Fracking for natural gas continues to make headlines. For example, USA Today: “‘Fracking’ for natural gas also splits towns and families” and from Bloomberg, “Oil, gas companies injected toxic chemicals into ground, U.S. report shows.”
These stories extend the understanding of shale gas development a little, but mostly cover familiar ground. Another angle, mentioned here before, is that the big players in the industry favor regulation targeted to discourage cheap, low-quality shale gas development. See this discussion by Marc Gunther, based on a recent Shell Oil event. My summary: Every job done badly by low quality firms threatens to produce delays and potentially more-costly regulations that will hit the more established firms harder. By raising rivals’ costs in this way, the regulation-seeking companies may be maximizing the overall value of the gas ultimately produced from shale.
The new shale gas fracking news last week was generated by a research report on fracking that concluded fracking for natural gas has a bigger greenhouse gas impact over 20-years per unit of energy output than that associated with coal.
- Cornell Daily Sun: “Study: Fracking may be more harmful than coal use“
- Ithaca Journal: “Sides in fracking debate try to discredit claims“
- BBC News: “Shale gas ‘worse than coal’ for climate“
- Technology Review: “Just how green Is natural gas?“
I speculate two things account for the continued newsworthiness of natural gas fracking.
First, fracking is new to many people, raises some new concerns, and shale gas has emerged as a potentially immense resource (i.e., big enough to affect national energy policies). In part, the news stories reflect natural interest in the developments.
Second, the uncovering of this vast new resource creates social tensions, as a bunch of people are making sometimes substantial sums of money, mostly by being lucky rather than good. That is to say, people now receiving thousands of dollars – and sometimes millions – mostly bought their properties for other reasons and paid nothing extra for the shale gas resource they acquired because at the time of purchase it wasn’t worth anything. Envy and resentment over apparent unearned wealth help motivate social conflict, and social conflict makes news.