I'm changing that, but not in a depressing way. We'll have music and maybe dancing while we discuss fossil fuels. Even though the Sierra Club has come out for natural gas, and the CLF has invested heavily in natural gas, well, natural gas has its problems.
So I'm going to steal a video clip about natural gas from a post by blogger Jason Ribeiro at Pro Nuclear Democrats. (Jason, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as well as the most annoying.)
Most natural gas is found in sandstone formations, but the big excitement now is finding gas in shale formations. Fracking shale for natural gas means injecting a nasty mix of chemical underground to open up paths for the gas to travel to the gas wells. These chemicals can contaminate aquifers that are used for drinking water. The gas companies will not reveal which chemicals are being injected. A recent Scientific American article explores some of the problems. The City of New York has set a moratorium against fracking beneath its watershed lands.
Is fracking shale really a problem? In many cases, I think that concerns about energy technologies are overblown. There is no free lunch, no form of energy without its drawbacks. Furthermore, people have stimulated ordinary (sandstone-based) gas wells with injection for a long time. Oil and gas wells have been stimulated with hydraulic fracturing since 1947. The technology should be well known and (hopefully) controllable. Perhaps the outcry against fracking the Marcellus shale is another environmental-scare-of-the-month story?
I don't think so. The Marcellus shale is a shale, not a sandstone. Sandstones are the usual reservoir for oil and gas reserves. Fracking shale is not the same thing as stimulating a traditional gas well.
My Friend Shale
In my opinion, shale is our friend. Sandstones have high porosity and high permeability. Shale can have high porosity (holes) but has low permeability (few connecting holes). Therefore, shale is the barrier between different types of water-containing layers. For example, a groundwater aquifer may contain agricultural run-off and be unsuitable for drinking water. However, that shallow aquifer is usually separated by a layer of shale from a deeper drinking-water aquifer. The impervious rock that defines an artesian aquifer is usually shale.
If you fracture sandstone, you can hope for a layer of shale to protect local aquifers from the fracturing chemicals. If you fracture shale, on the other hand, you can expect no protection of aquifers. As a matter of fact, you are destroying that protection by making the impermeable shale permeable.To fracture shale, you have to add permeability to a rock that basically doesn't have any. It's harder than stimulating sandstone. You have to try harder, blast harder, use more chemicals. All that stuff.
All in all, fracking shale is dangerous for aquifers. It's a good idea to have a moratorium on fracking the Marcellus shale.
Singing and Dancing
When anti-VY activists do their song and dance how we don't need VY, they often say that we have recently found lots of local natural gas.
They are talking about shale. They are talking about possibly destroying our aquifers.
It's kind of like the Tom Lehrer song about Wernher Von Braun. In this song, Werner explains that the consequences of his rockets are "not my department."
Once Vermont Yankee is closed, who cares where the energy comes from? From the point of view of an anti-VY activist: "It's not my department." Using Marcellus shale to substitute for VY will be a problem for everyone in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. It won't be a problem for the anti-VY activists. It's not their department.