Fracking: a Study in Stupidity

There is something about humanity that thinks if you can dig up a resource from the good earth, it is free and you can use that resource to enrich humanity individually and collectively. We dig up many resources from coal to oil, and from gold to lithium to enrich ourselves (or some of us) materially with these resources at the same time impoverishing ourselves in ways you cannot judge with mere money.

Nothing is free in this great planet: everything is connected; so if we dig up and burn coal to produce heat and other energy, a by product of digging up coal is to damage our lungs and in some cases to create the deaths of some of those who do the digging as well as those who close to the slag heaps carelessly dumped close to schools and homes.

But people stupidly ignore this inter connectivity of resources in their quest for enrichment, and so has it been with fracking. In theory fracking is a way of getting cheap natural gas from under the earth where it has been stored in shale rock for hundreds and thousands of millennia. Readers of these essays will know that I have always opposed fracking; it has always been clear that the risks to the many are greater than the rewards that the few and the many may reap from fracking.

I have listened to eminent people claim that fracking is safe and will contribute to our energy security by lessening our dependence on imported natural gas by producing home grown energy. I have never subscribed the the view that fracking is safe. I regarded fracking as presenting three major risks in the following order of importance and risk:

  1. Risk of methane leaking into and infecting water tables;
  2. Risk of methane, an insidious greenhouse gas, leaking into the atmosphere and
  3. Risk of causing earthquakes by damage to the rocks from which methane is extracted by explosions.

In the past view days the government has called a moratorium on fracking in this country. An earthquake of 2.9 on the Richter scale seems to have been caused by fracking and the advice the government has got is that it is impossible to predict the probability or size of tremors caused by fracking and so it has suspended all fracking until it can know that fracking is safe.

Having suspended fracking on the basis of the third in importance of risk (in my view) I cannot see that racking will ever return to the United Kingdom, where the geology is unsuitable, there is dense population and where so much of our water depends on clean water tables: all rise to all three potential risks are serious and health and life threatening. However, with humanity you can never say “never” as we stupidly continue to pursue our quest for material wealth at the cost of the environment.

Had the government listened to views like mine the money wasted on fracking could have been better spent on benign energy (like wind and solar) preventing the waste of energy and improving renewable energy and preventing the use of unnecessary energy. Fracking was bound to be dangerous and to me this was obvious.

Andrea Leadsom, the UK minister responsible for science, said that the decision to call a moratorium on fracking follows the science. It is a shame that the government did not follow the science and the common sense when it permitted fracking in the first place. Fracking in the UK has been simply a study in stupidity.

They’ve Got the Whole World in their Hands

Mr Xi and Mr Obama run the two wealthiest countries in the world. The former is undemocratically elected and the latter elected by a very flawed democratic system. Both have power and can use their power for good or for evil. Continue reading

Methane Hydrate melting

Not good news, I am afraid, and these bad tidings may be simply a precursor of worse tidings to come. First I should explain the background. Methane is a pernicious greenhouse gas. There is no doubt that atom for atom methane is a more pernicious greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide or water vapour, but not as long lasting in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Continue reading

Spring

This Spring in Britain is on course for being the coldest ever recorded. Most of us would settle for a Summer that is the warmest Spring ever recorded, as the greenhouse gases and aerosols play swings and roundabouts with the climate, melting more ice at the poles, changing with subtle efficiency the great oscillations, so there is scorching on the Russian Steppes, drought where there was was rain and tornadoes that try to compete with some conceived on Venus.

Emissions: onwards and upwards and more of them

Every year, when some nation tries get some international consensus on the greenhouse gas emissions made by aviation. These emissions are usually discharged at high level, making them last longer in the upper atmosphere and pushing our global warming, like the aircraft, upwards and onwards. Continue reading

The Clean Development Mechanism seems on its way out

The Clean Development Mechanism was supposed to be one of the climate change weapons devised under the auspices of the United Nations to fight global warming. In essence the developed nations which are heavy emitters of greenhouse gas can buy carbon credits which are issued by undeveloped nations. The undeveloped nations get the right ti use carbon credits based on real measures that they have taken to prevent future emissions as a result of their attempts to change from undeveloped nations into developed ones. The undeveloped nations get UN money to finance these measures.

The Clean Development Mechanism has been heavily criticised (and not just by me). One criticism is that the UN money often goes to finance emission savings which would have happened anyway by companies with enough money and a commercial rationale to carry out the measures. In that sense the CDM has offered in some cases “free money”.

My criticism has been on a different basis. I think that the CDM is artificial and the emissions savings are largely theoretical not actual. It was conceived in the time when complex financial instruments were widely used – derivatives, hedges and hedges within hedges within hedges. This complexity did not in the long run help the world’s economy and the complexity and theory of the CDM will not help climate change; only real measures will do that.

At the height of its fashion the CDM received around 200 approval requests a month, which meant 200 projects seeking funding and claiming a climate change value to their projects. At first the administrators were, in my opinion, not sufficiently robust in rejecting applications which would have gone ahead without UN funding. Where there is a grant there will always be someone seeking to exploit it.

Today, for than five years after the CDM started its theoretical savings of emissions, grant application are down to around 75 a month and it looks as though they will fall further. Part of the reason is the present economic climate. It seems around 60% of people involved in CDM projects polled by Point Carbon give this the reason and there will be a reduction in carbon credits issued together with a corresponding reduction in theoretical emissions saved.

These credits are often financial investments for institutions and emitters of greenhouse gas. The recession is causing them to sell their existing credits (because they are polluting less with less economic activity) and not seek to invest in new credits.

Another reason of the decline seems to be the political uncertainty surrounding how to deal with climate change. The CDM was conceived at Kyoto and a new climate change treaty is due to be negotiated in 2012, so many investors and institutions are adopting a wait and see policy. While there is this political uncertainty at the international level the CDM applications will continue to decline.

Carbon dixode in the atmosphere and its effects

Carbon dioxide has the greatest effect of all the greenhouse gases on climate change, simply because it is the most prevalent. Methane has a greater effect per volume, but there is simply so much carbon dioxide around that its effects overweighs all the other greenhouse gases combined.  That is why measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide are probably the most significant indicator of the effect of human activity on climate change, because one way or another, humans cause the emissions of carbon dioxide more than any other climate effecting substance. Continue reading