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Shale Gas Use and Implications

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shale gas and its implications

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There is a perfect statement to describe the current demand of natural resources all around the world. That statement is: when giants collide. We need natural resources in order to preserve and improve our current living conditions. Until the moment when green energy will become more viable in economic terms we must accept the current domination of oil and natural gas. Because natural gas and oil are the cornerstone of our current activities the players which control them can also alter our economic conditions (remember the OPEC decision after the Yom Kippur War), and even structural or behavioural changes which can occur inside the main players can affect the entire world – at a certain point in the past a conflict in Nigeria decreased Shell’s production by 10 percent.

Many books and articles are talking about oil and they use apocalyptic tones, predicting in this way the end of oil. But recently a new kind of player emerged on the natural resources “market”. I am talking about shale gas. There many interesting questions and disputes around this type of resource.

Also Read: Protests in UK over shale gas test drilling

What is shale gas?

Shale gas is a type of natural gas. This type of gas can be found in different rocks like: sandstone, limestone and shale rocks. Each type has different characteristics. For example, sandstone rocks usually have high permeability while shale rocks have very low permeability. As a conclusion, exploiting the gas from sandstone rocks is cheaper than from shale rocks. Shale gas can also be labeled as unconventional gas because in order to use it or to get to it you need more elaborate production method. All around the world the current method is the hydraulic fracturing.

What is hydraulic fracturing?

This is a very technical process and in order to fully understand it, you must have a strong background in this kind of activity. In plain English this method can be explained like this. Because every geologic formation is unique also each fracturing operation has unique traits. The basic idea of this method is that in order to extend tiny cracks from a sedimentary/limestone/shale or sandstone formation you are using a combination of water, sand and chemicals like methane at very high pressures. Shale gas is an unconventional source of resources because is “stored” in the rock itself.

There is a huge risk when we are talking about hydraulic fracturing because of the possible pollution of drinking water from methane and all the other chemicals which are used during the process.  Another problem is the fact that when fracturing is used in order to exploit shale gas deposits small intensity earthquakes are generated by the huge pressure of the compound which is injected. These micro-earthquakes can combine themselves with the natural occurring movements of Earth crust and they can trigger a large-scale earthquake.

Another phenomenon can occur during this process – it is called the flow-back phase and is the moment when the fracturing fluid is returning to the surface. As mentioned before this fluid contains methane. This substance can act as a greenhouse gas so it can accelerate the global warming process.

Another issue is the amount of water used in this process. Water is a scarce resource and using water in arid regions to exploit shale gas damages the water supply capabilities of that area – local communities are affected.

The United States and shale gas

Natural gas is very important for the US – ¼ of the country’s total energy comes from natural gas so the economic implications of natural gas are very important. At this moment according to the EIA shale gas accounts for 30 percent of total US natural gas production. Shale gas comes with certain economic advantages or economic gains: lower prices, an increase in the number of domestic jobs (for example in the last years 200.000 direct or indirect jobs were created by this industry only in the United States).

Another important advantage is that shale gas usage is increasing, enhancing US national security by reducing dependence on foreign sources: Middle East is a volatile region and a good example here is the moment when Barack Obama decided to move near Syria some battleships – the Brent and Crude oil prices climbed very fast on the international stock markets. Another good example is the moment when Russia stopped gas deliveries to Ukraine a few years ago. If we are looking at the problem of natural resources through the lenses of security, oil and natural gas can be used as leverage or even diplomatic weapons and no rational player will accept to enter in this kind of game.

On March 31, 2011 Barack Obama said that the recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves – perhaps a century’s worth of shale gas! If we are looking at this statement from a temporal perspective he is right: in 2001, the shale gas production represented 2% of the total natural gas production in the United States and now we are talking about 30 percent. The Haynesville shale was negligible in 2008 but now the same shale field offers 8% of the entire shale gas production from US. Now imagine the improvements in technology in 10 – 20 years. The current 30 percent share will definitely increase!

The world needs stability, craves for balance. We, as a society we need more and more in order to evolve, in order to satisfy our increasing demands and our planet is a finite space. This is the root of the problem and there are two possibilities. Either we pollute and develop now in a very rapid pace in order to discover better, safer and cleaner technologies, either we stop from our current expansion. Which side are you on?

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Nuclear Power and Other Power Sources: How Do They Stack Up?

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Most everyone dreads the idea of nuclear war because of the abject devastation it would inflict on planet Earth. Yet few connect the dots between nuclear weapons and nuclear power — the same energy that makes atomic bombs and nuclear missiles so threatening is also harnessed to power electrical grids and other forms of infrastructure. When properly contained, nuclear power is the cleanest and most abundant energy source available. With all the concern over climate change and environmental degradation, it begs a huge question: why is the United States of America not generating more — much more — nuclear energy?

Capital Investment vs. Production Costs

Looking at it from one angle, a larger nuclear energy capacity is a no-brainer. Making electricity from nuclear sources is cheaper than using coal, gas or petroleum, i.e. fossil fuels. On average, using 2011 cash value, electricity cost 21.56, 3.23 and 4.51 cents per kilowatt-hour from petroleum, coal and natural gas, respectively. Nuclear power came in at 2.10 cents per kW according to data received by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Yet these simple ongoing production costs fail to tell the full story.

To up the power generating capacity of nuclear sources, additional plants are necessary. Some argue that the savings in electricity production means the nuclear utilities pay for themselves. What, though, are they paying for…and how long until the payoff? Engineering and constructing a nuclear power plant is very expensive. In fact, 74 percent of the cost of nuclear-sourced electricity is in the capital costs of creating the physical facility and technology for that purpose. Some estimates range drom six-billion to nine-billion dollars. Others estimate over $5,300 per kW before it begins paying for itself…in 20 to 30 years. These figures make the prospect cost-prohibitive to many decision makers in government and business.

Plentiful Energy at Low Costs without Nuclear Power

Were we living back during the oil shocks and embargoes of the 1970s, the urgency factor would be much higher concerning nuclear power in the US. The abundance of discoveries and advancement of technology have made fossil fuels more available at modest prices. Coal and petroleum are each low compared to their peaks. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” natural gas is ever more accessible and affordable. Though people may worry about the environmental effects of burning these substances, they are likely to continue usage to maintain a decent househild cash flow.

Still, even the renewable alternatives to traditional fuels are dropping in price. In terms of sheer volume, wind turbines and solar panels — for instance — have yet to match the output of fossil fuels, much less the overwhelming energy yield of nuclear. Nevertheless, their contribution to production in the United States is growing while their financial outlays are shrinking. Added to the two aforementioned renewable sources, hydro-electric power, biomass and geothermal each come in under 10 cents per kW. According to Forbes magazine, this makes them highly competitive with oil and gas financially.

Lack of Knowledge

The absence of urgency mentioned above relates to a third factor about why Americans are not expanding their nuclear production capacity. Generations have passed that are not well-informed about the potential and reality of nuclear power. A dangerous accident at Pennsylvania’s Three-Mile Island facility in the 1970s scared public officials and policy makers into backing off of a pro-nuclear agenda. The improvements and replication found in today’s safety protocols have been ineffective in re-booting a national conversation. Granted, the United States operates 97 nuclear reactors, more than any other country. Yet only four more are under design and/or construction compared to 20 for China.

Furthermore, France relies on nuclear for three-quarters of its electricity; several eastern European nations, half; South Korea, in excess of 30 percent; while the U.S. can claim around 20 percent. Clearly, the public knowledge regarding how clean and abundant atomic energy is meager; awareness of past accidents — including the Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl meltdowns of recent decades were, by contrast, reported widely by media outlets.

Advocates of nuclear power have work to do to bring Americans on board. Otherwise, dirtier, cheaper sources will continue to reign.

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Francisco Reynés: “We have to consider gas as the energy source with the most potential in the future”

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Natural Gas

Francisco Reynés, executive chairman of Naturgy (formerly Gas Natural Fenosa), has talked about the role of gas in the world as the energy source with the greatest potential in the future, at the 6TH IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum celebrated in Barcelona, Spain.

 Francisco Reynés has explained that the world “needs to talk about the different uses of natural gas and the gas technologies and innovations towards a sustainable energy future. We have to address the role of gas in the world as a future energy source, not only as a transition source of energy”.

 “The uses of gas are, as we all know, well beyond those of power generation. Gas provides sources for non-energy uses, such as petrochemicals or fertilizers, which have no clear substitute”, he added.

 About this possibility, Francisco Reynés has explained that “all of this will benefit and service the economic growth and development of the countries and economies around the globe. It is, indeed, a joint effort which we must all face with the utmost priority and the maximum care”.

Reynés has also insisted on the cooperation between governments, producers and even consumers to strengthen the security of gas supply on international markets. “The challenge for the future is how energy systems will evolve to meet greenhouse gas emission goals, and more stringent fuel quality standards while at the same time they respond to growing demand for affordable access to reliable energy services”, he concluded.

The 6th IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum aims to sharpen a collective focus on energy policies, market trends, and technology options that enable the gas industry to deliver inclusive growth and successful transformations for a secure, inclusive and sustainable energy future. Energy and climate policies, gas technologies and innovations as well as market fundamentals are ever more co-dependent but also vary across geographies.

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You can’t fight nature, but you can be ready for whatever she throws at you

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tsunami

The human race has got used to being in control of its surroundings, and yet we will never be able to truly prevent some of the most devastating catastrophes that our planet can throw our way. Yet we still strive to protect all the things we have built and worked hard for, and technology is helping us to do that on a day to day basis.

Tsunamis are a reality and we need to be prepared for them

Despite all the advances in our technology, we have not yet found ourselves able to avert the most fatal of natural disasters. The fact remains that our planet is far larger than we can possibly control and despite being considerably safer than several million years ago in the early days of the Earth’s life, it still has the capacity to be volatile and terrifying.

Some of the  most devastating tsunamis in recent history have taken place in the last 60 years, with catastrophic loss of life and billions needed in humanitarian aid and reconstruction. The effects will last a lifetime for many areas as they try to recover and rebuild.

It is impossible to forget the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. The consequences were absolutely devastating.

Striking Japan on the 11th March the earthquake reached an eye watering 9.0 magnitude, and generated a 33 feet high wall of water travelling as far as 6 miles inland. Some reports even record waves as high as 133 feet, with a 97-foot wave smashing into the city of Ofunato.

Around 25,000 people were killed or reported missing, and 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. But more worryingly the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant was also struck causing a nuclear meltdown. The disaster is recorded at the highest level of International Nuclear Event Scale. The impact of this event is still being fully understood, and radiation from the plant has been detected as much as 200 miles away, with many areas remaining uninhabitable and will be for many years to come.

The loss of human life can be staggering due to a tsunami that hits with no warning. Take for example the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean. An unbelievable death toll of 230,000 was recorded across 14 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The earthquake under the ocean was recorded at 9.3 magnitude, generating waves up to 93 feet high. Some waves hit land within 15 minutes, but some took as much as 7 hours.

Even those with time to evacuate were hard hit, mostly due to the complete lack of a tsunami warning system which meant very densely populated coastal areas being taken by surprise.

Early warnings save lives

By comparison, although damage to buildings and general destruction was widespread, the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami saw a considerable lower death toll.

With an earthquake of 8.1 magnitude and waves reaching 45 feet high, that travelled up to a mile inland there were 189 casualties recorded. The loss of life would have been far higher if it wasn’t for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre which gave people time to evacuate and reach higher ground.

There are several ways in which a tsunami can be detected. From recognition of symptoms, an earthquake can be quite hard to miss, to technological warnings from tsunami detection and forecasting. These are based on a combination of data collected by environmental sensors and using that data for tsunami modelling.

For example monitoring seismic activity and the magnitude of an earthquake can give an excellent warning of tsunami potential. However, it cannot be taken in isolation.  For larger earthquakes it is easier to underestimate the size of the quake, and therefore miscalculate the tsunami potential.

Rapid sea level monitoring will give the best warning

When managing the data collected, those carrying out the analysis have a hard decision. Declare a tsunami imminent, and risk a costly unnecessary evacuation, or make the decision to issue the warning to the public so that emergency plans can be activated.

They also need to be able to indicate clearly from the modelling how large the waves will be and when they will strike. Importantly they need to know when the danger will be over so that people can return safely to the evacuated areas.

The issue is that  tsunami detection and forecasting requires near-real-time observations from both coastal sea level instruments and open-ocean sensors. Fundamental gaps in coverage still exist, especially in open-water. This puts at risk the ability to give warning, and the ability to learn more about the behaviour of tsunamis after the fact which will further refine the accuracy of the modelling in the future. More coverage is needed, and the durability of the equipment a key factor.

New technology paramount for the detection of tsunamis

The installation of new tsunami buoys is without doubt the next step for addressing the coverage issue, and these buoys need to be smart with built in Tsunami Early Detection and Warning System. It needs to be able to detect an event and send that information to be centrally analysed.

Pressure sensors deployed in a water depth up to 7,000 meters can detect height variations on the water surface, and in order to resist the effect of the harsh elements and environments must be of the highest quality. It is now possible to obtain floats manufactured with a closed-cell polyethylene foam sheet that prevents water absorption.

In  terms of positioning and communication, all can be managed through GPS, and redundancy in place for communications via satellite, with a reaction time of less than one minute and powered by a double solar power system. These buoys are so durable they can provide much better confidence that there will be no failure of service in remote locations.

They are able to transmit a NOAA Tsunami Warning System compatible message and monitor the sea level column changes to within 1mm. This kind of monitoring will be paramount for buying enough time for evacuation and prevent the loss of life seen previously.

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