Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future

Rozie Apps | Friday, 11th April 2014
A critical look at the oil and fracking industry from both an economic and environmental stance.
Author: Richard Heinberg
Publisher: Clairview Books
Publication year: 2014
RRP: £10.99

"While we tend to think of money as the prime mover of the economy, in fact it is energy that gets things done. More and cheap energy translates to a more complex society with a growing economy; less energy, and more expensive energy, translates to a stagnant or shrinking economy that sheds complexity."

To me, this sums up Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Energy is pivotal in today's society, with a range of techniques, and all controversial. This book explores one technique, fracking, and looks at how society's need for energy has lead to some shocking actions.

Richard Heinburg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, fills the pages with facts and figures about fracking in the US, giving a unbiased explanation of the growing industry that is beginning to hit the rest of the world.

The reader is taken on a journey through the history of fracking, the ups and downs of both the opposition and the 'frackers'.

We are shown the figures for economic growth and oil and gas production rates, but also the devastation left behind in previous fracking communities: fracking companies give compensation to towns but in several examples the cost to repair the damage to the roads from the passing lorries equates to much more than is actually received in compensation. There is also the long-lasting pollution of water to take into account. The job growth myth is also explained, along with the real figures behind the fracking boom.

The biggest eye-opener is when Richard reveals how production from shale gas wells decline 80-95% after 36 months. This is due to 'sweet spots' (where there is a huge amount of gas). When fracking companies estimate the amount of shale gas areas can produce, they don't take into account that these 'sweet spots' are only a small proportion of the area and will be used up after a few years. After this period, it takes a lot more time, energy and money to extract the gas, basically making the shale gas more expensive to extract than its profit. There is even examples where horizontal drilling has been suspended because the cost of drilling is more than the sale of the shale gas /oil.

Richard also explains that it takes all the drilling that the industry can do to keep production steady and that there is no excess of gas, just a constant effort to maintain levels. Basically, shale gas is not a sustainable energy that we can rely on for the future.

An Energy Information Agency (EIA) report in March 2012 showed oil production had been overestimated for 12 years, and oil prices had been underestimated 62% of the time while natural gas prices had been underestimated by 70.8%.

I believe Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future, is a book that needs to be read by all. It is not an anti-fracking book, or specifically for environmentalists, but a well laid out exploration of the fracking industry with some shocking information that everybody needs to know.

With the most throrough analysis of this industry ever taken, this book proves that fracking should not be the way forward for the energy industry. Even if you have no care for the environment, this book shows that a dependence on shale gas and oil drilling comes at a great cost. The evidence shows that in less than 50 years, shale gas will peak and the decline will be quick and dramatic, leaving society unprepared.

Rozie Apps is assistant editor at Permaculture magazine.

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Further resources

The truth about fracking - 8 fracking myths debunked

Who is benefiting from fracking?

New reports raise EU health and environmental concerns about fracking

Frack free February in Somerset: the county saying no to fracking