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.

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The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:04:02]

A massive storm in New Zealand breaks more records & the NZ MetService blog coverage.

Snow in Auckland? A lot of debate about what people actually saw.

The weather system that caused all the fuss.

A pretty picture of the snow from space.

Meanwhile… Arctic sea ice extent is tracking down to 2007 or below levels

The stats are in for the July summer heatwave in the US.

Feature interview – Josh Fox, writer/director of Gasland [0:23:12]

Gasland focuses on communities in the United States impacted by natural gas drilling and, specifically, a stimulation method known as hydraulic fracturing. The issue is heating up in New Zealand with plans to open up shale gas fields in Southland.

Debunking the skeptic, John Cook from [0:51:03]

Latest denier fad: “humans aren’t causing the rise in CO2 levels”

And a new section to SKS

Solutions [01:07:36]

The Strawberry Tree is the public solar charger for mobile phones invented by a group of students from the University of Belgrade.

Solar Roadways received a $750,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration to build a parking lot paved with solar panels.

To make way for two solar car ports, the University of California at Davis first needs to remove the 38 pear trees already planted in the parking lot.

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, SciblogsScoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

9 thoughts on “The Climate Show #18: The Big Chill & The Big Fracking Issue”

  1. Hi guys.

    I am absolutely an advocate for declining the use of fossil fuels, but to have Josh Fox on the show is a bit too much propaganda from a non-scientific point of view in my opinion. Even though Josh Fox has many points that are true, one has to keep in mind that he is not a scientist, and some of the claims he makes is actually not well founded in the scientific literature. The main claim, that fracking actually is the cause of the gas being detected in the drinking water is not supported by the scientific community. There is one scene in the film where gas in the water pipes of a mans house is set on fire. As far as is known, this gas is biogenic, and probably a result of drilling for water through methane rich top layer of the earths crust, and not as a result of the fracturing, which occurs thousands of feet below the water table.

    In fact, the New York Department of Energy and Conservation just released the second draft of the generic environmental impact statement. This document is probably the most thorough piece of document regarding the impact of gas drilling in the US at the moment, and I urge all to read it. The document can be found here:

    The conclusion so far is that there are noe leaks of fracking fluid into the aquifers, or gas into water wells as a result of this method. Read chapter section 4.7 where this is addressed.

    Another claim that Fox is using is that enormous amounts of water is being used, which will drain the rivers and lakes in the area around the drill sites. A quote from the executive summory of the report states that “Using an industry estimate of a yearly peak activity in New York of 2,462 wells, the dSGEIS estimates that HVHF would result in a calculated peak annual fresh water usage of 9 billion gallons. Total daily fresh water withdrawal in New York has been estimated at about 10.3 billion gallons. This equates to an annual total of about 3.8 trillion gallons. Based on this calculation, at peak activity high-volume hydraulic fracturing would result in increased demand for fresh water in New York of 0.24%.”

    This is an industry estimate, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but the truth probably doesn’t deviate a lot from these numbers.

    A crucially important point that Fox is not addressing in his documentary is how Natural gas potentially can replace coal (the worst of the fossil fuels) and oil. Not only will the increase in the use of natural gas lead to a decline in the use of coal (if the government impose a moratorium on new coal power plants) and the decrease in the use of gasoline from oil for trucks by replacing it with natural gas, but it will also be beneficial for the US economy. In a time when it is crucial that CO2-emissions needs to quickly flat out and start declining, and the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere needs to go down, natural gas is currently the most likely replacement considering its cost. We all know that money rules the world, especially in the US, and if we want to be realistic about the decline of GHGs in the atmosphere, we need to take one step at a time. As far as I understand, even James Hansen does not believe that renewable energy will be able to compete with fossil fuels in terms of cost within the foreseable future, which means that the transition to the renewable energy future is going too slowly. Natural gas has the capacity to reduse emissions (and subsequently slow down the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere and uptake of CO2 in the oceans) whilst the politicians has time to gather their minds on how to tacle the switch from fossil energy to renewable energy.

    I am a realistic person, and I know that we have to make a decision to choose between several bad energy solutions. Natural gas is not green, I wish we wouldn’t need to extract it, but the options are, as far I see them, even worse. I think the most likely options are going to be tar-sands and more coal use. Until the world realises that we have a climate crisis, the nations of the world is not going to give up the monetary profits from the continued use of fossil fuels. We can be as idealistic as we want, and fight for wind mills, solar panels, bioenergy, geothermal energy, hydroelectricity, wave power, tidal power and what not, but as long as there is not carbon tax in place, and as long as fossil fuel is as cheap as it is, the transition to the renewable society is going to be very slow, probably too slow for change…

    1. Pdb – “Natural gas is not green, I wish we wouldn’t need to extract it, but the options are, as far I see them, even worse”

      It’s almost like you did not even watch the Josh Fox interview, but you are dead wrong suggesting that gas fracking is the lesser of evils:

      Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations – Howarth (2011)

      “We evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas obtained by high volume hydraulic fracturing from shale formations, focusing on methane emissions. Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured—as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids—and during drill out following the fracturing. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon. The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.

      1. Thanks for the feedback Dappledwater and the link to that article, which I was not aware of.

        I am a bit surprised that the GHG footprint for natural gas is as high as stated in that article.

        Aspects that the article does not take into account though, are mountain top removal in coal mining and the destruction of habitat when extracting oil from tar sands. In those respects I still believe natural gas is better, as it does not leave the surface of the extraction area completely destroyed. Efficiency improvements are also to be expected in the natural gas industry, so when all aspects are taken into account, I still think natural gas is a better option than coal and tar sands, even though I dont want us to exploit any of them as long as GHGs are allowed to be released into the atmosphere.

        One important aspect in disfavour of nat gas is that its current price is ridicolously low, and extensive use of it could push the price of oil down, making it more difficult for renewables to compete.

        As I said in my post, I am not for any use of fossil fuels as long as GHGs are poured into the atmosphere, but unfortunately I think policymakers around the world are going to allow some extraction of fossil fuels for many decades still, and the question is then, will we allow further natural gas drilling or tar sand and coal extraction..?

        I hope none of the options, but unfortunately I think all of them will be extensively exploited for many decades to come.

        It will be interesting to see more studies like Howarth et al in the coming years 🙂

  2. Hi Glenn & John,

    Well done on a good show. I finally listened to the podcast while sitting under a tree on the edge of the Lago D’Iseo while she who must be obeyed was sunning herself. Unseasonably hot here. A winemaker in Chateauneuf-du-Pape told me that the vendange would be at least two weeks early after a record-breaking warm spring, coolish June and July, and record temps in August. Same round here in Italy – the big heat is later than usual, and hotter than usual. Looking forward to a week in a cooler Austria next…

    Oh, and John, if ever NZ is blasted by Arctic polar air, then the world is in even bigger trouble than I thought… 😉


  3. On joining the dots…. there’s none so blind as those who don’t want to see.

    Philly: “renewable energy will be not able to compete with fossil fuels in terms of cost within the foreseable future,” only if the full cost of fossil fuels isn’t taken into account. No matter how expensive alternatives may be (and the cost is dropping all the time) if business-as-usual destroys the biosphere THAT is too expensive.

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed the show!

    Glad to hear that much of Gaslands 2 was being made in Australia – the hubris of the mining industry is long overdue for a challenge in this country (particularly its insistence on its entitlement to access everywhere; farmlands, rangelands, national parks, whatever – current users be hanged!) and in my experience they’ll most likely be far too arrogant to check their own imperial over-reach in order to avoid really being on the nose publicly.

    I’m also concerned about these Arctic weather systems striking Australia and NZ; must have been quite a shock as it passed through Singapore… 😉

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