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Page added on February 4, 2018

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Peak Fracking


What the Frack?

a short term, toxic bubble

  • fracking is a toxic, desperate effort to maintain natural gas and petroleum supplies. Conventional oil peaked in the USA in 1970 and conventional natural gas peaked in 1973. Fracking has not raised domestic oil production above this level, although the conventional natural gas peak has been surpassed, temporarily.
  • fracking cannot provide “100 years” of natural gas for the US, even if environmental and public health concerns are ignored. Fracked wells deplete faster than conventional wells and take more technical expertise, money and energy to drill.
  • the consequence for banning fracking would be an immediate reduction or end of burning natural gas for electricity and the start of gasoline rationing. This is why environmental objections to fracking have not been successful.

The toxic impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas have been subject to public debates, protests, lawsuits, among other tactics to stop these dangers. But the other half of the fracking story, which has had much less attention, is the exaggeration of recoverable reserves.

The fracking industry claims shale gas will fuel 100 years worth of USA consumption of “natural” gas. Massive amounts of drilling in the past several years have increased gas production above the 1973 natural gas peak. Gas has significantly increased its share of the electric power grids, lowering coal combustion and helping damper plans for new nuclear reactors.

One of fracking’s dirty secrets is fracked wells decline far faster than conventional wells. Fracking a well also requires more money, technical talent and resources than conventional wells.

Two of the three top gas fracking regions in the USA have peaked. Barnett Shale near Fort Worth, Texas has peaked and plateaued. Haynesville in Louisiana and Arkansas has peaked and declined sharply. The largest fracking region — Marcellus in Pennsylvania — has not yet peaked and provides nearly a fifth of all USA natural gas. Nationally, about forty percent of natural gas is from fracking.

Fracking for oil has reversed the decline of USA oil extraction since the 1970 peak. The Bakken shale in North Dakota has fueled wild claims of alleged energy independence and even proposals to export oil to Asia. However, Bakken has not even offset the decline of the Alaska Pipeline, which has dropped three fourths from its 1988 peak and is approaching “low flow” shutdown. Fracking in south Texas has also raised Texan oil production but the state’s peak was still back in 1972 — a reason huge efforts have been made for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Post Carbon Institute has published reports documenting how fracking estimates have been exaggerated. They were vindicated in May of this year when the Department of Energy admitted plans for oil fracking in the Monterey Shale in California had been exaggerated and downsized the estimated resource by ninety-six percent (96%). Post Carbon’s website has details.

We are in a paradox at this time of Peak Everything and Climate Chaos. If we keep burning fossil fuels we will continue to wreck the biosphere, but if we suddenly stopped that would wreck civilization, which could accelerate ecological destruction (how many forests would be burned for electricity, for example).  Fossil fuels allowed our population to zoom from under a billion to over seven billion today.

Fracking, deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and tar sands extraction in Canada have delayed gasoline rationing. We are in the eye of the energy crisis hurricane, perhaps for a few more years.

The Limits to Growth study in 1972 predicted peak resources around the turn of the century, followed by peak pollution as dirtier resources were used as higher quality resources were depleted. Fracking, tar sands, mountaintop removal and other desperate destructions seek to maintain the exponential growth economy now that the easier to extract fossil fuels are in decline.

Using solar energy for two decades taught me that renewable energy could only run a smaller, steady state economy. Our exponential growth economy requires ever increasing consumption of concentrated resources (fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables). A solar energy society would require moving beyond growth-and-debt based money.

After fossil fuel we will only have solar power, but that won’t replace what we use now. We need to abandon the myth of endless growth on a round, and therefore, finite planet to have a planet on which to live.

Humanity does not face the question of whether to use less fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, since we have reached the limits to energy growth due to geological factors. How we use the remaining fossil fuels as they deplete determines how future generations will live after the fossil fuels are gone. Will we use the second half of the fossil fuels for bigger highways or better trains? Relocalization of food production or more globalization? Resource wars or global cooperation?

Mark Robinowitz is author of “Peak Choice: cooperation or collapse” at

peak choice

19 Comments on "Peak Fracking"

  1. coffeeguyzz on Sun, 4th Feb 2018 3:52 pm 

    I believe this article (dated when?) sets a record for the highest number of inaccuracies in a single post that I have ever read.

  2. Anonymous on Sun, 4th Feb 2018 6:49 pm 

    Look out, here we come. Houston oilers, number 1!

  3. MASTERMIND on Sun, 4th Feb 2018 7:39 pm 

    The US Shale Business is “not profitable” and can’t fund itself whether oil is at 100 or 50 dollars a barrel

    MIT Technology Review: Shale Oil Will Boost U.S. Production, But It Won’t Bring Energy Independence

    The world’s largest oil trader Vitol says US oil production will peak in 2018

    Chevron CEO warns US shale oil alone cannot meet the world’s growing demand for crude

  4. Boat on Sun, 4th Feb 2018 10:44 pm 

    Two decades of using solar. At today’s solar or wind +batteries prices will still kill coal and nuclear as these power plants get pushed out 1 by 1. 10 years from now renewables + storage will be in full swing along with EV’s.
    The end result will be a stable price for energy without the volatility of FF.
    Oil is already down to 37% of primary energy in the US. If you look 20 years down the road the FF future is like land line phones not seeing the smart phones snatching market share.

  5. joe on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 4:42 am 

    When interest rates go back up and the stronger dollar makes buying Saudi oil even cheaper and the so called ‘recovery’ is proved a false dawn, people will blame Trump cause he’s tried to claim political capital from a cheap money driven economic bubble. Trump has driven up expectations of economic performance, the American people will pay for it when jobs vanish and wages are slashed due to a.i. Climate change will be a major player as well, it will make stupid dreams like ‘vision 2030’ (12 years from now) look like mirages. Fracking is expensive at any price cause it’s a mining operation. At 20.6 trillion of national debt the US is in its most hubristic phase, it must think nothing bad can come of having 18 trillion gdp versus 20 trillion of debt and then enacting the biggest tax break in history. Ask Greece if they are having fun now. Living in denial might be the best option for us all. MAGA!

  6. Davy on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 4:51 am 

    “When interest rates go back up and the stronger dollar”
    Are you sure of that relationship? Is that what is going to happen. There is much more going on with the dollar.

    “American people will pay for it when jobs vanish and wages”
    When? where have you been. OOps that’s right your the English guy who comments on the US.

    “make stupid dreams like ‘vision 2030”
    Never heard of it. Do you have a link so I can review vision 2030?

  7. print baby print on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 7:13 am 

    This article is great Bravo Mr Mark

  8. Mad Kat on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 7:45 am 

    “…Will we use the second half of the fossil fuels for…”

    Sorry, but most of the “second half” will never leave the ground. EROEI. When it is no longer profitable to pump, it will end. We are fast approaching that point. Most of what is left will stay where it is for eternity, or until the sun goes nova.

  9. fmr-paultard on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 8:04 am 

    ‘I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU’ Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam tells judge he has put his faith in Allah

    Does the religion of SENTAPBs produce such specimen who has complete faith in white supremacy? Times and again, follower of Allah affirm their belief after terrorist attacks. This looks to me the religion of SENTAPBs is as fake as their fake bible “Mein Kampf”.

    ((supreme tard)) said if one has faith, one could walk on water. But walking on water for christians regrettably means being slaughtered to the tune of 1 million in the last decade mostly by islamists.

    Unfortunately Britain First will lose. And president trump has no close confidant to educates him on these issues.

  10. Darrell Cloud on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 9:44 am 

    I see the trends but there are too many variables for me to pick a time line. Civilizations rise and fall. I have no reason to suspect that ours is immune to the cycle of history. There has never seen a more fragile civilization than the present. Aqueducts and ox carts and sailing ships have all been replaced by incredibly energy dependent systems. We have exchanged resiliency for expediency. A cascading system will endanger billions.

  11. Dragon Oil on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 11:11 am 

    There appears to be a significant amount of gas available in ocean sediments generated by biologics around the world. A number of countries (Japan, Norway, India, Russia, etc.) have extensive programs to capture this resource. Regardless of the high cost systems envisioned by wind, solar, nuclear etc, my bet is on this natural gas being developed in the near future world wide.

  12. Twocats on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 12:37 pm 

    Profitability has long since exited the equation for the marginal barrel. But the illusion must be maintained at all costs. Good article.

  13. rockman on Mon, 5th Feb 2018 4:34 pm 

    coffee – “Fracking has not raised domestic oil production above this level…” That silly statement was enough for me to stop reading then.

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