are: a vertical well 2 miles deep turns into a horizontal well 2 miles long. The horizontal well is fracked 40 separate times, using 20 million gallons of (usually) fresh water. That’s enough to cover the grassed area of a football stadium to a height of 40 ft – and that’s just one well! This huge amount of fresh water in a dry state (such as New Mexico or west Texas) is not good.
But fracking has enabled the shale revolution (which began in 2003), and now shale-oil and shale-gas have climbed to new records in the USA. In early 2019, the USA pumped 12 million barrels of crude oil per day, and this was an all-time high.
Another benefit of fracking is that shale-gas(natural gas) is used to manufacture plastics of a wide variety as used in the home, in our cars and clothing, and in the construction industry.
This gives a nice summary of global warming and the greenhouse gases that cause it. The critical greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), and the principal source of carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuel – coal, oil, or natural gas – in vehicles (cars/trucks/planes) and in electrical power stations.
China is the biggest producer of carbon dioxide, then USA, then Europe, then India.
Which fossil fuels are the best and the worst for emitting carbon dioxide when they are burned? Coal is the dirtiest fuel, and natural gas is the cleanest (its only half as dirty as oil or coal).
After 2006, USA greenhouse emissions continued to fall until 2018. They are at their lowest levels since 1993. The reason is simple: coal-burning electrical power plants are switching to burning shale-gas (natural gas), because shale-gas is cheaper and it burns cleaner. Shale-gas is cheaper than coal because of the shale-gas revolution (and fracking success).
Finally, we suggest some sustainable solutions. Here is the first, as applied to fracking technology and to oil & gas companies that provide the fracking technology.
Sustainable solutions for other energy companies: One example is to switch from coal-burners to natural gas power stations, and another is to switch cars to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) instead of gasoline.
Sustainability at state level: Texas produces the most oil and gas of any state in the USA. If Texas were a country, it would be the sixth largest oil and gas producer in the world. Texas is also the No. 1 producer of wind energy in the United States. If it were its own country, Texas would be the fourth-largest wind-producing country in the world by the end of 2017.
Sustainability at country level: The Green New Deal was announced last week by Democrats in the USA Congress. It has worthy goals from a global warming perspective but would cost way too much.
Sustainability at global level: The yellow prediction in the slide will be catastrophic. The green/purple bands will have very serious effects on the earth. The red and blue bands are desirable outcomes, but we can’t get there with present country/global policy commitments. We won’t make it!
Most likely forecast for the year 2050 by DNV GL in its recently released Energy Transition Outlook. Fossil energy still going strong at 44% of total energy consumption. Earth’s temperature still rising.
SUMMARY: What is the connection between fracking and global warming?
Fracking makes successful shale oil/gas wells…
… and oil/gas is burned to create energy (electricity, gasoline, etc)…
… and this also creates carbon dioxide which…
… tends to increase greenhouse gases…
… and more global warming.
… shale-gas is so successful that its cheap…
… so cheap that coal-burning power stations are switching to gas-burning…
… and gas burns half as dirty as coal…
… so less carbon dioxide emitted…
… so USA share of greenhouse gas emission has fallen for 11 years straight…
… and USA has done its bit to lower global warming and satisfied Paris accords.
VIDEO OF MY TALK. If by chance you would like to see the video of my talk, please click below https://oru.zoom.us/recording/share/I4WUAwGYRXUZ6FnCLe4As7uWK2eqc-GE2oABlUm-kSSwIumekTziMw?startTime=1551298449000
Note: Its a long video and the slides are a little blurry, but the automatic recorder does keep me in focus all the time. This is still a handy way to learn about fracking and global warming. PS – the real part of the talk starts at 03:00 and by starting here you can jump over the introduction if you wish.
PS: I write blogs about three topics: Health and Hiking, Science and Energy, and Inspiration and Hope.
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