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claudij | Ideas

Fracking: A Bridge to the Future? (Part 4)

At the start, several economists, environmentalists and non-profit organizations considered fracking to be a solid bridge technology on the way to a completely renewable energy supply.

“This is a real opportunity for your industry – this is not a ‘bridge to nowhere’ that we are talking about.  Natural gas provides a bridge to the future.  To the extent that you can deliver gas at a reasonable cost, you can be part of the solution to climate change.”

That statment from Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), came from her controversial speech in 2008.

But now, fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has come under fire from all sides. In fact, they believe it’s a counter-productive bridge to nowhere.

Oil and gas are becoming cheaper and competitive again due to fracking. That has in turn put the transition from fossil fuels to renewables in danger.

So what is the solution? Is there any way to reconcile the two driving factors, economic profit and ecologic sustainable development?

Or is there simply not enough research into the pros and cons of fracking yet?

Yale University posed that question to a panel of experts last September:

The opinions diverge, to say the least. If you are still new to the subject, get a short overview in the upcoming 5th and last part of the Global Ideas Fracking Blog series.



January 26, 2013



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claudij | Ideas

Fracking: The Controversy (Part 3)

Natural gas development through hydraulic fracturing stands for job creation, energy security and has a long and clear record of safety. At least that’s what Bruce Vincent, president of the US-based oil and gas company Swift Energy and former IPAA chairman, says. If someone like Bruce Vincent makes statements like this, it adds authority to the subject: The IPAA is the American oil and gas association and it’s very influential. According to Bruce Vincent, the gas industry simply needs to educate people better about the facts:

The role fracking will play in creating jobs in the future appears to be a little less promising if we listen to Michael Feroli, Chef U.S. Economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM):

It is definitely a positive for the economy, but one can overstate how much of a positive. Oil and gas production account for about 1 percent of gross domestic products, and will have a limited impact on the country’s unemployment.”

At least fracking might be the cleanest way of burning fossil fuel – but then why is analyst Sue Tierney, energy consultant at Analysis Group, publicly worrying about irreversible changes within the ecosystem in the nearby future:

Fifty years from now, are we really going to be wondering if we really screwed up because we went on this big gas boom? You really wouldn’t want to be messing that up.”

The american investigative journalist Jeff Goodell has his own response to that question:

It’s not only toxic – it’s driven by a right-wing billionaire who profits more from flipping land than drilling for gas.”

In a detailed article in the Rolling Stone magazine in the March 2012 issue, he claims that

Fracking, it turns out, is about producing cheap energy the same way the mortgage crisis was about helping realize the dreams of middle-class homeowners.”

His profound research, which is focused mainly on the business of the gas U.S. company Chesapeake Energy, raises – if it should turn out to be justifiable – a lot of questions about the main motives behind fracking:

For Chesapeake, the primary profit in fracking comes not from selling the gas itself, but from buying and flipping the land that contains the gas. The company is now the largest leaseholder in the United States, owning the drilling rights to some 15 million acres – an area more than twice the size of Maryland. McClendon has financed this land grab with junk bonds and complex partnerships and future production deals, creating a highly leveraged, deeply indebted company that has more in common with Enron than ExxonMobil.”

Jeff Goodell‘s opinion about the CEO of Cheasepeake Energy is clear:

Like generations of energy kingpins before him, it would seem, McClendon’s primary goal is not to solve America’s energy problems, but to build a pipeline directly from your wallet into his.”

But even if we put these claims aside for the time being, tthe doubts about fracking and its effects on the environment are just as serious. Let’s have a look at it.

There are allegedly 65 chemicals that could be components of the fracking fluids used by shale gas drillers: Benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All of those chemicals have been linked to health disorders if human exposure is too high.

Therefore, contaminated groundwater is one of the main issues that has raised safety concerns.

Also, the subject of flowback, meaning the waste of water, has been much discussed.

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, D. C. Baum Professor of Engineering at the American Cornell University, has researched fracture mechanics for more than 30 years and stresses that drilling and hydraulic fracturing

can liberate biogenic natural gas into a fresh water aquifer.”

Fresh-water Aquifers that provide sustainable groundwater some 100 meters under the earth surface to urban areas and for agricultural irrigation are critically important in human habitation and agriculture. Many villages and even large cities draw their water supply from wells in aquifers.

Read more about it and why fracking is under suspicion to cause a global water crisis in the compact booklet of the American NGO Food and Water Watch.

Earthquakes like the one that happened in the UK in 2011 could be a direct consequence of the underground explosions from the hydraulic fracturing process. Cuadrilla Resources, the UK company who has been associated with the earthquake stated in a press release:

“The hydraulic fracturing of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall-1 well did trigger a number of minor seismic events. The seismic events were due to an unusual combination of geology at the well site coupled with the pressure exerted by water injection as part of operations.”

Additionally, there is the claim that methane air emissions caused by the hydraulic fracturing process are very high and that they could offset alleged climate benefits of unconventional gas production.

The independent research and non-profit organization “Center for Research of Globalization”, based in Montreal, published an online article in May 2012 that claims the following:

During the uproar over the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Obama Administration and the Energy Department formed an advisory commission on Shale Gas. Their report was released in November 2011. It was what could only be called a “whitewash” of the dangers of shale gas.”

John Deutch, Chairman of the subcommittee who acquired the so-called Deutch report in spite of it all called shale gas

”the best piece of news about energy in the last 50 years.”

Undeterred proclamations like these go up against the recurring concerns that have come up in public discussion. Read 4th further in this blog series to find out more about fracking, and how it’s discussed as a clean bridge technology to a clean future.


December 12, 2012



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Klaus Esterluß | COP18

Loch Ness meets green power

Ministers                                                                                                                    Author: Kerstin Schnatz

Scotland is one of the few nations in the world to have a Minister of Climate Change. We met Paul Weelhouse today at the World Climate Summit 2012 where he discussed the global energy mix of the future. While Qatar, represented by it’s Minister of Energy and Industry, counts heavily on natural gas, Scotland takes a differnt turn. Even though Scotland still is the biggest producer of oil and gas in the European Union and wants to keep this role, the country aims to run on 100% renewables by 2020. To reach this ambitious goal, lots of money and manpower are invested already. Even the mystic sea-monster Nessie takes part in the Scottish developement – but hear and see for yourself.

Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Minister for Environment an Climate Change @WCS from DW_Global Ideas on Vimeo.


December 3, 2012



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claudij | Ideas

Fracking Worldwide: An Overview (Part 2)

The fracking market worldwide can be divided into two main segments: the United States on one side and the rest of the world on the other.

So anyone interested in the future global expansion of hydraulic fracturing should take a closer look at the United States.

Größere Kartenansicht |  Fracking Gebiet | Wyoming USA 2012

Indeed, after the re-election of the Obama administration, it’s likely that safety regulations on fracking will become more strict.

At the same time, Obama announced that he favors a robust exploration of natural gas, in part because it is “plentiful and cheap and in part because it produces only about half the greenhouse gas emissions that coal does.”

Thanks to fracking, the United States do in fact face the bright prospect of becoming the world’s largest gas producer within a few years.

According to Edward Morse, Global Head of Commodities Research at Citigroup, the US is the fastest growing gas facilitating nation on the globe:

“America is on its way to challenge the Middle East as leading energy nation in 2020.”

If we take a closer look at the rise of gas fracking globally, we get a rather heterogenous image: It looks like Europe is struggling with itself. The European countries’ policies on fracking diverge.

Germany wants to allow fracking only under strict safety regulations – several large scale enterprises have already backed up their rights of extensive test drillings. France  banned fracking last year temporarily due to safety concerns. Poland has a large reserve of shale gas and intends to cut its reliance on gas imports, especially from Russia. Ireland is waiting for further research results. Meanwhile, the UK is discussing a probable expansion of fracking within the country.

The largest shale gas reserves are found in China but the technical expertise is not yet on par with that of the US.  Experts disagree on whether China will catch up with the USA around 2020. It seems to be a serious option.

In South America, Argentina has provided evidence that it will jump on the fracking bandwagon soon.

Australia seems to be going in the other direction: Just recently, it stopped any further fracking through a moratorium. Governments always have the option to put projects under moratorium when they are strongly discussed or are too complicated. But moratoriums are always temporary. In most cases, governments simply postpone such decisions as is the case in South Africa: a 14-month fracking ban was lifted recently.

On the whole, fracking is on the rise around the world. Development is still spotty, but the international future of fracking still looks promising. Canadian investigative journalist Joyce Nelson interprets the whole process a little differently:

“[But] shale gas has become extremely controversial in Canada and the US where it was first developed. The industry is planning to go global quickly before the controversy spreads.“

Is that really the case?

In our third part “Fracking – The Controversy” find out  what the fracking controversy is all about and what exactly are the pros and cons.



November 13, 2012



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claudij | Ideas

Fracking: A story of success? (Part 1)

FRACKING or HYDRAULIC FRACTURING – a sought-after gas development method appears to be on the brink to capture the globe.

With a multiple blog series Global Ideas wants to bring a complex issue into focus: How did it come to this development, will fracking play an important and necessary key role in the future of the global energy supply and can it be taken seriously in an ecological context?

But first of all: why is natural gas “fracked” and what exactly does that mean?

Natural gas is one of the main energy resources worldwide. It had barely a one-quarter share in the global energy supply mix after oil and coal in 2011. The fossil fuel energy source provides primarily heating and electricity.

Natural Gas Flare

Natural Gas Flare (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Ecopolitologist/


Conventional natural gas – consisting primarily of methane – occurs under the earth in coal beds and is stranded and extracted in natural gas fields. It is mostly transported through huge pipelines or via tankers and trucks from the delivering country to the importing country which is buying and consuming it. Natural gas is on the one hand often considered to be the cleanest burning fossil fuel energy, producing less carbon dioxide then either coal or oil. But critics like Tom Wigley, researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research are saying it’s the opposite, if you consider the methane leaks of natural gas production amongst other aspects.

Noneetheless, it is important to make a difference between conventional gas, which can be produced more easily as it naturally occurs in gas or oil fields, and unconventional gas (“shale gas”), which is trapped underground by impermeable shale rocks and needs to be isolated from the shale. The production methods are different and so are the effects on climate. We will examine more in detail later on to which degree and extend.

Fracking describes the whole process of delivering and bringing the unconventional gas to the earth’s surface: artificial flaws are busted into the deep-lying layers so the gas can escape and different chemicals are used to keep the korridors open.

Have a look here how it works: 


This method isn’t new anymore but thanks to an advanced technique higher profiled then ever before.

Due to the new technology shale gas and a part of some oil deposits can be accessed. Therefore fracking is often described as promising solution to overcome global energy crisis:

As a job procurement source, an alleged carbon dioxide reducer and a guarantee for a larger energy self-sufficiency fracking could become the redemption for several countries with significant shale gas occurrence.

There are different motivations, needs and ambitions associated with hydraulic fracturing depending on a country’s geopolitical position, as well as diverse attitudes on resolving energy crisis. A concise and vigorous statement about the benefits of natural gas and fracking comes from Aubrey McClendonin, chief executive officer of the gas and oil compnany Chesapeake Energy, the second biggest producer of gas in the USA:

“We’re going to be able to say in the next 10 years, ‘To hell with OPEC‘ “

Blatant high hopes for fracking as it appears –

Get an overview in the upcoming 2nd part of our Blog Series: Fracking Worldwide: Which countries are fracking, which are about to frack and why is hydraulic fracturing banned temporarely in others?

Author: Julian Claudi
Editor: Klaus Esterluß




November 5, 2012



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