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Fracking: For Americans Only?

Only in America? According to Bloomberg, hydraulic fracking, the promising work-in-progress energy technology, is running into problems outside the United States:

Some shale formations in Europe and China are impervious to drilling techniques that opened vast reserves of natural gas and oil from Texas to Pennsylvania, said Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM)’s chief executive officer.

New methods and tools will need to be invented to tap many of the shale fields that energy companies and governments expect eventually to yield a bonanza of fuel, Tillerson said during a meeting with analysts in New York today.

At the moment, while a few US shale formations have proven impervious to fracking, America appears to be the only country able to take full advantage of this remarkable developing technology. This will change, of course, as the science progresses. But in the meantime, Via Meadia marvels at how special providence seems to be at work once again…

Drunks, fools, and our favorite Uncle Sam.

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  • Kris

    In theory, it is a truism that we will eventually run out of naturally occurring hydrocarbons. In practice, as we start running short, their price will increase, and it will become economically worthwhile to extract them from previously discounted sources. But no, let us run around shouting “Peak oil! Peak oil! Peak oil!”

  • Gordon Pasha
  • Bob

    We gotta be proud of ourselves, doing with natural gas what we did with our petroleum. Drain America First!

  • Mark Michael

    This may seem nitpicky, but hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been used since the 1940s to try to extract more oil from depleted wells. It is not a new technology by any means. What is new and has helped unlock shale natural gas and oil is the combination of fracking and horizontal drilling. (Horizontal drilling is not a new technology either, I believe. It’s just the combining of the two and going very deep underground.)

    The environmental concerns for fracking and horizontal drilling are also little different from what the oil industry has encountered for many years. The professional environmentalists have played on the widespread ignorance of the average Joe Q. Public about the details of the industry to imply it’s a great new threat to the environment.

    For example, America has something like 300,000 miles of larger transmission pipelines for transporting oil already. You’d think that proposed Keystone XL Pipeline was one of the first big pipelines ever built if you casually read news stories about it. Nebraska, the state in the news, already has 21,000 miles of oil pipelines crisscrossing the state.

    My understanding is that most shale deposits are very deep underground – way below the water table that everyone is worried about. The horizontal drilling takes place way down there with little or no real prospect of anything leaking into the water table.

    The (modest) threat to the environment is when the well passes through the water table: the well must be adequately shielded so that it doesn’t start leaking in that area, letting chemicals get into the water table. They put extra shielding around it for that very short length to prevent that.

    The other real problem is that huge amounts of water, sand and some chemicals get pumped down into the well and then return to the surface. They must be disposed of safely. A few unscrupulous small oil companies just put that waste water into the waster water disposal system without any treatment (99.5% of it is just water and sand – the rest ordinary chemicals used in drilling for many years – at least that’s my understanding).

    The other thing that has happened here in Ohio (lots of drilling going on) is that the horizontal drilling probably has triggered small earthquakes. This has happened in northern Ohio near the Akron/Youngstown area. They’ve temporarily suspended drilling until they assess the situation. It seems to depend on the type of rock formations above the area their drilling and its susceptibility to earthquakes.

    Ohio has been strengthening the regulations governing the disposal of liquids used in the fracking process over the past 3 or 4 years.

  • Kris

    Bob@3, we drained America? News to me!

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I don’t think America’s Special Providence has anything to do with, mineral resources or geographic position, which in most cases is exceeded by that of other nations (China’s rare earths, Russian and Middle-Eastern Oil, Egypt’s Suez canal, Brazil’s Amazon River, etc…), but those nation’s have been much less successful, and in most cases they are relative failures if not outright failed states. It is instead America’s Bleeding Edge Culture which is responsible for America’s Special Providence, not some windfall like Venezuela’s oil, a resource that Venezuelan Culture is completely wasting.

  • Corlyss

    Greens are a lot stronger in Europe than they are here. Hard to believe, I know, but true.

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