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Issue No. 34 - June 15, 2014

1. IEA report: shale gas/oil production to fall from 2020

US operating natural gas wells versus average well productivity 1990-2010
U.S. operating natural gas wells versus average well productivity 1990-2010
After predicting in 2012 that by 2020 US oil production would surpass that of Saudi Arabia thanks to the shale boom, and that the US would become a net oil exporter by 2030, the International Energy Agency now accepts that shale gas/oil production will peak in 2020 and decline thereafter. This prediction is included in the World Energy Investment Outlook, released June 3, 2014.

The IEA's new forecast is roughly in line with that of Canadian geoscientist J. David Hughes, who predicted
in his 2013 report Drill, Baby, Drill that unconventional fossil fuel production would peak in 2017.

As Dr. Nafeez Ahmed points out in the Guardian, this new report from the IEA "puts an end to the '100 year supply' myth" and warns that in the coming years the US and Europe could become more, not less, dependent on Middle East producers. However, as the report points out, these producers are not investing sufficiently to ensure a stable supply.

From the Telegraph:
"The IEA said the solution must come from a blitz of spending on solar power, hydro and other renewables, making up 60pc of new investment. The rest depends on better efficiency in cars and fridges and insulation, costing $550bn (£328bn) a year by 2035, up from $130bn today. This is cheaper than trying to extract gas from the Arctic or the mid-Atlantic."

The IEA report was released days after the new European Energy Security Strategy was adopted by the European Commission (May 28, 2014). While the IEA report emphasizes the need to massively invest in low-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency, the EC strategy focuses on diversifying the gas supply, and suggests that unconventional fossil fuel extraction in Europe could be part of a European energy security strategy.

The IEA report reinforces the criticism by 
Food & Water Europe of the new EC strategy, Commission’s pie-in-the-sky thinking for ‘abundant’ energy supplies is a bad starting point to reduce the EU’s import dependency:

“It is baffling that the European Commission prioritizes highly uncertain supplies of gas from autocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, LNG exports from the United States or large-scale fracking in the EU in a strategy that seeks to improve the reliability of gas supplies to the EU. Rather than looking for non-existent ‘abundant’ energy supplies, the Commission should have recognized that energy is and will remain scarce for the foreseeable future and that demand reduction for natural gas is the only no-regret option for the EU”.

Ahead of the European Council meetings in late June, where the Energy Security Strategy will be discussed, Food & Water Europe and other civic organisations are calling on EU heads of government to reorient the energy security strategy more firmly toward increasing energy efficiency and increasing the supply of power from renewable sources.

2. UK celebrities call for fracking moratorium

Paul McCartney

In a letter published
on June 2, 2014 in the Times, which can be read online in this article, Sir Paul McCartney and 161 other artists, scientists, politicians and lawyers call on the British government to "suspend fracking immediately while a genuinely independent, balanced and thorough public debate is held into the potential dangers this industry holds for the UK."

The appeal is part of the nationwide campaign "We need to talk about fracking" which has also been holding a series of debates in Glasgow, Nottingham, Manchester, Swansea and London, under the slogan: “This is a critical moment for Britain. The Government’s plans to introduce fracking will change the UK forever”. Videos of these public meetings are available on the campaign website (see link above).

As this Ecowatch article explains, the UK campaign kicks off as the UK government intensifies its efforts to promote unconventional fossil fuel extraction across Great Britain, including changing the trespassing law so that homeowners will no longer need to be informed individually of fracking operations under their property, and increasing the financial incentives to communities in which drilling will occur. In December 2013, the Guardian reported that more than 60% of the UK will be made available for license by fracking companies.

In the US, Yoko Ono has been one of the celebrities leading the Artists Against Fracking campaign working to ban fracking in the state of New York. Artists are also lending their support to the campaigns to ban fracking in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

3. Leaked US EPA document acknowledges toxicity of fracking wastewater

Flowback Tanks

DeSmog Blog has obtained a leaked draft fracking wastewater guidance document from the US EPA, which is discussed in detail in this article (May 28, 2014).

DeSmog had a number of experts review and comment on the document, which is a guide for local EPA staff on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied with respect to wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations.

In contrast to a previous memo, issued in 2011, which dealt mostly with the high level of salts in fracking wastewater, the leaked March 2014 document lists nearly two dozen toxic substances that have been found in fracking wastewater at levels high enough to cause concern.

Table 1 of the document lists pollutants found in a sample of Pennsylvania hydraulic fracturing flowback water or produced water, and compares the amounts found to drinking water criteria. The list of pollutants is as follows: benzene, toluene, phenol, arsenic, aluminum, barium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, trivalent chromium, cadmium, copper, cyanide, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, silver, zinc, selenium, ammonia nitrogen, chloride, pH (SU), radium 226, radium 228, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and bromide. The document notes that these are not the only pollutants that must be removed from wastewater in treatment, and explains that regulators must know what is actually in the wastewater before it can be accepted for treatment.

As DeSmog Blog article points out: "The new EPA document also serves as a final nail in the coffin for a common industry talking point. This is the claim that fracking's waste is harmless because it is 99 percent sand and water, with a few chemicals like those used in ice cream mixed in."

The DeSmog Blog article also calls attention to the announcement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on May 19, 2014 that "at least four workers have died since 2010 from what appears to be acute chemical exposures during flowback operations at well sites".

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