The New York Times has prominently published two articles highlighting skeptical views about the amount of natural gas that will be produced from shale. On Sunday’s front page industry is featured: “Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush.” On Monday’s front page, skepticism in the U.S. Department of Energy is revealed: “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas.”
Shale gas skepticism has been discussed here at KP before and I’ve made clear that I’m with the optimists. After reading these articles, I’m still with the optimists. I believe that advances in drilling technologies and associated business practices over the last decade have turned vast amounts of natural gas in shale formations into recoverable resources.
I further believe the environmental concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing are significantly overblown in the press. Hundreds of thousands of wells have been fracked and relatively few have been the object of complaints. The worst potential harms are to the landowner leasing the minerals and nearby neighbors. These parties should monitor well performance and take legal action if necessary to protect their rights. There has been essentially no demonstrated harm to people living more than about 1,000 feet from active well sites, so the rest of us can calm down and enjoy the energy supply.
The New York Times articles appear as if the paper had acquired a large collection of shale gas skeptic email and a smattering of skeptic reports, combed through the material for the potentially damning sound bites, and then interviewed a few people to fill in the gaps. The articles are not (and don’t try to be) balanced assessments of whether the skeptics are right. The articles simply document skepticism voiced by people in industry and at the Energy department over the last several years.
That “last several years” bit is important. If you watch the dates of the various emails and reports cited, you’ll notice the story bounces around from 2009 to 2007 to 2011, etc. No real sense is provided in the article of whether, over the past four years, people in industry are becoming more or less concerned. We don’t know whether 2007’s skeptics remain skeptical or have their concerned addressed. We don’t know if more and more optimists are become skeptical over time.
All we really see in the articles is that it was possible to find skeptics in 2007 and four years later it is still possible to find skeptics. The articles present an impressive collection of shale skeptic sound bites, but not much more.