Cost-Benefit Analysis, Natural Gas & the Oceans

January 9, 2012 0 Comments

One of the bright spots in energy production in recent years is that of natural gas. Many environmentalists have criticized natural gas because it is still a fossil fuel and it doesn’t help all that much with carbon dioxide emissions. However, progress in the world of the 21st century seems to come in small increments and natural gas is is one of those areas of progress. It does offer some environmental benefits over oil and coal. Not only does it burn cleaner, produce less air pollution, and emit less carbon dioxide per BTU, it can be produced right here in the U.S. which means less tanker traffic delivering oil and coal all around the world. Besides that, it is cheap. It could be a bridge fuel to take us to the next big form of energy (solar, nuclear, etc.).

Typical Natural Gas Well

Given all the benefits of using natural gas, I have been dismayed at some of the hype surrounding the process of fracking. Environmentalists have pointed out some of the potential pitfalls of using fracking to extract natural gas. These involve potential groundwater pollution and earthquakes. Despite the potential of causing ground water pollution, not much of it has been reported as of yet. Only one of the households featured in the movie GASLAND actually had flammable tap water due to fracking. The others were from natural causes.

Illustration of fracking

The subject of earthquakes (or perhaps frack-quakes) has also made headlines recently. Scientists in England and in Ohio have found with high probability that fracking, or the sealed wells from which natural gas was extracted ended up causing “earthquakes”. I put the word earthquake in quotes because it is not the type of earthquake we are all familiar with. Major natural earthquakes typically occur around fault lines between plates of the earth’s crust. The tectonic plates are constantly moving and releasing energy that shakes the ground. The frackquakes are small, highly localized, and caused by something shifting within the well that formerly held natural gas. It might be a layer of rock collapsing or frack-sand/frack-liquid shifting under pressure. In any case, I am unaware of anyone being injured or of any significant property damage occurring. The frackquake in Ohio was rated at 4.0 on the Richter scale. Which, while unsettling for those who experienced it, is not a major quake by any means.

In the case of fracking, and natural gas extraction, I see a classic cost- benefit analysis. If the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is going to destroy the environment in a few short decades, as has been claimed many times for years now, then you would think that any new energy source and technology that could reduce our reliance on oil and coal would be very welcome. Natural gas is not perfect for environmental concerns, but it does offer economic and environmental advantages over oil and coal. I don’t think that the problems that have developed thus far are grave enough to shut it all down. There is little chance we can maintain our current level of widespread wealth and health without at least some form of advanced natural gas (and other fuels) extraction like fracking. If the evidence for ground water pollution becomes more solid, or if frackquakes start reaching 5.0 or 6.0 on thr Richter scale, then we would have to re-evaluate.

Great Barrier Reef

Speaking of cost benefit analysis, it was in the forefront of my mind when I read this article about spreading alkali in the ocean to reduce the acidity caused by more carbon dioxide in the air. As I have reported many times in the blog before (and here about methods to reduce acidity), many researchers are worried that coral reefs will disappear because of the high acidity (although some coral can survive in higher acidity). They are worried that the ocean ecosystem and food web will collapse very soon.

Thus I was surprised to read this opinion that dumping Alkali in the oceans was not realistic because it would cost trillions of dollars. First of all, in today’s debt-leverage money-printing economies, a trillion dollars is almost a “drop in the bucket”. Second of all, as mentioned above with fracking, if the fate of the world hangs in the balance, if AGW (and acidic oceans) are going to cause environmental Armageddon, then it would be worth the cost. It would be worth almost any cost. In addition, adjusting the pH of the ocean could be done in localized areas to maintain the health and diversity of coral in important places (like the Great Barrier Reef). This could be accomplished at a lesser cost while something is done about carbon dioxide emissions.

Have a good Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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