December 2012 Archives

December 26, 2012

Two Good Energy Websites

Here are two good websites that provide interesting and balanced views about energy production and consumption:  The Rational Middle, and Think Progress. The Rational Middle is a series of films by the people that produced the movie Haynesville - A Nation's Hunt for an Energy Future. Its goal is to encourage rational thinking about our energy future and establishing achievable goals toward sustainable energy. The films about unconventional resources and the risks of hydraulic fracturing are worth looking at.


Think Progress's climate page introduces thought-provoking statistics about our nation's energy sources and uses. For example:

56.2% of the nation's energy is wasted each year - from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

Estimated US Energy Use 2011.JPG

 Check them out.


December 15, 2012

George Mitchell - The Man Who Figured Out Fracing

I recently heard an interview with George Mitchell, the independent operator who found the key for combining hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling to unlock vast reserves of gas in the Barnett Shale, the first shale play. And it only took him 17 years to figure it out. Now 93 years of age, Mr. Mitchell was interviewed by American Public Media's Marketplace radio program. You can view the interview here.

Mr. Mitchell has some unorthodox views for a wildcatter. First, his foundation, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, has given millions of dollars to support development of clean energy resources. And he supports a carbon tax on hydrocarbons.

Mr. Mitchell also supports tough regulation of independent operators. "I've had too much experience running independents," Mitchell says. "They're wild people. You just can't control them. And if it doesn't do it right, penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them." Earlier this year, Mr. Mitchell told Forbes magazine that he is in favor of federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Mr. Mitchell and NY Mayor Micheal Bloomberg recently teamed up to write an Op Ed piece in the New York Times supporting the development of natural gas reserves with the new fracing technology and pledging their foundations to support efforts to develop responsible regulations to assure that drilling can be done safely:

Several states, including Colorado, New York and Ohio, are taking the lead in this regard, recognizing the need to establish an appropriate framework for regulatory safeguards. It appears that Texas, as the pioneer of hydraulic fracturing in shale formations, is poised to step forward in developing promising state guidelines as well. More such leadership is needed.

To jump-start this effort, each of our foundations will support organizations that seek to work with states and industries to develop common-sense regulations that will protect the environment -- and ensure that the industry can thrive.

We will encourage better state regulation of fracking around five key principles:

     Disclosing all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process;

     Optimizing rules for well construction and operation;

     Minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater;

     Improving air pollution controls, including capturing leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas; and

     Reducing the impact on roads, ecosystems and communities.

The latest research, including peer-reviewed studies out of Carnegie Mellon University and Argonne National Laboratory, suggests that if properly extracted and distributed, the impact of natural gas on the climate is significantly less than that of coal. Safely fracking natural gas can mean healthier communities, a cleaner environment and a reliable domestic energy supply right now.

. . .

We can frack safely if we frack sensibly. That may not make for a great bumper sticker. It does make for good environmental and economic policy.

The Texas Railroad Commission has recently published revised draft regulations specifically aimed at assuring that fracing and well completion operations are conducted safely and adequately protect groundwater resources.

I agree with Mr. Mitchell. Drilling technology is much more complex than it was ten or twenty years ago. Fracing involves managing very high pressures and toxic chemicals. Wells now cost $8 to $10 million. Texas needs to take the lead in assuring that these operations are conducted with the best available technology and safety practices, and the Railroad Commission needs to crack down on operators who don't follow those practices.


December 14, 2012

NASA Night Photo of Eagle Ford Shale Play

Amazing image. No better way to illustrate the activity in the Eagle Ford.


December 7, 2012

University of Texas Withdraws Study on Hydraulic Fracturing

The University of Texas withdrew a study published earlier this year by UT Austin's Energy Institute, "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development," after review by an independent commission appointed by the University. That review was prompted by a report of the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit watchdog group, which revealed that Dr. Charles Groat, professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT and director of the study, sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company and received cash and stock compensation from Plains of more than $1.5 million since 2007, but did not reveal that relationship in connection with the report. Dr. Groat has since retired, and the Head of the Energy Institute, Dr. Raymond Orbach, has resigned as head of the institute.

The independent review commission found that Dr. Groat's failure to disclose his ties with Plains was "very poor judgment," and that UT's conflict of interest policy should be strengthened (UT has done so). The commission also found several other faults with the report:

  • The report was presented as having scientific findings, but most of it was based on "literature surveys, incident reports and conjecture," and was not in fact "fact-based".
  • The summary of the report issued in a UT press release was misleading and "seemed to suggest that public concerns were without scientific basis and largely resulted from media bias."
  • The study was "not subject to serious peer review and therefore [was] not ready to be considered for public release as fact-based work." The commission recommended that the study be withdrawn (which UT has done):

Because of the inadequacies herein cited, publications resulting from the Energy Institute's project on shale gas fracturing currently displayed on the Energy Institute's website should be withdrawn and the document "Separating Fact from Fiction in Shale Gas Development," given its basis in the above, should not be further distributed at this time. Authors of the white papers should be allowed sufficient time and opportunity to finish their work, preparing their papers for submission for independent review by a broad panel of independent scientists and policy experts. Even if not published in a professional journal this approach is deemed appropriate when dealing with highly contentious issues. The summary paper should be redrafted to accurately reflect these revised white papers, with strong involvement from the Senior Contributors.

 UT's press release yesterday can be found here.

The report of the independent review commission can be found here.

Public Accountability Initiative's critique of the study can be found here.

State Impact Texas' report on the controversy is here, and the New York Times' article on the controversy is here.

Clearly a black eye for UT.


December 4, 2012

Switch - Documentary on Energy

I recently had the opportunity to view a documentary, "Switch," produced by Dr. Scott Tinker, Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas and the State Geologist of Texas, and Harry Lynch, documentary filmmaker. Dr. Tinker uses as the premise for his film the question - When will the world ultimately switch from fossil fuels to cleaner, alternative energy sources? In the process, he examines the sources and uses of energy worldwide, their costs and benefits, in an engaging film that takes him from the huge open-pit coal mines in Wyoming to offshore oil rigs to a hydraulic energy plant in the Netherlands, from the top of a wind turban to solar energy farms, and from driving Tesla to installing more efficient heating and lighting systems in the home. In the process, he does what no film I have seen does -- provide a balanced, informed view of the role of energy in our modern world and where we are heading.

In addition to the film, Dr. Tinker has created a website, , that provides additional short videos and other resources to further explore questions surrounding energy, including carbon capture, global warming, hydraulic fracturing, and alternative energy technologies. He interviews many world experts on global energy issues. The five energy issues you need to know, according to Dr. Tinker:

1. Energy drives the modern world and underpins every other issue.

2. We choose our energy based on four qualities: affordable, available, reliable and clean.

3. But clean is complicated. All energies have environmental impacts, which need to be managed effectively and affordably.

4. Even so, the biggest challenge of energy is scale - the enormous amount of energy we demand.

5. And the only way to counter scale, is with efficiency.

The website provides a calendar of screenings of the movie across the country and the world. I highly recommend that you look for it in your area, and see it. Finally, a balanced view of the large, long-range picture of our energy future.