I see in The Hill that some critics of shale gas drilling are pointing to a revised estimate of the shale gas resources in the Marcellus formation as evidence that there's not enough gas to justify any risk from hydraulic fracturing. Earlier this week the US Geological Survey updated its previous estimate to 84 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas, a figure substantially less than the estimate of 410 TCF from the Department of Energy. Now, I'd have thought that even without doing the math on this, 84 TCF would still sound like a heck of a lot of gas, even if trillions have become the new billions in another context.I could use the same argument for agriculture. Farmers only produce enough food to put about about 3000 calories of food per person on your plate. But who is going to miss 3000 calories? There is plenty of food. So let's shut down the farms! The only problem is that if you multiply 3000 calories by the whole population, that is a lot of food and sure enough people will miss it.
Perhaps cubic feet of gas don't convey quite the same degree of familiarity as barrels of oil, which most people can visualize, so it might be useful to think of this gas in its oil-equivalent terms. Using standard conversion factors, that 84 TCF in the Marcellus equates to roughly 14.5 billion barrels of oil. For comparison, that's half again as big as the original estimate of 9.6 billion barrels for the Prudhoe Bay field on the Alaskan North Slope. (FYI, Prudhoe Bay had produced a cumulative 11.5 billion barrels as of the end of 2007 and was still estimated to have a few billion barrels to go.) In that light, does anyone still want to argue that the Marcellus resource is inconsequential?
If you remove 14.5 billion barrels of oil, that is only 609 billion gallons of oil or roughly 2,000 gallons for every man, woman, and child in America. Who is going to miss that? Sure, shut it down so we can "save the environment"!
If production of the Marcellus field was a true danger, I would agree, shut it down! But it isn't. With proper regulation, production can be safely executed. But it requires a belief in government and a willingness to put regulators, rules, and inspectors in place to ensure safe production. You are no more likely to get "safe" production from fracking wells than you are to get "safe" banking from Wall Street where regulators ignore the slice-and-dice free-for-all of mortgage securitization and the liar's loans given by mortgage brokers, and the under the table payola and not-so-subtle threats used by Wall Street banks to get the ratings agency to find AAA gold in all those sub-prime and alt-A mortgages.
I put the environmental nuts in the same camp as the right wing nuts. They are extremists. They aren't open to reason. They have their "cause" and they see the world through their prejudices and are not open to argument or to be influenced by facts. Sadly, the world is overpopulated with fanatics these days. I want desperately to go back to the simpler days when people were decent to each other, willing to live-and-let-live, and were open to simple democracy to come to agreements to run a civil society.