Nick Smith: another fossil fuel fail

MP Nick Smith in a NZ Herald opinion piece this week uses the fracking debate to advance the cause of fossil fuel mining. He claims that fracking is important in the development of geothermal energy and then moves seamlessly to the notion that we are desperately in need of unconventional natural gas in order to save us from falling back on coal, which we will otherwise “inevitably burn”. In defending fracking he manages to nicely couple the fossil fuel natural gas with a renewable energy source, geothermal.

It’s not my purpose to argue here about fracking as a technology. What is dismaying about Smith’s article is the complacency with which he advances the cause of natural gas. Writing enthusiastically of the huge unconventional shale gas resources in the US, he claims gas emits one-third the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. I know its emissions are lower, but it was news to me that they were as low as that. I could find no source to substantiate that figure. A little over half is the best figure I have been able to locate, and there are big questions about methane leakage in the fracking process. However let that pass. The real issue is the unrestrained pursuit of unconventional fossil fuels, which as James Hansen has reminded us often enough will mean game over for the climate.

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Asking the hard questions

I watched TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday with dismay.  Phil Heatley, the Minister of Energy and Resources, was interviewed about the New Zealand government’s intention to increase oil, gas and coal exploration and mining. The emphasis of the interview was on the environmental issues, yet not a word was said about greenhouse gases or climate change. The environmental questions discussed were not unimportant, but they were easy for the Minister to swat away with talk of how Taranaki’s environment has not been seriously impacted by drilling, of how fracking is confined to suitable deep rock formations, of how careful the Government is to balance the interests of the environment against the economic gains to be had from the exploitation of our mineral resources, and so on.

What would the Minister have said if he was asked how the Government can justify pushing for increased fossil fuel exploitation in the light of the global warming to which the burning of these fuels will contribute?  I have a fair idea what he would have said, but he wasn’t asked. The fact that he wasn’t bothers me as much as his likely answer if he had been. Because it seems to indicate that the overwhelming question is either not perceived or deliberately avoided by journalists running a major current affairs programme.

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Natural Gas is Not a Green Fuel

My heart sinks when I read enthusiastic acclamations of natural gas as a substitute for coal. It releases less CO2 on combustion, we’re told. It is a good bridge to the time when renewable energy is sufficiently developed to take over. And latterly, with the development of fracking, that’s going to be a very long bridge. There are claims that if we can extract all the shale natural gas there’s enough to keep us supplied for 200 years. And in addition there’s the wonderful supply awaiting extraction from methane hydrates in the ocean once we find out how to do it.

The oil and gas companies even hail it as a green fuel. It’s no such thing. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. It releases CO2 when it is burned. It may be preferable to coal, but it is no solution to the crisis we are confronted with. And there is in any case doubt being cast on its superiority to coal, especially when it is obtained by unconventional means. In a paper published in Climatic Change Letters earlier this year Howarth et al evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas obtained by high volume hydraulic fracturing from shale formations, focusing on methane emissions. Continue reading “Natural Gas is Not a Green Fuel”

The Climate Show #18: The Big Chill & The Big Fracking Issue

The big chill freezes New Zealand, Arctic sea ice in the balance, the US has a warm July, the world is getting mad about fracking and some more unusual uses for solar energy. While Gareth is lost in fields of sunflowers, The Climate Show returns with Glenn and John at the helm.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…

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The gas don’t work

“L&M Energy Limited is pleased to announce that it has identified five areas of interest in the South Island of New Zealand that hold significant shale gas potential analogous to some of the most productive shale acreage in the USA.” This statement headed a press release from L&M Energy on Friday. I first heard the news on the radio the next morning. My heart sank at yet another indication that we are determined to extract and use all the fossil fuel deposits we can lay our hands on. The Minister for Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee, on the other hand, no doubt felt buoyed up by the announcement. This is what he wrote in the introduction to the Draft Energy Strategy last year:

“For too long now we have not made the most of the wealth hidden in our hills, under the ground,  and in our oceans. It is a priority of this government to responsibly develop those resources.”

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