Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

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Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Vaniver » Fri Oct 14, 2011 9:30 pm UTC

From the Matt Ridley, author of the Rational Optimist.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Jahoclave » Fri Oct 14, 2011 10:13 pm UTC

I just love how he glosses over environmental concerns with a nearly purely pathos based message.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Oct 14, 2011 10:15 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:I just love how he glosses over environmental concerns with a nearly purely pathos based message.

I'm not sure if this was shale gas in particular, but wasn't there some thing about how mining for it involved essentially releasing large amounts of gas trapped within rocks which would then contaminate ground water?

EDIT: as usual, I was right. Shale gas mining releases significant amounts of methane into surrounding water.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby i » Sat Oct 15, 2011 2:22 am UTC

It is an established fact that methane in tap water is found in greater concentrations in areas that have been fracked. In 2011, a much-publicized Duke University study found that, on average, levels were 17 times higher in private wells within 1,000 yards of a drilling site. But while an attention-grabbing headline implies a causal relationship, the only thing we know for sure is that this correlation is exactly what we expect to find. In areas where there is natural gas, (a) it's going to be found in wells, and (b) energy companies are going to come there to drill. The study noted that no data exists of methane levels in the water before the mines existed, and so no reason to suspect that mining or fracking had any impact on the levels. The researchers found that 13% of the wells had amounts of methane that exceeded "action levels", meaning that the wells should be vented to remove the methane.

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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Tirian » Sat Oct 15, 2011 2:42 am UTC

So the ground water the community has been drinking from for generations has been an explosion hazard the whole time and it's only coincidence when it happens after a fracking operation increases the pressure on nearby shale for the express purpose of releasing hydrocarbons? That's an extraordinary claim.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby i » Sat Oct 15, 2011 2:51 am UTC

, meaning that the wells should be vented to remove the methane.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Obby » Sat Oct 15, 2011 2:59 am UTC

Tirian wrote:So the ground water the community has been drinking from for generations has been an explosion hazard the whole time and it's only coincidence when it happens after a fracking operation increases the pressure on nearby shale for the express purpose of releasing hydrocarbons? That's an extraordinary claim.

Well, when you can light your tap on fire when you turn it on, something isn't working the way it should be.

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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby kiklion » Sat Oct 15, 2011 3:11 am UTC

"Those flaming taps in the film “Gasland” were literally nothing to do with shale gas drilling and the film maker knew it before he wrote the script. "
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby sourmìlk » Sat Oct 15, 2011 4:43 am UTC

Tirian wrote:So the ground water the community has been drinking from for generations has been an explosion hazard the whole time and it's only coincidence when it happens after a fracking operation increases the pressure on nearby shale for the express purpose of releasing hydrocarbons? That's an extraordinary claim.

And that, not only that, but there are no sources of natural gas that haven't been shaled, which is why he don't see high methane levels in water near unshaled natural gas deposits?
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Cleverbeans » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:26 am UTC

Riddled with straw men, it's entirely ignore the primary objections to gas is that it's already a significant portion of global emissions despite being a "cleaner" fuel, and methane is a green house gas much worse than CO2 already. Beyond that, I know he's worried about the birds, but maybe he should consider the number of human deaths, it's much more illuminating.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:46 am UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:Riddled with straw men, it's entirely ignore the primary objections to gas is that it's already a significant portion of global emissions despite being a "cleaner" fuel, and methane is a green house gas much worse than CO2 already.
Er... correct me if I'm wrong, but methane doesn't contribute to global emissions when you burn it; in fact, doesn't it burn remarkably clean? CO2 is a byproduct; methane is a fuel.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Radical_Initiator » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:49 am UTC

I'm not sure exactly what you meant here. A very cursory Google search turns up http://www.climatechangeconnection.org/ ... alents.htm, which suggests methane has 20+ times the global warming potential of CO2. Take it for what it's worth, though.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:55 am UTC

Radical_Initiator wrote:I'm not sure exactly what you meant here. A very cursory Google search turns up http://www.climatechangeconnection.org/ ... alents.htm, which suggests methane has 20+ times the global warming potential of CO2. Take it for what it's worth, though.
I'm not familiar with chemistry, fossil fuels, or natural gases, but, as I understand it, you burn methane--which turns it into something else (which may or may not be a greenhouse gas). You don't burn CO2; CO2 is a product of burning petroleum, and contributes to greenhouse gas.

If I'm remembering correctly, using methane as a fuel source--and using it correctly--means it's not going to be a significant contributor (except in cases of spills and faulty storage).
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Radical_Initiator » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:59 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Radical_Initiator wrote:I'm not sure exactly what you meant here. A very cursory Google search turns up http://www.climatechangeconnection.org/ ... alents.htm, which suggests methane has 20+ times the global warming potential of CO2. Take it for what it's worth, though.
I'm not familiar with chemistry, fossil fuels, or natural gases, but, as I understand it, you burn methane--which turns it into something else (which may or may not be a greenhouse gas). You don't burn CO2; CO2 is a product of burning petroleum, and contributes to greenhouse gas.

If I'm remembering correctly, using methane as a fuel source--and using it correctly--means it's not going to be a significant contributor (except in cases of spills and faulty storage).


Yep. You burn methane - in pure combustion, it should produce CO2 and water (CH4:CO2 should be 1:1, if my stoichiometry is right). But if you don't use or store it correctly, as you surmise, it appears to have potential for warming all its own. Now, whether the quantities released mean that it has the potential for warming anywhere close to other gases, I'm not sure. (For instance, CF4, in terms of this "global warming potential", is said to be several thousand times more potent than CO2 in radiative forcing, but the quantities produced are so insignificant, it has a very minor impact.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby yurell » Sat Oct 15, 2011 6:03 am UTC

Methane from agriculture is huge, and probably dwarfs that produced from other industries (although I have no figures to support this).
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Hawknc » Sat Oct 15, 2011 6:57 am UTC

15% of Australia's total emissions are from "agriculture", an umbrella term that primarily means methane from livestock. For reference, that is more than every car, truck, train and plane combined emits across the entire country. When someone says that you can reduce climate change by eating less meat, that's why.

Shale gas sounds very similar to coal seam gas, which is getting some media attention here not only due to environmental factors, but also because landowners have no right to refuse gas companies who want to build extractors on their property. It seems like there is an absence of any conclusive evidence either way for the environmental impact of CSG, but that strikes me as a pretty good reason not to go ahead with it until it's better understood.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Minerva » Sat Oct 15, 2011 10:49 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Cleverbeans wrote:Riddled with straw men, it's entirely ignore the primary objections to gas is that it's already a significant portion of global emissions despite being a "cleaner" fuel, and methane is a green house gas much worse than CO2 already.
Er... correct me if I'm wrong, but methane doesn't contribute to global emissions when you burn it; in fact, doesn't it burn remarkably clean? CO2 is a byproduct; methane is a fuel.


When you drill and extract and process and pipe natural gas (i.e. methane) some of that methane gets released out into the atmosphere before it gets to the end use where it is burned. And methane has a radiative forcing potential which is about 44 times that of carbon dioxide, gram for gram. So when you look at the whole-of-life-cycle analysis of natural gas use, you've got to look at the greenhouse gas contribution from that methane, as well as from the carbon dioxide that you get when you burn it.

Natural gas has been an extremely well "greenwashed" energy source. It's sold as being the clean, green, alternative to coal - but "hey, at least it's not quite as bad as coal" is not good enough. As well as being very bad for the environment, it's also an extremely dangerous energy source - people get killed all the time by natural gas.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sat Oct 15, 2011 11:04 am UTC

Hawknc wrote:15% of Australia's total emissions are from "agriculture", an umbrella term that primarily means methane from livestock. For reference, that is more than every car, truck, train and plane combined emits across the entire country. When someone says that you can reduce climate change by eating less meat, that's why.


I'll always remember how my mother laughed out loud and out of hand at the idea that cows are bad for the environment. She's still not convinced.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby yurell » Sat Oct 15, 2011 11:08 am UTC

Preconceived notions are clearly superior to evidence painstakingly collected over decades.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Soralin » Sat Oct 15, 2011 11:26 am UTC

Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas, but there isn't as much of a worry about it, because it only has a lifetime of 10 years or so in our atmosphere, it ends up getting broken down into CO2 and water. So while it would provide an increase greenhouse effect, it would be a relatively temporary one, and it wouldn't be able to accumulate over long periods of time.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Izawwlgood » Sat Oct 15, 2011 2:34 pm UTC

And CO2 is perfectly benign in our atmosphere.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Vaniver » Sat Oct 15, 2011 3:43 pm UTC

I'm aware that natural gas is deadlier than nuclear and more environmentally unfriendly than nuclear (unsurprisingly, nuclear is my favorite). Price contains a lot of information, though, that those comparisons lack. (Price will be more informative when it includes that information.) There's some tradeoff between cheapness and safety beyond which cheapness is better than safety, and it's also important to know price trends just for general prediction purposes.

I am also far more worried about the more certain deaths caused by, say, soot pollution than the possible effects of global warming for several reasons. Something which might displace coal in the near-term is something to be celebrated.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Oct 15, 2011 8:57 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:
Hawknc wrote:15% of Australia's total emissions are from "agriculture", an umbrella term that primarily means methane from livestock. For reference, that is more than every car, truck, train and plane combined emits across the entire country. When someone says that you can reduce climate change by eating less meat, that's why.


I'll always remember how my mother laughed out loud and out of hand at the idea that cows are bad for the environment. She's still not convinced.


Beef requires something like 47 pounds of feed per pound of beef. While much of that feed is waste material from making food for humans (e.g., the straw from wheat), a large portion of that isn't. Reducing beef consumption, or eating more 'efficient' animals like turkeys, reduces the amount of land needed to grow the food, the amount of fuel needed to run the tractors, the gas needed for Bosch-Haber and fertilizers, fuel for transportation, and so forth. I think something said that NY (state) could maximize food production if people consumed only 2 oz of meat a day, rather than the average 12 oz.

So even if you think the danger of cow farts is bull shit, there are other reasons to be concerned.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby sourmìlk » Sat Oct 15, 2011 9:22 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:So even if you think the danger of cow farts is bull shit

This was intentional, right?
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Oct 15, 2011 9:32 pm UTC

Yeah.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sat Oct 15, 2011 9:41 pm UTC

Soralin wrote:Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas, but there isn't as much of a worry about it, because it only has a lifetime of 10 years or so in our atmosphere, it ends up getting broken down into CO2 and water. So while it would provide an increase greenhouse effect, it would be a relatively temporary one, and it wouldn't be able to accumulate over long periods of time.

When people say methane is 23 times as powerful as CO2, it's amortized over 100 years. So it may leave the atmosphere quickly, but it does a lot of damage in that short time.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby . . » Sat Oct 15, 2011 10:04 pm UTC

I am from Nova Scotia, where there is a lot of shale gas.

People REALLY don't like hydraulic fracturing (usually called "fracking" here because of the homonym) and I have seen first hand the splits it puts in communities, both literal and metaphorical.

He calls himself the rational optimist and then he says hydroelectric dams are "hugely more damaging to the environment" than hydraulic fracturing because they interrupt fish migrations. This article honestly reads like he is being paid by energy companies. He sets up wind, which admittedly has its problems, as a straw man to make hydraulic fracturing look better than it really is.

Notice how he also says hydraulic fracturing is okay because it is "99.86% water and sand, the rest being a dilute solution of a few chemicals of the kind you find beneath your kitchen sink." However, he fails to even call attention to the absolutely obscenely high amount of water that is used in fracking - millions of litres per well. That's thousands of litres of toxic chemicals (the stuff under the sink - you know the stuff with the skull and crossbones) being pumped into aquifiers.

I realize I am biased on this too, but this is NOT a piece of balanced writing at all.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby buddy431 » Sat Oct 15, 2011 10:39 pm UTC

Minerva wrote:Natural gas has been an extremely well "greenwashed" energy source. It's sold as being the clean, green, alternative to coal - but "hey, at least it's not quite as bad as coal" is not good enough. As well as being very bad for the environment, it's also an extremely dangerous energy source - people get killed all the time by natural gas.


vaniver wrote:I am also far more worried about the more certain deaths caused by, say, soot pollution than the possible effects of global warming for several reasons. Something which might displace coal in the near-term is something to be celebrated.


Vaniver's right here - when looking at expanding other sources of energy, it makes sense not to compare them to the best possible way of generating energy, but the way that will be replaced by the new source. And right now, for generating electricity, that's coal (at least where I am, and for much of the world). Anything that's better than coal is worth developing, because coal is still the source of an absurd amount of electricity production, and results in lots of nasty stuff beyond the greenhouse gas (soot pollution, NOx and SOx, though those have gotten better with filtering, environmental degradation from mining, etc.).

That's not to say that fracking doesn't have problems beyond it being used to obtain a fuel that causes greenhouse gasses - there certainly are concerns with methane in the water table, and all that. But honestly, the bar here is pretty much "don't rip the top off a mountain and make the local water too toxic for fish to live in".
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby yurell » Sat Oct 15, 2011 10:56 pm UTC

I know Melbourne / Victoria uses mostly coal for base load (since they take so long to heat up), and gas-fired when they need more electricity (since they start up very quickly).
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby qmar » Sun Oct 16, 2011 1:54 am UTC

Dear World:

Shortening Fracturing to "Fracking" is not correct, (is there a K in Fracturing?) if anyone does this it is a sign that they have no idea what they are talking about.

"Frac" or "Fracing" is the term used in industry.

As for the article, that guy should essentially be ignored. Yes a gas well has a smaller footprint than other types of energy producers but stopping development of other technologies just because we have 250 years of gas left is stupid. The entire planet cannot change energy sources overnight.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Tirian » Sun Oct 16, 2011 2:25 am UTC

qmar wrote:Dear World:

Shortening Fracturing to "Fracking" is not correct, (is there a K in Fracturing?) if anyone does this it is a sign that they have no idea what they are talking about.

"Frac" or "Fracing" is the term used in industry.


Get off that horse before you hurt yourself. Anyone who doesn't spend their life in the field would pronounce "fracing" with a soft c. So the word is very sensibly modified to make it clear that it should have the hard c that is in "fracturing".
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Soralin » Sun Oct 16, 2011 2:58 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:And CO2 is perfectly benign in our atmosphere.

Well there is that, but it ends up being the same as if it was burnt in the first place, with just a shorter-term effect in front of that.

Bubbles McCoy wrote:When people say methane is 23 times as powerful as CO2, it's amortized over 100 years. So it may leave the atmosphere quickly, but it does a lot of damage in that short time.

How are you amortizing it over 100 years, if it doesn't last for 100 years? It's not really something that can be directly compared, it's more intense, but shorter term. If you released a huge burst of methane that increased temperatures, then 10 years later (or however long it takes, not sure if that number is supposed to be a half-life or mean life or something), everything would be relatively back to normal (except for the extra CO2 that had been released, and anything negative that happened during that time).

Temperature itself isn't something that has long-term effects on future temperatures. I mean, if you raised the temperature of the entire planet by 5 degrees, but made no other changes, it wouldn't take long at all for the temperature to go back to normal, the Earth is constantly expelling tons of heat into space, and receiving tons of it from the sun. Greenhouse gasses just cause long term problems because they alter the amounts going in and out, and with CO2, stick around and accumulate over long periods of time.

Although I'd say we're better off just going into mass-production of fission plants.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Radical_Initiator » Sun Oct 16, 2011 4:23 am UTC

Soralin wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:And CO2 is perfectly benign in our atmosphere.

Well there is that, but it ends up being the same as if it was burnt in the first place, with just a shorter-term effect in front of that.

Bubbles McCoy wrote:When people say methane is 23 times as powerful as CO2, it's amortized over 100 years. So it may leave the atmosphere quickly, but it does a lot of damage in that short time.

How are you amortizing it over 100 years, if it doesn't last for 100 years? It's not really something that can be directly compared, it's more intense, but shorter term. If you released a huge burst of methane that increased temperatures, then 10 years later (or however long it takes, not sure if that number is supposed to be a half-life or mean life or something), everything would be relatively back to normal (except for the extra CO2 that had been released, and anything negative that happened during that time).

Temperature itself isn't something that has long-term effects on future temperatures. I mean, if you raised the temperature of the entire planet by 5 degrees, but made no other changes, it wouldn't take long at all for the temperature to go back to normal, the Earth is constantly expelling tons of heat into space, and receiving tons of it from the sun. Greenhouse gasses just cause long term problems because they alter the amounts going in and out, and with CO2, stick around and accumulate over long periods of time.

Although I'd say we're better off just going into mass-production of fission plants.


Does that suggest that methane is not as big a problem as some think it is, or moreso? I may be reading it wrong, but wouldn't amortizing a small lifetime over a 100-year interval (which, IIRC, is chosen just so that all compounds with warming potential are compared on a similar basis) actually say that methane is much more potent over that small interval? Also, the assumption I've always heard is that the time scale over which we make changes that increase the planet's temperature would take much longer than that time scale to return to normal. Maybe not a long time in planetary timescales, but quite long in human timescales. Such as, if we spend 10 years raising the temperature, it will take the planet 100 years to return. While that's less than the blink of an eye in Earth's history, it is clearly more than enough time to screw up our civilizations.

I'm definitely not a climate scientist, though. That's just the impression I always got.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Soralin » Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:08 pm UTC

Radical_Initiator wrote:Does that suggest that methane is not as big a problem as some think it is, or moreso? I may be reading it wrong, but wouldn't amortizing a small lifetime over a 100-year interval (which, IIRC, is chosen just so that all compounds with warming potential are compared on a similar basis) actually say that methane is much more potent over that small interval? Also, the assumption I've always heard is that the time scale over which we make changes that increase the planet's temperature would take much longer than that time scale to return to normal. Maybe not a long time in planetary timescales, but quite long in human timescales. Such as, if we spend 10 years raising the temperature, it will take the planet 100 years to return. While that's less than the blink of an eye in Earth's history, it is clearly more than enough time to screw up our civilizations.

I'm definitely not a climate scientist, though. That's just the impression I always got.

More so short-term, less so long-term. Basically, if it all decays in about 10 years, then you only really have to worry about the last 10 years of release. If the amount released in the last 10 years amounts to a 0.1 degree increase in temperatures, then maintaining that output over the next 100 years will only serve to maintain that 0.1 degree temperature difference from the initial state. (aside from the extra CO2 that it decays into)

It's not the temperature itself that's a problem, I mean, look at night, temperatures can drop by 20 degrees in less than a day, and that's just due to heat radiating away into space. For the temperatures on Earth to remain mostly the same, then the amount of heat coming in, must equal the amount of heat that's radiated away. So, with all the energy from the sun that reaches the Earth, the Earth is radiating back out an equal amount into space. And the amount of heat that's radiated is proportional to T4, the temperature of the object (in kelvin), to the 4th power, so small changes in temperature can change the amount of heat radiated by quite a bit. If the temperature of the planet were just hotter than normal for no reason, it wouldn't take too long for things to settle back down into equilibrium.

The problem with greenhouse gasses is that they change the equilibrium point. If the amount of energy coming in stays the same, and the amount of energy going out is less (because, for example, it's being absorbed by the atmosphere, and a portion re-radiated back toward the Earth), then the temperature of the planet increases, since more energy is coming in than is going out. And, if the temperature increases, the amount of energy which is being radiated away increases, until the temperature increases to the point where the energy coming in, and the energy going out are once again equal, at a new equilibrium with a slightly higher temperature.

And the problem with digging up carbon and turning it into CO2, is that the stuff sticks around for quite a while. So it ends up accumulating over long periods of time, and slowly notching up the equilibrium point (and keeping it up, even if we stopped producing it, because it's all still there, and doesn't go away so easily). It's hard to turn it back into solid carbon and stick it in the ground again, that takes energy, the same amount of energy that we got from converting it in the first place (if we had 100% efficiency, more otherwise). Plants can do a good job as self-replicating solar cells for this task, but they're only converting CO2 into solid carbon when they're making more of themselves (either quantity, or growing bigger), they don't do much of that just sitting in a steady state, and any wood that decays rather than getting buried or such, is just going to end up as CO2 again.
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Heisenberg » Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:46 pm UTC

. . wrote:Notice how he also says hydraulic fracturing is okay because it is "99.86% water and sand, the rest being a dilute solution of a few chemicals of the kind you find beneath your kitchen sink."

Yeah, this is a common argument from supporters. "But your honor, the whiskey I gave him was only 1% arsenic!"
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Re: Shale Gas: Cheap Energy for Decades to Come

Postby Minerva » Wed Oct 19, 2011 11:33 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:the gas needed for Bosch-Haber and fertilizers


It's a bit of a myth that the use of petroleum or fossil fuels are required for Bosch-Haber synthesis and fertilizers. It's not true.

Hydrogen is required, and the cheapest, easiest way to get hydrogen is usually to get it as a byproduct of the industrial organic chemistry that starts from natural gas. But there is no real fundamental dependence on using fossil fuels. If there were no fossil fuels, water plus a bit of thermal or electrical energy from nuclear reactors would do the job perfectly well.
...suffer from the computer disease that anybody who works with computers now knows about. It's a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so wonderful. - Richard Feynman
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