Marcellus Shale

Question for Prof. Ingraffea: If Not Natural Gas, Then What?

Cris Pasto
Tioga County Landowner
Inventor and Director, Engineering & Training – Res-Q-Jack, Inc.

I’m not a Cornell professor.  I’m just a small town engineer, landowner and energy consumer looking for direction from Dr. Tony Ingraffea.  Dr. Ingraffea is no doubt a very educated man and a more than capable engineer with experience that stretches from the depths of the earth to the heavens.  It’s a true statement.  He’s studied fracture mechanics in everything from rocks to airplanes.

I’ve watched him in action a few times and I noticed something.  He speaks a lot of truth but then ventures far into territory outside his area of expertise and never addresses the big question – that is to say, if not natural gas, then what?

How Can Tony See Through So Much, Yet Miss the Obvious?

I applaud the fact Tony Ingraffea rightfully points out so many facts that dispel some of the most fanatical anti-natural gas talking points.  He notes, for example:

  • There is risk in everything.
  • Methane gas is not going to hurt you if it is in your drinking water.
  • He “won’t lose sleep over what’s deep down in the formation.”
  • “Communication” between the formation and the surface is unlikely.
  • Surface usage won’t be anything like the 40ac spacing scenarios
  • The engineers working to reduce risks are intelligent and they are continually improving.
  • Everything must have a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Fracturing fluids do not contain 500+ chemicals.  Each fracturing job has a mixture of several components from a list of about 500.
  • Fracturing chemicals are not a secret.  Information is readily available on
  • All deep subsurface exploration, including developing drinking water wells, causes a temporary muddy disturbance in the aquifer.
  • Methane exists in nearly all private drinking water (said at Spencer, New York, meeting).

What puzzles me about Dr. Ingraffea’s presentation, at least the one I viewed in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 2010, was the lack of options offered in terms of responsible energy development.

As an engineer, I am often posed with a challenging problem in need of a solution.  From that point, multiple ideas are developed and explored.   At the end of the exploration, you need to converge on a solution.  Dr. Ingraffea all but convinces his audience that natural gas production is the worst possible means of producing energy.  He tells us at the end of his presentation that its our call from there.

Wait a second, what’s the solution to my need for energy?  If not natural gas, if not coal, if not oil,  then what?

We need energy to support our way of life.  Our choices are oil, coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewables such as wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, biofuels and tidal action.  Natural gas, wind and solar are the choices most often discussed regionally.   Factors that logically should go into choosing among these sources include availability, reliability, cost, environmental impact, life safety, etc.

Unfortunately, logic is often trumped by politics, public misinformation and hysteria, pre-conceived notions or biases of project sponsors or engineers in addition to other self-serving agendas.  We see this with natural gas, while wind and solar have been given a free ride.  We’re told they’re “free” and there’s seldom any discussion of any downsides in their use.  Dr. Ingraffea says everything has risks, so there must be at least one or two with renewables, right?

So how “green” are renewable energy sources like wind and solar?  When you consider the components necessary for the manufacture of wind turbines or solar panels for electricity generation, and the raw materials associated with batteries for the storage of such energy,  you may have some second thoughts.

The Wind Doesn’t Blow in Only One Direction

Wind turbines (and batteries) require “rare earth” metals for their construction.  The U.S. no longer mines these components and we are at the mercy of the Chinese and others for supply.  Rare earth metals are also vital in the manufacturing of the weapons and security systems designed to protect our country.  If we have an already strained supply, it seems obvious that this will strain our national defense budget, not to mention our national security – how do we measure that cost?  Oops, I forgot, it’s a renewable green energy, so its free.

However, there exists a rare earth metals shortage, which is no secret to the Chinese who are now capitalizing on our foolishness.  Here are a few key excerpts (from the previous link):

Years of supply mismanagement have left the US dependent on foreign sources for critical metals like graphite, vanadium and manganese……More graphite is going to be needed for vehicle electrification, whether it’s used in traditional automotives like the Chevy Volt or in electric bicycles, which are seeing explosive demand in countries like in China……The vanadium market is an oligopoly in the sense that three countries – China, Russia and South Africa, produce nearly all of the world’s 61 Ktpa vanadium……One of the most exciting potential uses for vanadium is the vanadium redox battery (VRB)……One of the challenges with renewable energy is its intermittency. When the sun is not shining or when the wind is not blowing there is no way to store that energy effectively right now. The VRB, which was developed about 20 years ago, is already used on a small scale to store electricity generated from both renewable and traditional sources like coal……Manganese can also be used in the cathode of lithium ion batteries. It provides a much longer, stronger, powerful charge than almost anything else in the anode. The Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF use lithium-ion batteries known as lithium manganese spinnel, or nickel-manganese-cobalt for short.

So, now we know green, renewable energy requires mining.  I would have suspected Ingraffea would classify mining as the kind of thing that brings up things better left buried beneath the earth’s surface, based on what he says about natural gas.  Apparently, however, if the mining is done in China it’s fine.

Maybe this is like a carbon credit – everyone but the U.S. can mine in their backyard.

The above referenced article mentions the possibility of a strip mine resource for vanadium in Nevada.  I would love to invest in it, but I thought strip mining was supposed to be the most evil form of mining?  Oh, I forgot, its for the sake of green renewable free energy.  Mining for renewables is kind of like killing birds for renewables.  More on that in a moment…but, first, this picture of a rare earth minerals mine in California.

Molycorp Mountain Pass rare earth facility in California’s Mojave Desert

Molycorp Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine in California’s Mojave Desert

In listening to Dr. Ingraffea I suppose the difference between natural gas development and mining for renewables is that natural gas brings up naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) that requires proper handling and disposal and renewables do not.  Of course, this story about NORM being connected with renewables directly refutes that hypothesis:

Yes, indeed – since radioactive elements are pretty much any place that you care to dig something up, the production of rare earths does just about always involve removing radioactive elements and having to put them somewhere else……The funny part is this – Rhiannon is actually protesting against the production of a vital ingredient for wind turbines. In fact, Lynas have already signed a letter of intent to provide Siemens with this ingredient, called neodymium, for the production of turbines….The ore that Lynas is treating also produces goodies that you need to make batteries for hybrid cars…..At the moment, it appears the greens think the processing of rare earths is not acceptable in Australia or Malaysia – but apparently have no problem with the continued production of the stuff in China, the kind of practices that produce this – so go figure…..Yet more proof that renewable energy is not quite as renewable as some people may have you believe.

We are also, as I implied above, killing birds for renewable energy.  These birds are slaughtered by the thousands.  The American Bird Conservancy estimates wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds each year.  I see wind turbines as beautiful machines, but I feel for the otherwise protected bald eagle and spotted owl.  I guess there’s no cost associated with the bird kills if we don’t have to pay any restitution.  It’s kind of wasteful though.  If birds died from crashing into a natural gas rig, do you think they would get a pass?  Of course not; the fine would likely be astronomical.  On-site bird rescue measures would be a requirement along with daily briefings on any near misses.  Eventually an early bird warning system would be required to deter bird collisions with the rig.

Abandoned Wind Farm

Abandoned Wind Farm in Hawaii

I do like wind turbines, but many do not, particularly those living near them.  Problems associated with them include flickering lights/shadows in  homes, continuous sound, 40’ shards of ice launched from blades, flying blades, dramatic fires, dysfunctional units, collapse, ‘viewshed’ interruption, bird kills, grid requirements, and land usage (access roads, major power lines, mill pads, etc.) to name a few.

Speaking of land usage, wind energy typically requires multiples of what is required for natural gas production on a per MW basis.  For some reason when its an access road to a windmill or a “pad” with a tall structure and large rotating blades that remains forever, its consider a wonderful addition to the landscape or the wildlife, but an identical road and equivalent pad with a temporary tower with no moving blades, is considered an invasion on the landscape and a detrimental division within the ecosystem.

Moreover, wind energy can’t be injected into a car as a fuel.  It must be converted to electricity and like natural gas, requires its own “pipeline” or power lines in this case.  I guess ugly overhead power lines are somehow preferred over buried concealed pipelines.   I don’t mind either.  I use and appreciate both.

Other critical issues with wind include the fact its not always blowing.  There are, too, concerns with air qualityfires, safety and dismantling.  Ingraffea accused the Pennsylvania residents of “throwing open the barn door too soon” but he would, apparently, have us throw every door and window wide open in winter for renewables regardless of the impacts.

Then Maybe Solar Is Better?

Solar farms must be the way to go, then, right?  Well, not exactly.  Solar uses about 4.5 acres per MW according to numbers from California’s Solar Energy Generating System, the worlds largest solar facility.  This facility supposedly offers 354 megawatts (MW) of capacity from a 1,600 acre facility.  Nonetheless, it actually produces an average of only 103 MW of electricity around the clock because of the “noted tendency of the sun to go down in the evenings.” Oops, we’ll have to make an adjustment – 15.53 acres per MW.

A Marcellus Shale gas well producing a measly 1mmcf/day gives us about 1.22 MW on 5 acres or roughly 4 acres per MW.  For 5mmcf/d you’ll need 0.82 acres per MW and that assumes only one well per pad when we’re actually doing 6-8 in most instances.  Hmm…

With renewables like solar, of course, we won’t need to worry about water pollution or will we?  Then, there are the safety issues, homeowners insurance issues, the emergency response issues and the dirty air issues.

I’ve heard Ingraffea make a very strong point regarding unconventional natural gas production and green house gases. He agrees that burning methane produces favorable levels of CO2 relative to coal or oil.  That’s not his big concern though.  He’s more concerned with methane that might leak out.  CO2 is one thing, but he claims methane is something like 30 times more potent then CO2.  So, we should immediately transition to solar energy, right?  Well, once again, not so fast.

There’s a new boogeyman in the world of global warming: Nitrogen Trifluoride….On Lubos Motls The Reference Frame he has  pointed out that a greenhouse gas emitted during the production of solar panels and HDTVs, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) is about 17,000 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide……According to Lubos, given the fact that the solar panels produce about the same percentage of the global energy as Finland, it is reasonable to guess that the state-of-the-art solar panels that would replace fossil fuels would cause a comparable amount of warming per Joule as fossil fuels.

Large drums left at a Solyndra facility. Photo from Washington Times.

So, let’s just say everything causes global warming, and leave it at that.

Ingraffea claims he won’t lose sleep with whats several thousand feet under.  He’s more concerned with the surface activities and the fact you have those stupid naturalgas developing humans handling all these dangerous chemicals and waste products that could be easily spilled.

Solar panel people are much more concerned about the proper handling of pollutants, right?  Yet again, some good advice might be to look before you leap up on the roof to install those panels.

Solyndra abandons efforts to go clean and green.  Environmental mess left at plant.   In one picture, two large blue drums are filled with a black substance with no secure lids and covered instead with clear plastic wrap. Another photograph shows a yellow drum about the size of a large garbage can containing a yellow-brown gooey substance…..Yet another picture shows a large machine with a metallic tube coming from the top and another tube from the side. Both tubes display the words “lead exhaust.” A smaller sign on the front of the machine says “toxic” next to what appears to be a small skull and crossbones. A large structure outside the facility has the words “Argon Refrigerated Liquid” on its side….Court filings from the landlord also describe a high temperature oven assembly that is connected to an outside collection system, all of which are contaminated with lead.

Ingraffea says one of the big problems with that nasty natural gas production is that produced water from a well is not treated the same way as flowback water.  Once a well is deemed to be in production the water/brine coming out of the well is reclassified as produced water. Well, thank goodness for solar energy, then.  We won’t have to worry about any heavy metals or pollution of that nature, will we?  Uh oh…..

Solar Panel Production Generates High Levels of Pollution.  Everybody loves solar, the shiny superstar of renewable energy. But scratch the surface of the manufacturing process and the green sheen disappears. Vast amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce and transport panels (emphasis added). Solar cells contain toxic materials. Some components can’t be easily recycled……That has some environmentalists worried about a new tidal wave of hazardous waste headed for the nation’s landfills when panels eventually wear out. A report to be released today by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition warns that the industry and lawmakers need to set policies now to ensure that a clean technology doesn’t leave a dirty legacy.  “You can’t just call your product green and close your eyes to what’s happening in the supply chain,” said Sheila Davis, executive director of the San Jose nonprofit group that pushes for green practices in the technology sector. “The solar energy industry is running into some of the same problems . .. we’ve seen in the electronics industry,” whose waste is polluting U.S. landfills and contaminating groundwater with harmful substances such as mercury and chromium, Davis said.

Given the potential number of gas wells, the likelihood of surface spills will certainly increase.  Ingraffea employs this reality to continually remind us the risks with natural gas production are just too great, but we must decide. Oh yes, the benefits of renewable energies are just mounting.  Well, hold the presses once again.  Storage Tank at Solar Power Plant in Desert Explodes; Immediate Area Is Evacuated

February 27, 1999| Associated Press   

DAGGETT, Calif. — A storage tank exploded at a solar power plant Friday, sending flames and billows of smoke into the sky for hours and forcing authorities to evacuate the immediate area.

The fire, which broke out about 6 p.m., was still burning four hours later at the SEGS II power plant near Interstate 40 about seven miles east of Barstow, said San Bernardino County Fire Battalion Chief David McLees.

Firefighters “tried to put water on it and said it was like putting out a house fire with a garden hose,” he said.

The 900,000-gallon tank was holding a heat-transfer fluid called therminol, McLees said. Therminol is a hydraulic fluid that is heated to about 850 degrees and run through pipes to solar panels to help generate electricity, McLees said.

The fluid can be mildly toxic. Authorities were also trying to keep flames from leaping to two adjacent containers that held sulfuric acid and caustic soda, both toxic substances, he said.

An unspecified number of employees at the plant were evacuated. All known employees were accounted for, he said.

The cause of the blast was not known, McLees said.

Police and fire officials evacuated a half-square-mile area around the facility, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Sue Santana.

But solar is free and sustainable, isn’t it?  Nope.

Goodnight Sunshine

Germany is cutting solar-power subsidies because they are expensive and inefficient.

By Bjorn Lomborg|Posted Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, at 7:30 AM ET

Germany once prided itself on being the “photovoltaic world champion”, doling out generous subsidies totaling more than $130 billion, according to research from Germany’s Ruhr University to citizens to invest in solar energy. But now the German government is vowing to cut the subsidies sooner than planned and to phase out support over the next five years.

What went wrong?

Subsidizing green technology is affordable only if it is done in tiny, tokenistic amounts.

Using the government’s generous subsidies, Germans installed 7.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity last year, more than double what the government had deemed ?acceptable. It is estimated that this increase alone will lead to a $260 hike in the average consumer’s annual power bill.

According to Der Spiegel, even members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staff are now describing the policy as a massive money pit. Philipp Rosler, Germany’s minister of economics and technology, has called the spiraling solar subsidies a “threat to the economy.”

Germany’s enthusiasm for solar power is understandable. We could satisfy all of the world’s energy needs for an entire year if we could capture just one hour of the sun’s energy. Even with the inefficiency of current PV technology, we could meet the entire globe’s energy demand with solar panels by covering 250,000 square kilometers (155,342 square miles), about 2.6 percent of the Sahara Desert.

Unfortunately, Germany like most of the world is not as sunny as the Sahara. And, while sunlight is free, panels and installation are not. Solar power is at least four times more costly than energy produced by fossil fuels. It also has the distinct disadvantage of not working at night, when much electricity is consumed.

In the words of the German Association of Physicists, “solar energy cannot replace any additional power plants.” On short, overcast winter days, Germany’s 1.1 million solar-power systems can generate no electricity at all. The country is then forced to import considerable amounts of electricity from nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic.

So, now I’m just confused.  Maybe if we just rub our hands together?  We’ll just have to see what those Cornell professors tell us is best.

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