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On Methane Leaks Wipe Out Any Climate Benefit Of Fracking, Satellite Observations Confirm

Considering your points:

1)  The producing interval of the Bakken Shale occurs at a depth of 4,500 - 7,500 feet, and is about 22 feet thick.  There's no way that the fracking a thin interval at that depth that would produce cracks that would extend that far up.  As to the flammable borehole water, please clarify what areas your thinking of.  If you're thinking of the iconic burning tap water from the movie "Gasland," you need to be aware that the gas that burned was analyzed and determined biogenic gas, similar to the gas produced by manure or rotting vegetable matter, and has nothing to do with commercial production of thermogenic gas from deep geologic reservoirs, let alone with fracking.  This was determined by the authorities in Colorado two years before the movie was made, if I recall correctly.  In fact, there are many places where it's difficult to drill a water well without encountering gas, either from biogenic process, or from natural leakage from deeper geologic reservoirs.

2)  Unlike coal mines, abandoned oil and gas wells are filled with cement and sealed when they are abandoned, as required by law and supervised by state agencies.

3)  If it is true that the reported methane anomaly is related to local water and energy consumption, please explain why a similar anomaly has not been noted over the Haynesville Shale area.

October 30, 2014    View Comment    

On Is Renewable Energy Less Effective Than Energy Efficiency at Reducing CO2 Emissions?


Thanks for a brilliant post.  Your logic is impeccable, and the information is presented very well.  

The problem I see, though, is that I can't see how our current political culture would promote EE over RE on a large scale.  The political advantage of RE is that it involves giving money away to voters and interest groups - be it to ADM or Monsanto for corn ethanol, Solyndra for solar, or affluent car buyers for Tesla.  Promoting EE, however, would almost have to take the form of taxing excessive consumption, thus taking money away from voters and interest groups.  I'm afraid that the consumption taxes would be necessary as, the simple reality is that the only thing that has effectively discouraged excessive energy consumption is high prices.  

I can't imagine the current political culture having the fortitude to stop giving money away and raising consumption taxes.  Any thoughts?

October 29, 2014    View Comment    

On Methane Leaks Wipe Out Any Climate Benefit Of Fracking, Satellite Observations Confirm

The USGS EUR per well of 1.2 bcf did not grossly understate the actual EUR per well of 6.4 bcf simply because of technological improvements over the last 13 years, although that certainly is a significant factor.  Rather, the USGS EUR was based on speculation made at a time when there was no reliable production history, and the estimate is of no more import today than was the estimate by Columbus of the diameter of the Earth when he landed in Hispanola and thought that he was in India.  We do not now assert that the diameter of the Earth has doubled since the time of Columbus.  Rather, we simply say that Columbus was wrong.  Simiarly, the USGS estimate was speculation, was not based on real production data, and has been proved to be dead wrong.  Get over it.

As to the origins of the anomalous increase in methane levels in the Bakken and Eagle Ford areas, Mike Ferguson made some very good points in his comment on this post, and I will reiterate them here briefly.  Firstly, the margin of error in the measurements is extremely large, and the actual magnitude of the anomaly may very well be much lower than the 9% - 10% reported in the post.  The post by Mr. Romm made no mention of the high degree of uncertainty, as is typical of his writing.

Much more significantly, as Mr. Ferguson points out, the study focused on oil plays, not gas plays.  As the referenced study states, the enhancement patterns in the Haynesville shale gas play are "less clear."  That's an evasive way of saying that there is no demonstrable methane anomaly associated with shale gas production from the Haynesville.

The authors of the study suggest that the presence of the methane anomaly over oil plays and not gas plays is due to producers in the oil plays being less diligent about controlling leakage.  I strongly doubt this, as this would be a very dangerous practice, and no ground measurements have demonstrated such leakages in oil plays, as far as I know.

Rather, I strongly suspect that the cause of the methane anomaly over the oil plays studied, whatever its magnitude, is the common practice of flaring in oil plays.  Flaring is common in relatively remote oil plays, as the cost of installing the infrastructure to transport and market the gas exceeds the market value of the gas.  Flaring certainly releases significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere, as combustion is never 100% efficient.

This could be easily remedied by phasing in a ban on flaring, requiring the producers to either to reinject the gas, or to develop the infrastructure to transport it to market.  Many countries have banned flaring, and I have been bemused for years to see that it is still allowed in the U.S.

That is what is so unfortunate about the (typically) misleading presentation of the topic by Mr. Romm.  The discussion could have been used to identify and highlight means by which to enhance environmental practice while optimizing production operations while continuing to establish energy security both nationally and globally.  Instead, and not surprisingly, Mr. Romm chose to produce a highly sensational and misleading post.

October 28, 2014    View Comment    

On Energy Quote of the Day: 'This Would Have Been Simply Impossible Without the Establishment of the Renewable Fuel Standard'

".this new plant is a big win for the cellulosic ethanol portion of the equation"

I will take claims like this seriously when the ethanol industry reports both the eroei and production cost for the cellulosic ethanol produced at this plant.  These two values are conspicuously absent from all the hype about cellulosic ethanol.


October 27, 2014    View Comment    

On Methane Leaks Wipe Out Any Climate Benefit Of Fracking, Satellite Observations Confirm

I honestly don't know what to say about the USGS study, as I don't fully understand their methodology.  While I am wary about the EUR of 1.2 bcf per well, using this value yields the result that leakage during drilling would be equivalent to about 0.5% of the volume of gas produced.

If your claim that the other sources of leakage are insignificant compared to leakage during drilling is true, then please explain how the total leakage can even approach the value of 9% to 10%.

October 27, 2014    View Comment    

On Methane Leaks Wipe Out Any Climate Benefit Of Fracking, Satellite Observations Confirm

The average estimated ultimate reserves for a Marcellus well is 6.2 billion cubic feet (bcf) (, and the average time to drill a Marcellus well is about 45 days (  Assuming the average leakage rate during drilling of 34 grams of methane per second cited by Bob Meinetz , this works out to an average leakage rate of about 0.11%.

This number may be higher than previously supposed, but has nothing to do with the 9% - 10% range claimed by the author.

October 26, 2014    View Comment    

On Plug In Hybrid: Saving Carbon and Dollars?

Congratulations for analyzing critically the benefits of plugin hybrids vs conventional hybrids.  

The environmental case for plugin hybrids is even weaker than your calculations indicate, if one takes into account the environmental impact and carbon debt incurred in manufacturing and recycling the batteries of plugin vehicles.  A study performed in Norway concluded that these factors are very significant.

If you want to minimize your cost and the environmental impact of owning an operating a vehicle, you're almost certainly better off with a conventional hybrid or small diesel.  A natural gas powered vehicle could be even better environmentally, but you would have to drive a lot of miles to offset the higher initial cost.

I can't resist mentioning that your best option by far would be to simply keep the car that you have, maintain it well, and minimize the miles you drive by walking, bicycling, and using public transit.  If you don't already have a car, then buy a used car in good condition, maintain the correct tire pressure, change or clean the air filters frequently, and keep your driving to a minimum.  This eliminates the  environmental consequences of manufacturing a new car.  This isn't a glamorous solution to the problem, and it doesn't involve the great American pastime of benefitting from taxpayer dollars, but it is by far the most economical and environmentally benign alternative.

October 23, 2014    View Comment    

On Saudi Arabia Still Calling the Shots

The problem is that the break even point for US oil shale is likely much lower than $80 a barrel.  Informed observer places low as $50 a barrel and possibly even lower.  (

If prices were to fall low enough to impact oil shale production, this would also have a very negative impact on capital investment in the development of conventional preserves worldwide.  The impact on oil price of the decrease in capital investment would not be seen immediately. In the longer term, however, the decrease in capital investment would cause a decrease in production, particularly in regions with high capital costs, such as deepwater offshore Gul of Mexico, West Africa, and Brazil.   The decrease in production would make the United States and the world increasingly dependant upon the very cheapest places to produce oil, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia.  

This is exactly what happened in the 1960's and in the 1990's, when prices were unsustainably low in the long term, and in both cases the failure to establish a floor price resulted in a global collapse in energy investment.  This ultimately led to price spikes and severe global recessions.  The unsustainably low prices also led to negative geopolitical developments in the exporting nations.  These developments included the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the ascent of Vladimir Putin in Russia and of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Are we stupid enough to to allow this to happen a third time?

October 23, 2014    View Comment    

On EU Commission: Europe Could Face 5 to 9 bcm Winter Natural Gas Shortfall

Does anyone know if the nations of Europe are considering expanding natural gas storage in order to protect themselves from supply disruptions?   It seems that this would be the easiest and least expensive solution to the problem of security of supply, yet I haven't seen discussion of it.

October 21, 2014    View Comment    

On Saudi Arabia Still Calling the Shots

Sorry, duplicate post.

October 18, 2014    View Comment    

On Saudi Arabia Still Calling the Shots

If the political leadership of the U.S. had any sense (it doesn't), it would establish a floor price for oil.  This could be done by purchasing oil and placing it in a tactical petroleum reserve when prices drop below a target price of, say $60 or $70 a barrel.  The reserve could be drawn down during price spikes, and would constitute spare production capacity under the control of the U.S.   Creating a floor price would ensure sustained investment in energy production of all types, and would discourage excessive consumption.

It was the failure to do this in the 1990's, when the oil price dropped to as low a $8 a barrel, the led to many of the problems with which we have been struggling ever since.

October 18, 2014    View Comment