Over at Reason and Politics, there was a really nice post about the use of shale gas as a short-term solution to reducing GHG emissions. You can see the really nice post for my initial comment. As we are finding out in Connecticut, there is a concerted national effort to get shale gas (the kind of gas you get from hydaulic fracturing, or fracking, the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation that stretches from upstate New York to West Virginia) on tap as a way to displace, for instance, fuel oil for space heating and light industrial/commercial needs. This approach does have the potential to reduce GHG emissions and other pollutants on a BTU basis. It will also generate jobs, though they are likely to be gone in 10-15 years once the gas distribution expansion is finished. Its success also depends on the long-term costs and availability of natural gas regardless of its source. All said, it can be seen as a placeholder/transition program until renewable energy technology can step in. And before we go too far down that road, I prefer to immediately cease all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and move them directly to renewable energy R&D and manufacturing. That said, and regardless of its merit, I don’t have a billion dollars worth of government subsidy money that I can now use to hire lobbyists to ensure I get billions more in government subsidies… alas… the subsidy merry-go-round is not meant for chumps like me. If only I had a lobbyist…. oh, yeah, right, congress…
So here, friends, is an open comment to R&P, instead of just posting another comment on their blog:
First, I really enjoy your blog. It is as advertised, and you do a great job of bringing reason to political discussion. Second, the risks of fracking are what they are… drilling through aquifers to get to to deep shale gas is always going to create a potential for contamination of the aquifer. There are parallels to the mechanics of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the potential disaster in a fracking scenario could make that look like a walk in the park. The risks are made worse by the failings of the US legal and regulatory systems. There is simply too much palm greasing going on (see the subsidy merry-g0-round above) to effectively address things like safety and legal responsibility. The US EPA has done things like requiring/allowing MTBE as a gasoline additive, which had the predictable side-effect of massively increasing the area impacted by a leaking fuel tank, and making the spill much harder to remediate (has a lot to do with MTBE having a high solubility in water), and allowing much higher public exposure to the pollutants the EPA is supposed to regulate. And when I say predictable, I mean Chem101 predictable, not Nobel Prize predictable. So I think it is fair to say that in the big picture we can’t rely on US EPA for anything, and I deal with their programs every day as part of my job. I think the problem with energy and environmental policy in the US, if not the world, is that to get the job done right you have to be really effective at integrated long-range planning, and have effective regulations, and effective enforcement, and effective interface with economic policies. And as if it weren’t hard enough, those things simply will not happen when you are having a multi-decade political slap fight… as we are finding out in the good old U S of A. A common sense approach would use sound science, and lead to a pricing method that didn’t give the fossil fuel, nuclear, automotive, etc… industries a free ride on their social costs, not to mention the massive subsidies that these companies receive on the front end.
In short, we are screwed until we get adults in the room, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.