Wednesday, May 30, 2012

IEA Golden Rules Say Fracking Can & Must Be Safe Or Else!

Avoiding diplomatic or central banker obfuscation, when it released yesterday in London and Washington DC its anticipated shale gas report, the International Energy Agency did not mince words:

"The technology and the know-how already exist for unconventional gas to be produced in an environmentally acceptable way," stated the IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, in the press release accompanying the report.

Ms. van der Hoeven, however, continued: "But if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt unconventional gas revolution in its tracks. The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance; governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place."

The full report entitled,"Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas," is available here:  I was one of the many reviewers of the 143 page report and did participate in an IEA workshop to develop its content. The document has 3 parts: Addressing environmental risks; The Golden Rules Case and its counterpart; and Country and regional outlooks.

At an estimated increase cost of 7% on an $8 million (pages 55-56) well, the IEA proposes 22 Golden Rules (see pages 13-14 and again at pages 42-48)) to address environmental and social risks. These rules would address successfully the potential for air and groundwater pollution.  The IEA especially highlights in several parts of the report the need minimizing greenhouse gas emissions " the point of production and throughout the entire natural gas supply chain."

The IEA further finds that the technology exists to address all environmental issues "...but a continuous drive from governments and industry to improve performance is required if public confidence is to be maintained or earned."

The Country and regional outlook section starts with the USA and also includes discussion of Canada, Mexico, China, Europe, and Australia.  The IEA notes that, during 2010, the USA accounted for 76% of global unconventional gas production; Canada 13%; and the small remainder in Australia and China from mainly coalbed methane wells.  The IEA states that China had drilled just 20 shale gas wells as of early 2012.

Actual unconventional gas production remains largely a North American reality, though massive amounts of unconventional gas reserves are found in many parts of the world.

Beyond the 22 Golden Rules to address environmental risks, most of the IEA report is a modeling exercise of 2 cases, with differing assumptions.  While the modeling is fun for policy wonks, it is necessarily speculative and of limited utility.

Just how limited the utility of this kind of work is driven home by similar EIA forecasting of how much energy will come from various resources over the next 20 years.  Very recently, EIA was predicting that coal's market share in the US would not fall to 39% until 2030.  In fact, markets move so rapidly and sharply that coal's share will fall below 39% this year.

With that said, in the high unconventional gas production case, IEA findings include 1 million gas wells will be needed through 2035; gas will overtake coal as the world's number 2 fuel but still be behind oil; and natural gas prices will be lower than otherwise expected. 

In the low unconventional gas production case, coal remains the number 2 fuel in the world, and gas grows little, gas prices are higher, and carbon emissions are a marginally higher.

The IEA modeling assumptions may not account for the large, recent decline in US carbon emissions due to gas substituting for coal.  US energy related emissions, as of 2011, declined by 450 million tons, an amount equal to about 1.5% of total world emissions, and largely because of the shale gas boom. US emissions will fall another approximately 150 million tons in 2012, bringing the total decline to an impressive $600 million tons or nearly 2% of world emissions.

Indeed, in the here and now of the real world, US emission decline due to shale gas is about the only climate change bright spot in the entire world. Yet, shale gas is vilified by some who profess to be most concerned about climate change.

While natural gas and indeed no one answer can stabilize climate pollution concentrations, its vilification is perverse, given the big, immediate cuts in US emissions it has already delivered.

The IEA notes that, in both of its forecasting cases, carbon emissions and temperatures grow substantially and calls again for carbon capture and sequestration technology development.

The part of this report that is likely to have the most lasting impact is its discussion of environmental risks and existing technology and its 22 Golden Rules of Gas.  Excellent operators would be thoroughly utilizing them today. And the IEA is clear that the future of unconventional gas has a lot to do with excellent operations becoming the norm.


  1. Although I'm pleased that American energy-related emissions declined a few percentage points in 2011, partly due to substitution of shale gas for coal, I'm concerned that decline by a few percentage points is all that can be expected from shale gas. Shale gas is a fossil fuel. Burning it puts additional CO2 into the atmosphere. To avoid the worst effects of global warming, our goal should be to leave all fossil fuels, including shale gas, in the ground. We can eventually supply 100% of our energy needs with a broad spectrum of renewables. Some countries have already made significant progress toward that goal. In all countries, renewables can be deployed sufficiently rapidly to completely compensate for the "need" for further shale gas extraction.

    1. Joel:

      Thank you for your comment. I have played a major role in the policy and permitting battles that will make 25 operating wind farms and more than 6,000 solar projects a reality in PA. I for years have been buying 100 per cent wind electricity for my home in Hershey. I too am excited by the real progress made on renewables.

      The most aggressive country in the world on adopting renewable energy for their power sector is probably Germany. The most aggressive state is Califronia. California has a goal of 33% electricity by 2020. Germany seeks a similar amount in 10 years. What is going to provide the rest of the power now and in the next 10 years and that after 10 years? Germany is also increasing its coal generation right now. It is starting this year a huge new coal plant--more than 2,000 megawatt unit. Japan closed all 55 nuclear plants and saw its carbon emissions jump 15 per cent. No country will run on 100 per cent renewables for at least 40 years and probably much more. In the real world, the choice for a big part of a country's power is either coal or oil or gas. That is true in California now and will be in Califoria 10 years from now. It is true in Germany now and will be true in 10 years. There is no doubt that gas has much less impact than the alternatives. Carbon capture technology should also be a top priority for development.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Concerned ScientistMay 31, 2012 at 4:13 PM

      Wind and solar need a backup for when its not windy or sunny. Gas is the perfect backup fuel - better than coal or nuclear because the power generated can be increased or decreased in a matter of minutes. You can't do all wind and solar without gas or some other backup fuel without frequent blackouts.

      The GHG savings from gas are just beginning. We still are burning a lot of coal, all of which could be displaced by cleaner burning gas. Then we move on to heating oil. Gas is much cleaner to burn for heating oil as well. It's hard to do space heating with wind and solar.

  2. We can now add acid mine water to our list of concerns with gas extraction. I see the gas companies will be given another pass on responsibility John. Who will pay for the acid mine water spill on the road or in the creek or on the fields....NOT THE GAS COMPANY!!

    1. Yoko:
      Any acid mine water that may be used to crack a we'll would otherwise pollute a stream. The stuff is pouring into streams and groundwater in many, many counties all across the state. Capturing some of that and using it to frack a well will reduce the amount of pollution of our waters.

    2. Concerned ScientistMay 31, 2012 at 4:17 PM

      Using acid mine drainage water for fracking is a big plus environmentally. Most of the water stays deep underground in the Marcellus Formation where it will remain for millions of years. The water that comes back up is full of salt anyway and can either be recycled or sent into deep injection wells. Either way this is taking polluted water that is currently running in streams and killing the wildlife and putting it underground where it can do no harm.

    3. the bill that went to the senate gave the gas company a PASS on liability involved in using this toxic stew. Again, use it but why the pass?? It is the exemptions that is very hard to swallow-kind of how I feel about Dimock water.

    4. no one cares to comment on the passes the industry gets...they will not do it safely or safer if they keep getting a "hall pass"...let's just ignore the exemptions that would legally require them-not a "gentlemen's agreement"( have to be a gentleman to do that deal!!) to do it right or at least better..denial is the game...

    5. There has been a principle generally accepted that individuals or companies that address pollution that they did not cause should not be put at risk of lawsuits for just the work that they do to address the pollution caused by others. These laws are called environmental good samaritan laws. The point is that folks will not help clean up pollution caused by others if they can be sued for doing work to clean up the pollution.

  3. John:

    Thanks for telling us about your advocacy of renewable energy. Although you express the concern that renewable energy cannot provide all the energy we need for at least 40 years, there are others in the energy policy field who think that renewable energy could provide for 100% of our needs in a shorter time. See for example the two articles by Jacobson and Delucchi (Energy Policy 39: 1154-1169, 2011, and Energy Policy 39: 1170-1190, 2011). They conclude that energy derived solely from wind, water and solar sources would cost about the same as our current energy and does not require any technologies not already available.

    Using some of those technologies, Denmark is already producing a large fraction of its energy from wind, currently about 20% averaged over the year, but Denmark's goal is to raise that level to 50% by 2020. You can see the proportion of total electrical energy usage derived from wind at any moment in time by looking at this web site: You need to know that "Vindmoller" means "Windmills", while "Elforbrug" means total electrical energy usage (at a point in time--in other words, power). Divide the first by the second to get the fraction of electrical power coming from the wind. As I write this (9:21 am, Eastern time, June 1, 2012), the values are 3033 MW are 4066 MW, meaning 75% of total power is coming from wind (it's a very windy day in Denmark!). The Danes are able to do this primarily by good weather forecasting, which allows them to ramp their fossil-fueled plants up and down as needed to provide the energy not being provided by wind. The articles by Jacobson and Delucchi discuss ways in which a variety of storage technologies would permit a spectrum of renewable energy technologies to deal with days that are cloudy and aren't windy.

    1. Assume all your most ideal facts, here is the question remaining: what source of power do you want in the "meanwhile" to provide the remainder? The Danes get to 50% wind. On the way there and once at 50%, what do you want to provide the remainder? A fuel that emits twice the carbon as gas? Or gas that emits half the carbon? Even with ideal facts assumed, one has to come to grips with those questions. And the answers make an enormous difference in how much pollution goes into the atmosphere over the next 10,20, 40 yeears.

      I have no doubt that one day the world will run on hydrogen. I expect energy storage to develop in the next 30 years to be economic globally. I even think carbon capture technology may be developed that is economic.

      But saying that the perfect is on the way, even being deployed now, does not get you out from having to decide what to do with the big remainders for at least decades.

    2. Agreed! But, as you know, there are potential dangers in the shale gas extraction process. If the extraction can be done without endangering water supplies and air quality, and without undue release of unburned methane into the atmosphere, then I certainly would support the use of shale gas instead of coal. And it seems clear that we also agree that it's important, as soon as possible, to replace even as relatively clean a fossil fuel as shale gas with electricity from resources that don't add extra CO2 to the atmosphere.

  4. hi JOEL you are speaking absolutely right as i agree with your comment ...... all other people needs to think on this !!!
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