A policeman pulls over a car and smells alcohol on driver’s breath. Suspicious the man is driving drunk, the policeman asks the man to blow into a Breathalyzer. The driver obliges, and the policeman obtains a reading of 0.09; ten milligrams over the legal limit of 0.08. The policeman informs the driver that his license is immediately suspended, and to find a way other than driving to get to his destination. The driver says “but I was only drinking beer!”
We hear the exact same logic from the mainstream environmental lobby. The U.S. Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) both strongly support switching to natural gas as a power generation fuel—even though the “cleanest” gas-fired power conversion technology, combined cycle, dumps at least 400 grams of CO2 into the air for each kilowatt-hour of electrical energy it puts into a grid.
Sierra and NRDC claim this is good, because gas is “cleaner” than coal. Which is like saying drinking beer is a good way to kick alcoholism, because beer is cleaner than wine.
Planet Earth, feeling on her hide the actual effects of such logic, would disagree. Planet Earth would tell Sierra and NRDC that the concentration of CO2 in her atmosphere is a near-unprecedented 403.41 parts per million—almost higher than ever before in human history. The Planet would care as much for their protestations that they are just trying to save… the Planet as the policeman cares for the drunk driver’s protestation that he drank only beer en route to getting drunk.
There is some more computer modeling that Sierra, NRDC, and all the other climate change skeptics the gas lobby pays for, won’t like. This time it’s not from the IPCC (the chief object of skeptic vitriol), but from the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS just released a series of preliminary models that forecast the hazard level of “induced earthquakes”—earthquakes caused by humans.
And what, pray, could induce an earthquake? Why, natural gas fracking, a method for extracting Sierra’s and NRDC’s favourite fosil fuel. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves essentially forcing a combination of water and (undisclosed) chemicals, under high pressure, into rock in which methane, the main constituent of natural gas, is entrained. The process literally explodes the rock in situ. Waste water from this very water intensive process is disposed of in deep underground wells. Both fracking and wastewater disposal via deep injection have been blamed for causing earthquakes, though the USGS believes wastewater injection causes more of them.
The USGS, typically for an agency whose research was funded by a combination of government and industry money, is cautious about linking earthquakes with fracking. It says “USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.”
Maybe I’m crazy. But I think that if there is a chance that a fossil fuel extraction process carries the risk of “occasionally” inducing an earthquake, it should be banned.
Sorry, Sierra and NRDC. I know you really love natural gas. But Planet Earth can no longer afford to suffer your abuse. And those among us humans who actually care for Planet Earth, instead of just pretending to care so we can keep donations flowing, cannot any longer abide your addiction denial. Beer is alcohol. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. End of story.
How big are the induced earthquakes?
If they at most rattle a few dishes, I’m inclined to say ‘So what?’.
There are confirmed problems of climate change & ocean acidification caused by burning fossil fuels, including natural gas. Those problems are reason enough to switch to nuclear wherever feasible.
I’ve read that including a weak argument for position X among a bunch of strong arguments has the somewhat paradoxical effect of making people less likely to move toward believing X. Apparently, the (subconscious?) reasoning is that ‘if I can refute one of the arguments, the others are likely to have less obvious flaws’.
So, it might be best to leave the weak arguments out when arguing for a position.
There has since 2009 been a spike upwards, and I mean a spike, in the occurrences of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater in areas in central and eastern US undergoing these kinds of activities. See the left-hand chart at the bottom of the USGS report.
I think this is evidence of risk that is far more worthy of being taken seriously than that posed by, say, low level ionizing radiation. The latter has proven innocuous. But the former… well, I sat through a 5.8 magnitude quake in 2010 that was extremely unpleasant. I don’t want any avoidable activity to occur that increases the possibility of that or worse.
Good analogy. Here’s another. Bill Clinton claiming he did not have sex with Lawinski. You could saying by fracking we are screwing with the earth.
You can add our own Ontario Clean(?) Air Alliance and Energy Probe to the list of NGO’s that have seen the fiscal benefit of advocating for fracked gas over nuclear.