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Hail Shale
Fracking Yields Another Miracle

Transforming America’s energy fortunes overnight wasn’t enough for fracking—now it seems set to feed the world’s fish. A California biotech company is looking to take advantage of fracking-wrought methane to breed a special kind of bacterium that could be used as a cheaper feedstock for fish. The Economist reports:

[Dr. Alan Shaw, head of the biotechnology firm Calysta] proposes to take advantage of the rock-bottom price of methane, a consequence of the spread of natural-gas fracking, to breed Methylococci en masse as a substitute for the fish-meal such farmers now feed to their charges. […]

At the moment, the world produces about 5m tonnes of fish-meal a year, a number that has been constant for four decades and is limited by the size of the Earth’s fisheries. Demand, however, is growing at 6-8% a year, putting pressure on prices. This has led some fish farmers to adopt soya-based substitutes. These, though, can inflame the fishes’ guts. That, Dr Shaw says, is not a problem with Calysta’s product.

Dr Shaw seems confident Calysta’s system, which should turn out more than 8,000 tonnes of bacterial fish food a year per reactor, can do so at a cost well below the $2,000 a tonne at which fish-meal now sells—and that it will be available commercially by 2018. If this comes to pass, not only will it help fish farmers, but it may also relieve pressure on wild fish stocks in the world’s oceans.

Who saw this coming? If this takes off, not only will it benefit the world’s fish stocks, but it will also create a stronger market for methane, and in so doing could increase the incentive for shale operators to reduce methane leakage (one of the biggest charges greens level against fracking).

Combining hydraulic fracturing with horizontal well-drilling unleashed a flood of oil and gas previously thought to be trapped forever in shale rock, and it did so in just a few years. More breakthroughs lie ahead, and this new fish food could be one of them. The Malthusians of the world would have you believe humanity has hit its high water mark, that we’ve exceeded our planet’s carrying capacity and that gloom and doom await civilization just around the corner, but these Chicken Littles fail to include the accelerating pace of technological change—and the promise that change brings—into their apocalyptic prognostications.

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  • Blackbeard

    My prediction is that the greens will force Hillary to take an unequivocal anti-fracking position during the campaign. Since she has no real ideology, except winning, she’ll do it. Then, when she is president, her advisers will tell her how bad an idea banning fracking would be. Nevertheless the Democrats are afraid of the greens so she’ll do it.

    Seem improbable? Consider the Keystone XL saga. Consider Coumo’s anti-fracking legislation in New York. The sad truth is that the Luddite greens are winning.

    • JR

      No they are not. The idea that progress can be stopped by some idiots is disproven by history time and time again. But I agree with you, it can be delayed.

      • Blackbeard

        Indeed progress cannot be stopped. But it can be stopped here. History is littered with the shell of nations who were once great. Environmental issues are only a part, but they are an important part.

  • fastrackn1

    Great technology as long as the fracking boom lasts. What will the farmers do when the fracking plays out some day? This technology is just a temporary Band-Aid on a growing problem.
    The more we become dependent on our technology, the more fragile our civilization becomes. Look at how far we have come population-wise, and lifestyle-wise in the last 150 years…it is almost beyond comprehension.
    The Malthusians may be wrong about the time frame, but they are not wrong about the eventual outcome….

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      This isn’t just a “flash in the pan” and it is moving in the right direction as fuel –> food, rather than the alcohol mandate that has food –> fuel which is fundamentally unsound. The amount of Methane trapped as Methane Hydrate ice on the Oceans floors is astronomical, far far greater than the world’s proven reserves of gas.

      • Andrew Allison

        Not to mention all that cow flatulence [grin]. And perhaps more practicably, the methane being generated by landfills.

        • fastrackn1

          “Not to mention all that cow flatulence [grin].”

          Too bad we can’t figure out a way to harvest it and then feed the cows bean burritos…that would save us all the trouble of getting it off of the ocean floor….

          • Andrew Allison

            Shouldn’t be too hard, a simple gas separation unit appropriately attached, with a pipe leading to a collection unit — I can picture it now LOL. The downside is that the cows might achieve lift-off, with unfortunate results for those beneath.
            If only we could develop a bullshit separation mask to apply to elected officials, all our problems might be solved.

          • fastrackn1

            “If only we could develop a bullshit separation mask to apply to elected officials”

            Not possible Andrew…it defies all laws of physics….

          • Andrew Allison

            Did you mean all the laws of politics?

          • fastrackn1

            That too….

      • fastrackn1

        I didn’t know about the Methane Hydrate ice, so I just did a little research and it seems that it is dangerous, risky, and often in deep water, not to mention green house emissions. It is a move in the right direction for the reasons you state, however it is still a Band-Aid on a growing problem; the ever-increasing population growth and lifestyle excess of the human race.
        Science will eventually fail to enable those 2 issues to continue as they have…exactly how that will play out is anyone’s guess, but I doubt it will end well….

        • Andrew Allison

          It’s not that hard to figure out: population increases until something (environment, food, disease, etc.) constrains it. Nothing lasts forever, but the Malthusians have been predicting disaster for over 200 years and, as TAI keeps reminding us, human ingenuity keeps extending the horizon. Consider, if you had proposed extracting oil from a couple of miles under the ocean 20 years ago, you’d have been laughed at.

          • fastrackn1

            You are right. And I am not thinking that anything will happen soon, but we really do need to address population growth and life style expansion.
            It is, I believe, the simultaneous occurance of those 2 issues that is the most serious problem, and the 2 issues that are hardest to control or change.

          • Andrew Allison

            Sadly, there’s no way to to address population growth and lifestyle expectations. They’ll increase until something extraneous stops them (broadly defined environmental issues for the former, running out of OPM, with predictably horrific results, for the latter); it’s the nature of the beast.

          • MartyH

            Population growth and lifestyle expansion trend in opposite directions. If you look at a map of the world, most of Europe, Asia, and Australia, are already below 2 children born per women, while the Americas, India, North and South Africa, and the ME are generally 2-3. These areas (net of immigration effects) will have stable to declining populations.

            Central Africa (one of the poorest areas of the world) has the highest birth rates.

            Rich economies have the resources to protect the environment; poor economies often have no choice but to destroy it.

          • fastrackn1

            The population will still continue to grow and as an and ever increasing portion of the population modernizes, it will consume more and more of our resources. If we can somehow get to a point where we have negative population growth we will then have economic problems because most economies are built on population growth. If we use less resources then the prices for those resources will go up and create more problems for the 99%.

    • rheddles

      The Malthusians are absolutely wrong in the long run. Like to make another Simon-Ehrlich bet? The fact is that human ingenuity will always find ways to solve its problems if given the freedom.

      All technological solutions are Band-Aids and always have been. My understanding of the first law of engineering is that all solutions are temporary. When the solution breaks down, the results can be locally difficult, think Detroit. But the results broadly are beneficial, think Toyota.

      Do you really think that our civilization is fragile? It can certainly be subject to abrupt changes as all civilizations have been. And there will be winners and losers. But no other civilization has been better equipped to cope with challenges.

      • Blackbeard

        Ehrlich may have lost that bet, but his loyal disciple John Holdren is firmly entrenched in the White House as Obama’s science adviser. Want to know what the future has in store for us if the Democrats continue to rule? Read Holdren’s (with the Ehrlichs) book Eoscience. Eco-fascism anyone?

        • rheddles

          All you have to do is look at the last 7 years of economic “recovery” to see what the future has to hold if Democrats continue to rule. Or look at Baltimore where they have ruled for almost 80 years.

          • Blackbeard

            Amen.

      • f1b0nacc1

        A few years ago, one of my greenie friends took the bait and made a Simon-Ehrlich bet with me on oil prices (she was a big believer in peak oil), which comes due on 6/1 of this year. I am about to make a killing…

      • fastrackn1

        The Simon-Ehrlich bet was a bunch of nonsense. It’s hard to believe anyone would make such a bet, and it is not the direction I was going in my previous comments.

        I also don’t think Toyota is exactly beneficial, but that is another conversation for another day.
        Our modern civilization ‘is’ very fragile, and as we become more and more dependent on our technology and move farther and farther from our basic natural order as beings (mammals), we become weaker and more susceptible to severe changes…kind of like raising a wild animal in captivity for most of it’s life, and then turning it lose in the wild.
        I am not saying that we will become extinct, but I believe there will be a great reset of civilization someday (not in our lifetime or even in the next 100 years), and because we will have become ever more dependent on our technology, it will be catastrophic. The other problem is our propensity for conspicuous consumption. As more and more of the world’s population modernizes, it will consume more and more of our resources, and many of our resources are finite. Although the greens are a bit nutty at times, and it is enjoyable to poke fun at them, they do have a point….

        • rheddles

          I also don’t think Toyota is exactly beneficial

          Tell the millions who drive on because they couldn’t stand the garbage from the UAW.

          many of our resources are finite.

          And all of them are renewable. Recall that the industrial revolution occurred because the English ran out of wood to make charcoal to smelt iron so one of their non-conformist Quakers, A. Darby discovered you could make coke from coal to smelt iron. Funny how those oddballs come up with ideas. And we nearly hunted the whales to extinction for their oil until Col. Drake discovered the still inexhaustible supply of oil in the earth.

          The only point the greens have is on the top of their head.

          • fastrackn1

            “Tell the millions who drive one because they couldn’t stand the garbage from the UAW.”

            And there are millions (myself included) who drive American made vehicles (which are #1 in sales here), and are perfectly happy with them. Yes we made some crap in the 70’s and 80’s and destroyed our reputation and lost market share, but I have driven American all my life and have never had any problem with what I have owned, and I would never buy a Jap car anyway.
            As a matter of fact Toyota has been having plenty of quality issues in recent years and may lose it’s first place position to VW…but actually Toyota, VW and GM are all within a few hundred thousand units of each other in global sales anyway…not sure if this has to do with good/bad quality, or good/bad marketing though.

            “And all of them are renewable.”

            Umm, actually not….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-renewable_resource

            “The only point the greens have is on the top of their head.”

            Touche….

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