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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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Ten Reasons Why Fracking is Doomed

Ten Reasons Why Fracking is Doomed

Proponents of natural gas fracturing and oil drilling are delirious with joy over the ability to recover shale gas, which has brought down world gas prices and made the US a major player again. Likewise, North Dakota wells are set to produce up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day soon. (Although, since the world uses roughly 89 million barrels a day, and the US uses a fifth of that, and demand in Asia will likely spike in coming years, the ND addition is just not that much).

Fracking is dangerous to ground water purity, and both oil and gas, as hydrocarbons, contribute to global climate change, which is a dire threat to human well-being in coming decades and centuries.
But oil and gas triumphalists have another thing coming. It is that the cost of generating electricity by wind and solar is falling rapidly. However hard they try to suppress government funding and tax breaks for renewables, Big Oil and Big Gas are doomed to lose, and in only about 4 years. At that point where it is just cheaper to generate electricity with renewables, no one is going to invest in hydrocarbons. Even with a price advantage it will take decades for renewables to displace hydrocarbons (the electricity grid, transportation, batteries, all have to be redone). But it isn’t a matter of “if.” It is a matter of when. All the anti-climate-warming propaganda and pro-hydrocarbon advertising is intended to slow this process; even Big Oil and Big Gas are not so stupid as not to see the writing on the wall. But if their delaying tactics can make them billions in the meantime, they have every reason to go for it, especially if they are moral cretins who don’t care about the health of the planet.

Here is some of the writing on the wall in today’s news:

1. Scientists have found that solar photovoltaic cells could be producing electricity at less 50 cents a watt by 2016, four years earlier than other projections. At that point, it would be crazy to use hydrocarbons to generate electricity. As for those solar panel companies that keep going under after getting Federal support? Some go under, others thrive. The industry is changing with breakneck velocity, leaving some competitors in the dust. The same people that wax lyrical about how the market creates efficiencies by creating winners and losers seem to just about have a fainting spell at the idea that a solar company failed. The industry is highly dynamic and has the momentum of rapid technological breakthroughs and rapidly falling prices.

2. Germany is on the verge of producing more solar energy than wind energy, the first major industrialized country to reach that milestone. Germany wants to produce 35 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, only 8 years from now.

3. Researchers at UCLA have created a solar-power-generating window. If all those glass box skyscrapers in southern California could be put to work generating electricity, it would probably power the whole state.

4. The British government has given the go-ahead for two huge offshore wind farms off the coast of Norfolk (the eastern coast). Together, they will have the capacity to produce over a gigawatt of power (roughly one nuclear power plant’s worth). Britain is the leader in offshore wind energy generation.

5. With Japan’s nuclear energy plants being phased out because of public fury over the Fukushima disaster, the country is trying to move quickly to renewables. It is placing a big bet on offshore floating wind platforms. Japan has been in the doldrums in many ways since the bubble burst in the 1990s. But its scientists and engineers are among the best in the world, and I wonder whether research on wind and solar energy might have the potential to revivify not only the economy but also the national spirit.

6. Scientists have concluded that it is perfectly practical to provide 2/3s of US electricity from solar over the next decades. The main problem is not electricity generation or having enough land to put the cells on, it is the poor electrical grid of the US, which will have to be redone.

7. Algeria wants to go solar, aiming for 650 megawatts of solar energy by 2015 and a massive 22 gigawatts by 2030. The Desertec Foundation has big projects in Egypt and Morocco, and Algeria, an oil producer, has decided to join in. Theoretically, a small portion of the Saharan desert could power the entire world. Desertec plans to turn North Africa into a clean electricity-producing zone that could meet nearly a fifth of Europe’s energy needs. Algeria is eager to turn to renewables because its rapidly growing population is using more an more of its petroleum production, which is declining.

8. Some 750,000 Australian homes have solar panels on the roof, heading toward 10% of the 8 million households in the sun-drenched country. The present rooftop panels generate about two nuclear power plants worth of electricity.

9. China is going to make a major push for solar energy after 2015, aiming for a mind-bogging 50 gigawatts worth by 2020.


10. The Egyptian gas pipeline through the Sinai to Jordan and Israel has been blown up 15 times since the Jan. 25 revolution. Egyptians are angry that the government of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak had sold the gas at substantially below-market prices to Israel. Because of the interruptions, Jordan’s government is more eager than ever to move to solar and wind power. A sign of increased international interest in the nascent Jordanian renewables sector is that a Chinese company wants to invest $200 million in a solar project. Jordan has a goal of getting 10% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, though that may be an ambitious timeline. If its government were smart, it would go all out and double that goal, and try to meet it.

By. Professor Juan Cole

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  • Randy on July 26 2012 said:
    "Fracking is dangerous to ground water purity, and both oil and gas, as hydrocarbons, contribute to global climate change, which is a dire threat to human well-being in coming decades and centuries."

    There so much wrong with that sentence that it's difficult to know where to begin. How about, " Windmills are dangerous to bald eagles and bats,...and,...and. C'mon. That was really silly.

    If solar energy and windmills can compete in the open market as energy sources,...great! I hope it happens. But before you begin worshipping at the alter of green energy, let's have a moment of silence for Solyndra,...shall we?
  • Don on July 26 2012 said:
    Sorry professor but your 10 reasons have nothing to do with reality.
  • A. Shepherd on July 26 2012 said:
    With all do respect, this entire article is a farce. You know very little about any of the subjects that you have attempted to cover. For some reason liberals such as yourself think if you say something over and over again it will come true. Why don't you write an article about how great the economy is.
  • Mark on July 26 2012 said:
    Very interesting, and I am enthusiastic about solar, but my question is, will we have the resources (silver, rare earths, etc.) to actually produce the needed PV cells in the quantity needed? I hear from other sources that solar is a pipe dream on this huge scale because of the materials needed, plus the processing complexities. I realize that new designs and rocesses will help.
  • Jason Carter on July 27 2012 said:
    I know it's easy to get excited about solar energy. But the fact is I will be lucky to see solar power eclipse the 50% usage mark within my lifetime and I'm 39. The fact is the world's economy runs on cheap fossil fuels. Oil and coal are what economies need to fall back on when our corrupted fractional-reserve fiat money system fails us. They have the most btu's per pound. However, I believe there is a decent chance of a major breakthrough in energy production (not necessarily solar) in the coming decades. If so, that will lead the way to higher standards of living but not until this long recession and peak oil have done major damage.

    Get rid of the climate change rhetoric. It's completely unproven. And there is a limit to the amount of solar panels, wind mills, batteries, etc that can be produced based upon limits of available rare-earth minerals and other resources need to build those products.
  • Jay on July 27 2012 said:
    "The same people that wax lyrical about how the market creates efficiencies by creating winners and losers seem to just about have a fainting spell at the idea that a solar company failed."

    It wasn't that a solar company failed that caused the fainting spell it was that it had a $500 million taxpayer loan guarantee obtained thru questionable practises by the officers
  • Hans Nieder on July 27 2012 said:
    The Professor has been diagnosed with Solar Syndrome...

    He clearly has no understanding of energy and has done a disservice to this website...He should continue with his Middle East expertise..

    BTW, why previous post would not published...
  • Brendan on July 27 2012 said:
    Your argument, like many in the 'green movement' is a mile wide and inch deep. Furthermore, the 'green movement' can't even agree with themselves on how to move forward.

    Now in response to the evidence you have presented. 1) There has never, ever been one documented case that fracking has contaminated ground water acquifers
    2) Natural Gas emits less carbon dioxide into the air than other fossil fuels
    3) Domestic energy production of fossil fuels will create more jobs in both the short and long term, estimates as high as 4 million, as low as 1 million but within 3 years.
    4) Domestic Energy Production will also drive down the price of fossil fuel energy due to a competitive landscape
    5) China and other Asian companies will begin to consume twice the amount of fossil fuels than the United States in the next decade. So what took us 200 years, will take them less than 3 decades

    Above is a taste of whats to come in this fracking debate. I agree we should be using renewables and hopefully one day we will rely heavily on them to address our energy demands. However, if the goal is to starve America through bad science and weak arguments into energy products that can't do what other products can, then screw it.

    The doom is on the side of the renewables. Fracking is coming, that is for sure. It's national security, cheap energy, job creation, and trade surplus all tied into one. I would say the future is pretty bright and the 'green movement' has already lost. I mean come on, its hopes and dreams are pinned on a documentary.
  • James L on July 27 2012 said:
    Even assuming all of what Professor Cole says is true, none of his 10 items indicate how the energy density problem will be solved for transportation, the biggest use for hydrocarbon fuels. Without significant breakthroughs in battery technology, all of the solar panels in the world will not displace a single drop of oil.
  • David Walker on July 27 2012 said:
    Oh dear, Professor Juan Cole....

    Wrong on pretty much every count.

    So what do we do when it's dark, like at night and when the wind doesn't blow of weeks on end?
  • Hans Nieder on July 27 2012 said:
    The professor is taking a beating and we all are going to get Fs on our next examine...!
  • art wissing on July 27 2012 said:
    anyone notice that first solar,the panel maker is about to be sued out of existense,because they failed to tell buyers that the hotter the panels get the less they produce.pretty important piece of info wouldn t you think.
  • Tokn on July 28 2012 said:
    Oh look academia talking like they know how it really is in the real world.

    Talk about spewing bs.

    First off, global warming hasn't been proven on how much is man made.

    No evidence fracking contaminates.

    Solar and wind is far from being efficient to supply current energy consumptions.

    Have you "environmentalist" consider the impact of huge wind farms to the local ecology? Plant life, animal habitats? Not to mention the destruction to the landscape due to construction? Oh the hippocracy...
  • Mel Tisdale on July 28 2012 said:
    Thanks to a very effective disinformation campaign on the part of the fossil fuel industry the public generally have the view that climate change is either a hoax or of little importance. If only!

    Assuming that people care about their children and grandchildren - not a given, unfortunately - the sad truth is that only childless old people have any reason not to be concerned about climate change. We know we stand no chance of limiting the temperature rise to 2 degrees C with ‘business as usual’ or anything like it. The 2 degrees C was only a political limit anyway and is far too high for safety’s sake.

    When the public catches on to how they have been duped in order for the fossil fuel industry to maintain its profits, I imagine they will be very angry. I already am, but there again I am one of those who has taken the trouble to inform themselves. This summer should have been a wake-up call to those who have yet to do so. (Try skepticalscience.com)

    While the recent extreme weather events cannot be definitely attributed to climate change, the increased frequency of them can. As the poles warm faster than the rest of the planet, so the jet stream will tend to meander due to the reduced temperature differential. As it does it can get stuck in unusual places, as happened this summer with the results of drought or deluge depending on one’s location. As the climate warms, so too will the frequency of such events increase, and so too will food security decrease as has happened this summer. Take population growth into consideration and the world begins to look a hostile place for our species.

    In short, when the public catches on, its attitude towards fossil fuels will change dramatically. When people bounce their grandchildren on their knees and know that continued support for fossil fuels will - not might - lead to them not having enough food to eat, they will cease that support, period.

    Were I the CEO of a fossil fuel company, I would invest heavily in new nuclear technology, such as LFTR reactors, so that as my core business declined, which it inevitably will, I would have a growing income stream to replace it with. An income stream that does not need much of a grid, if any, with all of its ugly pylons, works 24/7, and is completely safe in the event of a problem because it automatically shuts down, has no high pressure cooling systems to manage, and no large quantities of hydrogen to explode (to name just a few of its many advantages).

    If the greens complain, let them. The prospect of reliable energy is much more likely to be supported by the public than a supply that depends on the weather, and it is only with public support that we stand a chance of combating climate change. The greens would do us all a favour if they stopped their knee-jerk reaction to all things nuclear.
  • Mel Tisdale on July 28 2012 said:
    @ Tokn

    "First off, global warming hasn't been proven on how much is man made"

    If you were captain of a cruise liner and had an iceberg dead ahead, would you refuse to slow down, or alter course, because the iceberg is obviously not man-made? (No prizes for getting that one right.)

    You have fallen for a very clever part of the fossil fuel industry's efforts to halt any action to combat climate change because such action is almost guaranteed to affect its profits.

    It doesn't matter what is causing the current warming that we are experiencing. It could all be down to the sun (which, incidentally, we know it isn't). What matters is that we do whatever we can to reduce or reverse it.

    We know that greenhouse gasses warm the planet, be they human in origin or produced in the flatulance of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. What does matter is that we do what we can to reduce them. The more the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal farts, the more we have to cut back on those greenhouse gasses that we produce in order to offset the warming that those of our friend from Traal causes.

    Wake up! Time is not on our side. If we slip past a tipping point, all we will be able to do is hang on while Old Mother Nature takes on a wild ride. I wonder if the extra profits that the fossil fuel industry has made as a result of all its lobbying and misinformation campaigns on climate change will be of any use then, when their children and grandchildren turn against them reproachfully saying: “You knew what would happen and did nothing but facilitate it!” As for you, Tokn, what will your family say to you?
  • Randy on July 28 2012 said:
    @ Mr. Mel

    This forum is read by people who are into science, especially concerning the oil and gas industry. What is offensive to most of these readers is the mixing-in of credible science with political advocacy. That is precisely what the Professor has done, and hence the strong reaction against it. See above. Yes, the earth may indeed be warming but pure science tells us that it may be from a myriad of unforeseen forces, radiation patterns from the sun for instance. If CO2 is a factor, let's have a debate about it! You betcha. A discussion. A dialogue. What we don't want is a Professor promoting an agenda (see above) Just for starters might a suggest this web page.....

    That should start the debate. For people reading this web page the preference is for pure scientific facts, not political ideology.
  • Tokn on July 28 2012 said:
    @mel tisdale

    If we were cruising in carribeans, and people such as yourself were screaming iceberg, yes I would continue course, because screaming iceberg is man made.

    And you have fallen Into green energy movement propaganda. You don't think there is monetary incentive for green energy companies to push the green energy agenda?

    I'm all for alternative clean and renewable energy, as long as it is economically viable. Right now that is far from the case. Solar cells are very expensive, wind farms aren't efficient and is hideous to look at (do you want to see your mountains and hills covered in windmills? And maybe you do, but I don't!)

    In conclusion I'm realist, I don't care about the political sides of either agenda (because there is monetary agenda to both sides) whom ever delivers electricity to my house the cheapest, be it coal, NG, oil, windmill, solar, or rubbing sheeps together wins my money.
  • Hans Nieder on July 28 2012 said:
    Well state Randy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let's remember for many of the Greens (Leftist) it is another campaign under the guise of Enviro Justice to further fetter the freedoms of the human race...

    Mr Tisdale, of course, attacks the oil companies AND THEIR PROFITS, with completely contempt for what Col Drake and the industry created...

    Without goo, the talk of World Warming (Oh would the blame on cattle be next) would be replaced by the vast level of world poverty and poor crop production...

    The founder of the World Warming Theory - has completely recanted!!!! World Warming, is just another form for political activism...
  • Mel Tisdale on July 28 2012 said:
    @ Randy

    For a start, I have asked Oil Price for their comments policy and they have not given it. When I get it from them, I will adhere to it, not your opinion on what you would like it to be. Until then, all I can say is that the general standard of comments that I have seen is about as far from scientific as it is possible to get. For scientific comments have a look at skepticalscience.com.

    I see nothing coming even close to scientific comments on this site. Indeed one has only to look at Hans Nieder's comments to see an example of what I mean. Scientific they are not, but political they are, if a little silly e.g. "Without goo, the talk of World Warming (Oh would the blame on cattle be next) would be replaced by the vast level of world poverty and poor crop production... "

    Sorry if what I say offends, but it offends me that my children and grandchildren are going to suffer because people like you think this site is scientific and are prepared to let their fate be determined by the likes of yourself, Hans Nieder and possibly Tokn, if you can understand what he she or it says.
  • crow on July 28 2012 said:
    Professor, we await your arrival from your misinformed, unrealistic and utopian "green" dreamland.
  • John Hobson on July 28 2012 said:
    I love the way all the energy industry apologists knee jerk attack the author on things he hasn't even written here!

    You know, it makes no difference whether climate change exists or not - it is just the catalyst that is forcing us to move to renewables earlier. It would be ludicrous to burn fossil fuels if there were clean alternatives even if global warming were not a reasonable hypothesis.
  • Mel Tisdale on July 28 2012 said:
    Anyone who supports fracking might like to watch 'Fracking Hell' on YouTube. I doubt it will change your mind, but at least it will make you aware of the harm it can do.


    Your first point is dealt with in the first five minutes.
  • Randy on July 28 2012 said:
    @ Mel, ..who wrote:

    ".. but it offends me that my children and grandchildren are going to suffer because people like you think this site is scientific and are prepared to let their fate be determined by the likes of yourself, Hans Nieder and possibly Tokn, if you can understand what he she or it says. .."

    Your children and grandchildren are going to suffer because of,...me? Really? What did I do? Did I mock a sacred cow? So, like, everything you 'assume' to be the truth can longer be questioned? It's simply a fact, indisputable. Were this fact to be questioned, children and grandchildren will suffer as a result? Really? How very close-minded of you.
  • Hans Nieder on July 28 2012 said:
    Mr Tisdale, I doubt there is one critic on renewable energy on this board, that would not support it if it worked...

    Apparently it does not matter to you if green-pink power is economical or not..Or whether it requires government credits or government funding with our tax dollars..

    We would all embrace green power, if it did not involve government fiat and had a return on investment within four to eight years...

    Look at the Hybrid car or the electric vehicle, payback requiring something on the order of 11 or 12 years, not to mention the massive credits...

    Its you that lacks all understanding of economic realities; unless of course, you are a "progressive" and money does not matter..

    Mr Tisdale, please come back to us when these technologies work and we will embrace them and you!
  • Hans Nieder on July 28 2012 said:
    Hear is the real reason why fracking is doomed:

  • Mel Tisdale on July 29 2012 said:
    @ Randy

    Your original comment specifically directed at me was an attempt to shut me up. Unfortunately, you chose the route of claiming that my comments did not suit the scientific nature of the site. Just go over the comments to this article and show me any that could with any degree of validity be claimed as scientific. We even have people claiming that global warming is not happening, despite the rising temperature and sea levels! Such ignorance is breath-taking.

    As you will be well aware, politicians follow the mood of the people and if that mood says climate change is a myth, then that will affect the way they act to combat it. So, your failed attempt to shut me up, and thus my ability to influence that mood, was, in the final analysis, an attack on my childdren and grandchildren. If that is close minded by your standards, so be it. Perhaps you don't have children or grandchildren to worry about.

    @ Hans Nieder

    I see no reason to go away, so your request to "... come back when ..." does not apply. If you took more time to actually read, and, of course, understand, what I say in my various posts, you would not think me a supporter of the green movement. I was once one of their number, but found them too far removed from reality for my liking. I do not want a landscape littered with wind turbines. I do not want vast arrays of solar panels either. They are o.k. for individuals, if they can reduce that person's energy bills, of course.

    I do not want continued use of fossil fuels simply because climate change is a real and urgent danger to us all and they are the cause, period. Further to my non-green position, I now support nuclear energy, provided it comes in the form of liquid fluoride thorium reactors which, as far I can see, offer us a solution that might possibly be able to 'keep the lights on' and not have empty larders.

    Blind objection to any notion that the climate is warming helps no one, including yourself. We do not have the time to wait to see who is right simply because of the positive feedbacks now coming into play. For instance, methane is being released from sea-bed clathrates and melting permafrost. If that reaches a runaway state, then we are in very serious trouble. We know from proven science that that will lead to a temperature rise which we will not be able to cope with considering the size of population we currently have, let alone are on track to have.

    I will not dignify the majority of your comments by replying to them. If, as seems to be the case, you think the free-market is the solution to all, you will need to prove it. I will not simply take your word for it, sorry.
  • Hans Nieder on July 29 2012 said:
    Mr Tisdale, if our science is bad, what is yours?

    "Sorry if what I say offends, but it offends me that my children and grandchildren are going to suffer because people like you think this site is scientific and are prepared to let their fate be determined by the likes of yourself, Hans Nieder and possibly Tokn"

    Now your creditably is at stake, Mr Tisdale, as you are making conflicting statements.

    "On a personal level, I am glad that my son has not presented me with any grandchildren. Yes, I lose out on the pleasures they can bring, but that is balanced by the fact that I don't have to worry about how on earth they are going to survive when they are my age."

    Please, tell me whether or not you have grandchildren?

    Please, present us with the truth.

    In one post you have GC and in another you do not...Perhaps World Warming is having an imponderable effect.
  • Jerry F on July 29 2012 said:
    Prof Cole......you've got to be kidding and I hope you are not teaching this to the kids in the U of Michigan. Not only do you have many items incorrect or at least incomplete in analysis, you fail to give reason to your analysis.You have not included any projection for growth in any one of your reasons. If solar is able to get half the growth for the next ten years, they are doing well.Just think of the amount of new energy needed to produce the solar panels and windmills needed to get to your projects....
  • jorgekafkazar on August 01 2012 said:
    Risible, green wishful negative thinking.
  • Hans Nieder on August 06 2012 said:
    Mr Tisdale, you could at least set the record straight by admitting you made a wrong claim, regarding that you have grandchildren..

    The truth will set the carbons free, Mr Tisdale...

    " If, as seems to be the case, you think the free-market is the solution to all, you will need to prove it. I will not simply take your word for it, sorry."

    Please put down your novels and read a history book...
  • Beth Strudley on December 07 2012 said:
    The old carpet isn't big enough for these companies to sweep their lies under anymore. My family, water, pets and land was all poisoned by H2S, and other nasties from frac'ing next to our home. We had to do a constructive eviction.

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