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Friday, November 7, 2014

Waterless fracking getting closer?

This article is a good summary of some of the latest developments in what it calls "the next energy revolution" - waterless fracking. Specifically, it discusses the growing interest in using CO2 to deliver proppant downhole instead of water. There's some evidence to suggest that using CO2 instead of water could improve well productivity, according to the piece.

There's also a growing business case to drive waterless fracking technologies, as readers of this blog know. As I wrote hereI've argued - repeatedly - that full-cost accounting of all of the risks and costs associated with the use of water in fracking may make that business case for waterless technologies and get them deployed a lot sooner than under the current business-as-usual paradigm. And that the same accounting should drive the development of regulations that encourage the growth of these technologies.

By focusing on the essential issue of fracking's water use (and moving with equal speed to smart planning), there's an immense opportunity to advance sustainable unconventional oil and gas development and to strike the needed balance between energy development and natural systems.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

PA, ten years in

Pennsylvania's first shale gas well was drilled ten years ago

How time flies.

Here's where Pennsylvania stands today - by the numbers, from
  • 15,507 permitted unconventional PA wells
  • 13,794 are horizontal wells 
  • 8,664 are drilled or under development
  • 5,547 have reported production values
  • 475 have been plugged
  • 80 new wells added in the last 21 days
  • 4,446 well-pads are permitted in the state

A third of the state's land area is leased for drilling. Pipeline and gathering line development, dotted by compressor stations, has yet to catch up to drilling.

Where will we be ten years from now? Seventy?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting the boom, avoiding the bust

This excellent blog post by Sharon Kelly vividly illustrates the wide gaps between the hype and the reality of Pennsylvania's shale gas boom. Areas of the state still caught in the bust part of previous boom-and-bust cycles of resource extraction have not seen much improvement even though drilling is now occurring. Statewide, shale gas development is not driving job growth, and Pennsylvania has fallen to dead last in job creation among US states since January, 2011.

What's to be done? For starters, as I wrote here, officials at all levels must start thinking ahead - to not only plan for the inevitable day when the drill rigs go away, but to develop proactive plans to start diversifying the local and state economies. Now.

At the state level, that includes using Federal climate rules to our advantage - leveraging natural gas development - and driving the development of new technologies - and new industries - that could call Pennsylvania home.

It also demands forward-looking tax, savings, and investment policies. Other states like Texas that have created endowments for things like public education with some state revenue from drilling. West Virginia's new Future Fund, created with a portion of the state's severance tax, will fund education, workforce development, economic development, infrastructure and tax relief projects. (See this analysis of the original concept, and this one of the proposal as enacted, by my friend Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.)

And there's the obvious need to not only conserve our natural resource endowment, but to use it to our long-term economic advantage. Creating a conservation trust fund could endow statewide investments in the public lands, environmental improvement, and public recreation - and the immense number of sustainable jobs that come with them. Indeed, investing in community quality of life may be the surest way to make the state more attractive to high-growth businesses and entrepreneurs.

There's plenty that Pennsylvania can do - here and now - to avoid the boom and bust treadmill and create sustainable economic growth in all areas of the state. The only question is - will we?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are we cooked?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage from climate disruption unless most of the world's electricity is produced from low-carbon sources by 2050 - and almost all of it by 2100.

The IPCC's Synthesis Report says that if global warming is to be limited to two degrees Centigrade - the internationally-recognized threshold of dangerous climate change - low-carbon sources of energy must increase from their current global share of "approximately 30%" to more than 80% by 2050. And to 90% by 2100.

Note that IPCC refers to "low-carbon" energy sources. We're kidding ourselves, alas, if we think renewables alone can save us. IPCC's list of essential technologies includes not only renewable energy, but also nuclear energy, fossil-fueled energy with CCS, and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). In fact, you basically can't get close to the two degree Centigrade target without CCS. Indeed, according to IPCC, all fossil-fueled power generation without CCS must be phased out almost entirely by 2100 .

We’re a long way from any of those targets, and funding for research, development, and deployment of necessary energy technologies falls far, far short of what's needed.

Does the world have the political will to transform our energy supply and save life as we know it? Or are we cooked?

Monday, November 3, 2014

I’m voting for Tom Wolf for PA Governor

Pennsylvania is a frequent topic of this blog, and there’s nothing more important to the future of the state than tomorrow’s elections.

Tomorrow, I’m voting for Tom Wolf for Governor.

The current governor’s record is a sorry one across the board – marked by equal measures of destructive ideology and outright incompetence. There’s his climate change denial and lip service to technologies that would help save the climate - and the state’s coal industry.  His energy “plan” that’s little more than a collection of platitudes. Then there’s his record on shale gas development – including a failed attempt to eliminate local control, inadequate regulation of that development and associated facilities, and further abuse of the public trust embodied in our state parks and forests. And failed tax and economic policies.

And all that’s before his de-funding of public education and hostility to affordable healthcare, voting rights, women’s rights, and the right of everyone to marry the person they love.

I could go on.

But all that said, I’m not voting against Tom Corbett.  I’m voting for Tom Wolf.

I’ve known Tom for years. I had the honor of serving with him during the Rendell Administration.  He’s brilliant and self-effacing; honest, principled, and progressive. He’s committed to getting shale gas, energy, and climate policies right. And to building a stronger middle class and a stronger, cleaner, healthier future for all of us living in the Keystone State.

Tom Wolf’s vision of a fresh start for Pennsylvania is exactly what we need.  It would be a powerful, hopeful example to the nation.

That’s what I’m voting for tomorrow.

Will Pennsylvania get the fresh start we need and deserve?  If you live in Pennsylvania, the answer to that question is up to you.