Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Frack the Bay!

The boys and girls at the Bay Foundation have taken note of the effect of fracking on gas production, and how it has changed the balance of energy in the US, and how that might affect the Bay

Fracking's Dramatic Impact May Soon Be Seen in Chesapeake Bay
Seagulls sit on the natural gas pipelines of a massive industrial pier that towers five stories over the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland. But there are no workers on the docks of the Dominion Cove Point Liquid Natural Gas pier in Calvert County, because no commercial shipments of natural gas have arrived in more than a year.

The silence here -- with sailboats breezing past, and sunlight glittering off the waves -- could change dramatically, however, if the Dominion company receives approval from federal, state, and county governments for a $3 billion proposal to rebuild the facility to allow liquid natural gas (LNG) exports.

The Chesapeake Bay would have the first LNG export pier in the East. Dominion plans to build equipment to chill natural gas to 260 degrees below zero so the fuel can be more easily transported from Maryland around the world on ships in a condensed, liquid form. As many as 75 tankers a year, each about 1,000 feet long, could arrive to load up at the pier.

“It would be a remarkable turn-around,” said Bruce McKay, Managing Director of Federal Affairs for Dominion (shown at right), as he stood before at the pier’s idled cranes. “There will be thousands of jobs created here, in the community, and across the state of Maryland during construction. It will be one of the biggest capital construction projects in Maryland in quite some time.”
Actually, fracking has already dramatically affect the traffic at Cove Point.  A few years ago, before the fracking boom, when gas prices where high, tankers were arriving there at a rate of one to two a week to off load gas.  Now that the U.S. has become a power house of gas production due to fracking, there is no reason to import gas to the U.S. (at least in those volumes) and the gas docks have become idle once again.

But, of course, not everyone is happy with the growth of the the fracking industry:
The Sierra Club wants to block the project in part because it wants to prevent the export of liquid natural gas, said David O’Leary, chair of the executive committee of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.

O’Leary said export would encourage more hydraulic fracturing across the Chesapeake Bay region and U.S.

“Fracking has a variety of air quality impacts,” O’Leary said. “There are water quality problems, from the spills on the surface; possible ground water contamination; and additional greenhouse gas emissions.”
Of course, there has been no reported cases of groundwater contamination due to fracking (and none could occur on the land in question, because no fracking is occurring there), a few surface spills have occurred, but they have not been a signficant source of pollution, and use of natural gas to replace coal in powerplants has actually helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the US energy industry.  Really, it's not that they like nature; they just hate people.

They also raise the specter of higher gas prices as a result of gas exports:
Homeowners in the U.S. could also be hurt by higher natural gas and electricity bills if export terminals are built as proposed in Maryland, Georgia, and along the Gulf Coast, according to the American Public Gas Association.

“It is going to hurt natural gas consumers here,” said Dave Schryver, Executive Vice President of the association, which represents community-owned nonprofit utilities, many in small towns across the country.

This assessment is not shared by the Brookings Institution, which released a report in May that said the construction of export terminals in the U.S. would have a positive impact on the U.S. trade balance, and stimulate more gas industry jobs in this country.

Exporting natural gas would likely create more jobs for drillers in the U.S. But critics say it could also undermine American energy independence by shipping overseas a limited natural resource that should be conserved.
A valid argument, up to a point. A wider market could drive the price up, but that would cause more production (if that were to be permitted - on open question given the current administrations antipathy to fracking and fossil fuel production in general.  Prices would seek some level, however, where the people who want gas would be able to attain it.

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