Monday, December 21, 2009


In the atrocious headline sweepstakes, AP on Yahoo wins today's award with "Gas could be the cavalry in global warming fight."

The article's author, alleged 'AP Energy Writer Mark Williams', ignores all the simple chemistry and energy science of fossil fuels to feed the hype machine being run by Exxon's purchase of XTO Energy for the alleged retrieval of vast natural gas supplies in shale deposits in the United States.

I'll pull some of the really meretricious quotes run by Williams and his sources but the original piece is here.

"An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It's cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet."

This was Williams' lede and right off it's guilty of lying by leaving out the important stuff, information now at everyone's fingertips.

Yes, natural gas is cleaner than coal.

But when one speaks in terms of carbon dioxide emission, the simple chemistry of it is not a game-changer if one accepts the fact that global-warming is a catastrophic event caused by human civilization.

What is (or will be needed) will be orders of magnitude in change, not just nibbling at the margins, which is what current articles on natural gas mining in the US provide.

Some straightforward and irrefutable equations on chemical energy balance in fossil fuels are here. But readers don't really even need to look at them. Scroll down to the chart and read the values on its right side. You will notice the difference in carbon footprint by weight. Natural gas's is superior to coal but the difference is not by an order of magnitude.

Far from it.

Therefore, natural gas is not a long term or even particularly short term answer to global warming. It is, however, potentially great for the bottom line of fossil fuel-using producers of energy in the United States.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states it here in "How Natural Gas Works."

This article, unlike AP's news piece, is not full of great-sounding crap, the gold standard of fossil fuel energy reporting.

"Compared to coal, gas produces 43 percent fewer carbon emissions for each unit of energy produced, and 30 percent less than oil," it reads. "While a vast improvement over coal and oil, it is not a sustainable solution to global warming, air pollution and resource depletion."

"XTO, the company that Exxon is buying, was one of the pioneers in developing new drilling technologies that allow a single well to descend 9,000 feet and then bore horizontally through shale formations up to 1 1/2 miles away," reports AP. "Water, sand and chemical additives are pumped through these pipes to unlock trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that until recently had been judged unobtainable."

And there's the tricky part. Pumping 'water, sand and chemical additives' thousands of feet down into the ground in order to get something back up is not energy or pollution neutral. It costs more energy, in the burning of fossile fuels, to implement.

The AP writer doesn't really get into this.

"The wells still capture only about a quarter of the gas locked in the shale formations," continues Williams. "Future improvements could double that recovery rate."

The devil in the details is written off into always rosy "future improvements". This is very similar to the talk which surrounded 'clean coal' last year and how all the bad carbon dioxide from it would just be pumped back into the ground and sequestered.

Magic! Global warming solved! Energy independence guaranteed!

The icing on this not very tasty mess is furnished by Daniel Yergin. It is such a bad assessment one wonders whether Yergin actually said it -- or was quoted out of context by the news service.

"The question now is how does this change the energy discussion in the U.S. and by how much?" Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize winner and chairman of an energy consultancy, told the AP reporter. "This is domestic energy ... it's low carbon, it's low cost and it's abundant. When you add it up, it's revolutionary."

No real scientist not on the salary of a fossil fuel energy producer or consultancy would say such a thing. Especially after adding up the numbers.

Sadly, even the disinformation being peddled is not revolutionary.


Post a Comment

<< Home