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Impact of unconventional oil and gas

SONIA BROWN

Published: Oct 08, 2013

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Leaders of countries large and small, developed and developing, often boast about their sovereignty, but the fact that we are all in some ways interdependent is important to remember. For us in The Bahamas, the actions of our neighbor to the north always loom large.

For those of us watching the energy markets, we have seen that the U.S. has entered a boom period for the production of oil and gas, largely through the use of hydraulic fracking to access its vast reserves of shale oil. In broad terms, this refers to oil that is in a solid form within rock.

Because it is more expensive to extract and more harmful to the environment, in the past it has not been produced commercially on a large scale. Indeed, according to BBC News, France has banned this method of production while the UK has only recently lifted a moratorium in place to prevent the use of this method of extraction.

The escalating cost of oil and the increased hazards associated with relying on foreign governments for oil supplies has had all forward looking countries examining how they might better manage their energy security. I think this is why the U.S. pursued fracking and other options, with fracking leading the path to their success.

It is reported that the production of U.S. oil would increase by a quarter next year, topping off a 26-year high with an expected fall in the price of a barrel of oil from $112 to just under $100.

Besides the direct environmental concerns such as high water usage during the process, the risk of contaminating water supplies and the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the greatest environmental impact could come from subdued investment in renewable forms of energy and a return to the wasteful practices of the past.

Let’s be reminded that during the oil crisis of the 1970s, there was a short period of big investment in alternative forms of energy, this was quickly forgotten though as oil prices stabilized.

Admittedly, technology has made us all better informed about the risks associated with not taking care of the environment and some argue that we are already seeing the effects of climate change as a direct result of human behavior.

With far more information, environmental groups and small efforts being undertaken here locally, as in other countries around the world, it would be difficult to conceive of us retreating to the ill practices of the past.

However, we need not fool ourselves; if the price of oil drops significantly, resulting in reduced fuel and energy cost via traditional means, all the goodwill in the world will not make renewable forms of energy economically viable.

• We would like to hear how this article has helped you. Send questions or comments to sbrown@graphitebahamas.com. Sonia Brown is principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.

 


 
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