The real revolution of shale energy

Shale predictions move from the outrageous, through far fetched to conservative within two years, Grealy writes.

Keith Srakocic/AP/File
In this June 2012 file photo, a crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa. Grealy calls the shale-oil boom an incredibly disruptive change.

UK greens seem to share with UKIP, of all people, an exaggerated vision of Britain's role in the world. I've noted before that lots of UK groups who profess to care about the earth don't realise that almost anything the  UK does, or does not do, on CO2 is unimportant on a world scale. UK emissions, from all sources, are simply not important when facing the reality of China's coal use. Even replacing a fifth of China's coal with shale would effectively cancel out whatever we do, making the gesture meaningless on any damage or not it does the atmosphere. The green agenda is not facing up to facts, and they threaten to make themselves irrelevant.  I think that would be disastrous for large parts of the progressive agenda. I know myself that when I return to New York, almost everyone I know sees opposition to shale is a litmus test for the progressive politics, such as they are in the US. That would be dangerous for the European left.  Greenpeace et al are correct in seeing some right wingers behind gas here in the UK. But that's too simple. I half jokingly point out to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who I consider right about shale and wrong on most else, that they only seriously concentrated on shale gas once Obama released his birth certificate. The GWPF at least has more of an open mind than much of their opposition, who continue to cling to a shale gas as dangerous fantasy narrative. 

I've been looking at shale gas since 2008, but absolutely no one could have predicted what is happening to US oil production by leveraging the techniques first used in gas. It's only two years ago that the bounty of the Bakken Shale and now the Eagle Ford first became interesting. From that experience I'll roll out Grealy's First Law of Shale: Shale predictions move from the outrageous, through far fetched to conservative within two years. I've seen this happen in the Barnett, the Marcellus, LNG exports, US chemical use and of course shale oil. 

But in other areas, we may have to extend the time line to suit the size of the transformation. Jack Welch recently likened shale to the Internet and I've often pointed out shale is above all a technological revolution of which we are only in baby steps. The key issue in public perception is that thought cannot keep up with reality.This is incredibly disruptive change, even if for most people it will be positive. The next transformation will take closer to ten years than to to two, but it's such a huge change we must start facing the consequences now.

A shale-oil boom will thrust the U.S. ahead of Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2020, a radical shift that could profoundly transform not just the world's energy supplies but also its geopolitics, the International Energy Agency said.

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