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Page added on November 25, 2013

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Peak Oil: Using Energy To Get Energy # 4


One of the key deficiencies of ‘unconventional’ fuels is their low energy return on investment relative to conventional fuels. Many analysts have ignored this factor because investment decisions are made on the basis of the financial, not energy, return on investment. But a growing literature suggests that the two are intimately related….
ROI cannot escape EROI forever. The magic of credit, government subsidies and creative accounting can forestall the recognition of ROI for awhile, but eventually the true cost of producing energy, both in dollar and energetic terms, becomes a limit on production. As ROI converges with EROI and the profit picture worsens, investors start bailing out and production falls. [1]

‘Drill, baby, drill’ has become a slogan of those who want to produce more oil and gas and who scoff at alternatives to petroleum. But rarely mentioned is the expense required to get that oil and gas—and still more rarely mentioned is the energy required to access those resources. [2]


Lost in the shuffle about the crucial limitations of the impressive technological advances allowing us to increase production is the amount of other vital natural resources required. Water, for instance.

It’s well known that water has been key to the shale oil and gas rush in the United States. But in one center of the hydraulic fracturing boom—North Dakota—authorities are finding that the initial blast of water to frack the wells is only the beginning.
The wells being drilled into the prairie to tap into the Bakken shale need ‘maintenance water’—lots of it—to keep the oil flowing….
So while the water first pumped down the hole to crack rock formations and release the underground oil and natural gas typically totals 2 million gallons (7.5 million liters) per well, each of North Dakota’s wells is daily drinking down an average of more than 600 gallons (2,300 liters) in maintenance water, according to recent calculations by North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR)…. Without water, salt buildup forms and restricts the flow of oil.
Over the life of the well, which authorities presume will be 30 to 40 years, maintenance water needs could add up to 6.6 million to 8.8 million gallons (25 to 33.3 million liters)—or more than three to four times the water required for the initial fracking. [3]

More than 90% of the water used in the Marcellus [Shale formation in Pennsylvania] is permanently lost from the water cycle….
Fracking is different. A significant proportion of the water used to make fracking fluid remains deep underground, never emerging from the well. And much of the used fracking fluid that does come out of the well (aka wastewater or flowback) is re-injected underground into waste disposal wells, designed to sequester the wastewater forever. All in all, the report [referenced in the original article] showed that 92% of all water used in West Virginia was lost, while 94% was lost in Pennsylvania. [4]

So while fossil fuel industry cheerleaders continue their efforts to assure us that all is well with our energy supplies, among the many facts they tend to ignore is that water usage [water, as in the stuff we all drink, consume, use in countless ways each and every day, need in order to live … if any of that matters] is a significant resource requirement in the hydraulic fracturing process directly responsible for recent production increases.

As Patrick Kiger also noted in the article referenced above (links provided in original paragraph):

The implications for water demand are significant in a state that gets less than 13 inches of rainfall in its driest areas, and ranks among the bottom 10 states for precipitation. In 2012, the Bakken oil industry used about 5.5 billion gallons (209 billion liters) of water—more than the amount used by the 110,000 inhabitants of Fargo, the state’s biggest city. When the Bakken is fully developed in the next 10 to 20 years, the oil and gas play’s 40,000 to 45,000 wells may need to consume roughly double that amount—as much as 10.2 billion gallons per year (28 million gallons each day)-in maintenance water to keep the oil flowing, according to a July 2013 DMR presentation to the North Dakota legislature.


At what point does that real problem become an acknowledged one? Citizens unaware of these and related concerns, blissful in their certainty that there’s nothing to worry about—as motivated by the self-serving and short-term interests of the fossil fuel industry—will in the not-too-distant future be confronted by realities which cannot be easily or quickly rectified, if at all. What happens then?

Sooner rather than later, a concerted insistence that all facts—inconvenient and unpleasant ones as well as the cherry-picked—must become the operative norm. If the slow financial bleeding of ever-rising prices needed to sustain the production increases doesn’t cause enough long-term harm on its own, the combined resource depletion and failure to begin more concerted efforts to transition away from fossil fuel dependency will do the trick

That’s not exactly comforting. Basing an energy supply future on a fact-free “all will be well” strategy will prove to be an empty and short-lived solution. Blind Faith is still and always a better rock band than strategy.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Peak Oil Matters

3 Comments on "Peak Oil: Using Energy To Get Energy # 4"

  1. J-Gav on Mon, 25th Nov 2013 11:54 pm 

    Seems we can count on Turcotte to deliver a well-deserved blow to the “turkeys” out there now and then. Don’t overlook the reminder here that ROI and EROI eventually link up. Well done.

  2. BillT on Tue, 26th Nov 2013 1:21 am 

    Great article! Bot that those who need to see and understand it will read it or believe it. It’s hard to break the addiction to something-for-nothing that is ingrained in the West.

  3. BillT on Tue, 26th Nov 2013 1:23 am 

    “Great article! NOT that those …”

    Too early! I need another cup of coffee. ^_^

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