Opponents of fracking have focused on contamination of subsurface water and ground destabilization (earthquakes). Various studies by industry and environmental groups purport to prove that fracking is either harmless or dangerous to fresh water resources. The EPA is slated to act as the final arbiter in this controversy: a study begun by the agency in 2010 is due to be released only by 2016, with much political wrangling behind the scenes. The verdict is certain to displease about half the population.
There are definite positives to the oil shale fracking boom: many jobs have been created, local economies have been boosted, and last year the U.S. became the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, surpassing even Saudi Arabia and Russia. So much for “Peak Oil!” And mainly because fracking and the increased use of cleaner natural gas over coal for energy production, American carbon emissions have actually declined over previous years.
But the future of fracking is going to depend on neither of these objections (water contamination and geologic destabilization). It’s the vast quantity of water used in these operations, coincident with a long-term drought in the Southwest and West, that eventually must make fracking too costly to continue. Since 2011, 40,000 new oil and gas wells have been drilled in the U.S., using 97 billion gallons of water. Fifty-five percent of these wells are in areas now suffering prolonged drought.
For 14 years this drought has persisted, and many scientists think it could be only the beginning of another century-long drought similar to the one that destroyed the Anasazi culture in the 13th century. California has declared a water emergency, and faucets have already run dry in 29 small Texas communities in Texas where fracking has depleted wells. Fierce competition for water was already escalating between cities and farms, and between western states, before fracking joined the fray.
Yet modern industrial civilization and burgeoning world population are also dependent on increased energy production, and the political prospects of limiting global carbon emissions in this rapidly developing world, however dire the warnings about climate change, are about nil. Might as well convince a herd of lemmings that they have to cut back on grass consumption.
The answer, of course, is increased reliance on renewable energy sources. A new series of reports by Stanford University assert that solar, wind and hydropower could provide 100% of global energy by 2030. Other studies dispute this. The science is so politicized, I don’t know what to believe. But there is a third possible way out of this devilish conundrum: new nuclear technology.
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have announced a breakthrough in controlled fusion, generating more energy than was used to start the reaction. Unlike the fission process that runs our nuclear reactors today, fusion generates minimal radioactive wastes, is not as volatile as fission, and could use a form of hydrogen found in seawater — an almost unlimited source. Arriving at full “ignition,” however, is still a ways off, but Princeton scientist Stewart Prager confidently states, “In 30 years, we’ll have electricity on the grid produced by fusion energy — absolutely.”
Despite the Pons/Fleischman “cold fusion” debacle over a decade ago, research in this field is still ongoing and positive results have been obtained, although not consistently reproducible. The vested interests in fission technology allegedly have suppressed this research.
Another type of fission is liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTR). Thorium is four times more abundant than uranium, 200 times more efficient, and produces only 1/35th the radioactive wastes of uranium while being dangerous for only 300 years (versus 10,000 years for uranium wastes), and meltdowns and explosions are impossible. So why hasn’t thorium fission technology been adopted? Because it generated no byproducts useful for making atomic bombs, research was shut down in 1973. But India, China, Norway, Russia, Israel and even the U.S. now have resurgent thorium development programs.
There are other alternative energy solutions that allegedly have been suppressed, involving somehow tapping into the Zero Point field, or quantum ether, that Nikola Tesla was researching before his funding was cut off. An estimated 4,000 patents have been sequestered by the U.S. Patent Office because they threaten “national security.” Another reason, many believe, is that some of those patents may threaten the oil industry’s near-monopoly. Would the oil barons be capable of such a thing?
For 70 years, they and their stooges in Congress and the media managed to virtually outlaw the single most useful, versatile, carbon-neutral crop known to mankind — industrial hemp. But just as this travesty is coming to an end, we can hope to see a breakout of new energy technologies long marginalized or suppressed. Increasingly voracious global demand for both energy and water must eventually force the oil barons and Dr. Strangeloves off their thrones.