✓ In-depth, data-driven pieces every other week.
✓ Shorter posts more frequently that give updates on shale gas and oil, and put them in the larger context of energy markets, for a total of at least one post each week.
✓ Back me during July, and your pledge will get doubled, with matching funds from donors. (So I’ll get much more backing if you sign up for a 3- or 6-month subscription.)
✓ Access to every story, by every writer on Beacon.
We’re supposed to be in the midst of a shale revolution, according to the petroleum industry, energy pundits, and the federal government.
But to me, it’s not a revolution. It’s a last-ditch effort to scrape the bottom of the barrel. It’s clinging to old energy sources, rather than making a transition to renewable energy.
This boom has been incredibly hyped, being “hailed as a solution to nearly every energy issue,” as I wrote in a recent book review in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Abundant natural gas could fuel our cars instead of oil, reindustrialize our nation with new steel and plastics factories, and replace coal, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We could export the gas and oil to make more money, create jobs and boost the economy. We could cut reliance on the Middle East. We could use exports to punish Russia, while helping our allies in Europe and Asia. We could achieve the Holy Grail of energy independence.
Or so shale boosters say.
To understand what’s at stake, we have to ask a crucial question—one journalists have largely avoided:
Back me, and I’ll get past the hype around shale by delving deeply into the data to get a better idea of the potential in shale gas and oil.
I’ll draw on my experience covering climate and energy for the past several years, for outlets including Scientific American and National Geographic News, Science and the San Francisco Chronicle. Also, I got my bachelor’s in physics and worked in the biotech industry, so number crunching and big data sets are second nature for me.
On Beacon, I’ll post at least once a week, using data sets I’ve assembled to provide hard facts. Help me do the in-depth reporting required to get the stories on shale that others aren’t telling.
A recent article I wrote for Scientific American, “It’s Frack, Baby, Frack, as Conventional Gas Drilling Declines,” is just a taste of what I’ll post on Beacon.
I’ll delve into raw data on fracked oil and gas wells that I’ve gathered from state and federal databases (like the more than 10,000 webpages I scraped to assemble monthly oil production stats for every well in North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil formation).
I’ll use this kind of data to make maps—like the one below of thousands of oil wells in North Dakota’s Bakken formation, the blue lines showing the horizontal portion of each well:
I’ll also make graphs, like this one of U.S. natural gas production that shows shale gas is now half of all the gas the nation produces:
And I’ll keep digging through technical appendices to uncover the basis for the government’s forecasts.
Even serious science publications aren’t delving into the data much. A recent 12-page special news section in Science, the nation’s top scientific journal, hailed the “Gas Revolution.” But on the outlook for supplies, it simply showed a government forecast that shale gas production would soar for decades to come, and said this:
Analysts continue to debate just how much shale gas is really out there—and how quickly the current boom could turn bust. For the moment, any downturn seems distant…. One thing is clear: The shale gas revolution is still in its infancy, with plenty of growing pains ahead.
It was a strange way of putting it. Essentially: “There’s debate, but we know the answer: There’s plenty, don’t worry.”
The rise of shale has led some—like a recent editorial in the Financial Times—to declare the “death of peak oil.”
It reminds me of that Mark Twain line:
These are fossil fuels we’re talking about, after all. There are limits, and I’ll dig into data to get a better idea of what these limits are.
I’ll lay out the assumptions underlying forecasts for various shale plays, including the area covered, the spacing between wells, the estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) per well, and more.
Some questions I’m planning to tackle include:
✓ Some shale regions, including Texas’s Barnett and Louisiana’s Haynesville, have seen significant declines in production. The EIA forecasts these will both see significant revivals—but how likely is this?
✓ In North Dakota’s Bakken shale, companies are trying to pack wells in much tighter, running pilot projects for “downspacing.” How are those wells performing?
✓ How does the U.S. Energy Information Administration generate its resource estimates and forecasts for shale gas and shale oil? Have they built in optimistic assumptions?
Thanks for your support.
Geert De Cock
Paulina Concha Larrauri
Charles H Smith
Ryan Stewart McWilliams
Jonathan Adrian Siegel
Hello Frack Lab backers,
The Frack Lab has nearly reached its funding goal, now at 89% with nine days to go in the campaign—thanks to the support from you and the other 54 backers. I couldn’t do it without you!
If you know of others who might be interested in subscribing to this project, please forward on a message to them—and help me reach the funding goal.
Assuming the project reaches the goal—and I’m confident it will—I’ll start posting articles in August, and you’ll get an email each time a new article is available, about once a week.
Hello Frack Lab backers,
The Frack Lab has gotten off to a great start, passing 40% of the goal during the first week. I truly appreciate all the support and kind words.
But my project still needs many more supporters!
To continue the campaign’s momentum, it would help me so much if you could share the page with others who might be interested—friends, colleagues, and more. A little help goes a long way and the more you share, the more people can find out about The Frack Lab.
Here’s the link: http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/the-frack-lab
I’ll be in touch throughout this month and I can’t wait to share my work with you!
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