Friday, May 30, 2014

Good news: China’s Fracking to reduce its use of Coal

Early China coal mine
When it comes to global warming, coal is the biggest culprit in the warming of the earth.

China is taking giant strides to reduce its need for coal to generate energy by exploiting its vast shale gas reserves:

Although serious obstacles remain, China is finally making progress on tapping its vast shale gas reserves, which hold the promise of a new source of clean energy for the coal smoke-choked country.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, China holds the world’s largest reserves of technically recoverable shale gas in the world, 1,115 trillion cubic feet. That’s about 68 percent more than what the U.S. holds.

But it has thus far been unable to unlock those reserves for a couple of reasons. First, it has taken time for Chinese oil and gas companies to acquire shale drilling expertise. And second, China’s shale is geologically different than what’s found in the U.S., which means China can’t easily use existing technology.

China’s stepped up use of natural gas as an energy source is not to be sneezed at:

By 2017, China is aiming to lift natural gas consumption to 9 percent of total energy demand, up from 5.2 percent in 2013. China has already made some progress on that front, as natural gas only made up 4 percent of energy demand just two years ago ... China has long been a voracious consumer of all commodities – except, notably, natural gas – so it could be on the verge of charting a future path that relies very heavily on natural gas.

And of all energy producers, China, the outsourcing manufacturing hub of the developed nations, produces most of its energy from coal, as this diagram shows:

Way to go, China! The future of our civilizations might well depend on your efforts to shift away from coal.


  1. You have a curious notion of 'good' when a country whose government has gone on record just in the past two months to admit that 60% of its groundwater reserves are too contaminated for human consumption or agricultural production; that has a similar problem with its surface water reserves, particularly rivers and lakes upstream from its major cities; and faces security problems in future flows of Himalayan headwaters, goes heavily into fracking. Fracked oil and gas is still fossil carbon and China is not reducing but expanding its coal consumption.
    I recently got into a scientific report by three Chinese scholars - an economist, an energy guy and an agronomist - on China's future grain supply issues. I was rocked by the first few paragraphs when I came across the projection that China's per capita GDP will increase from under $2,000 today to $16,000 by 2030. Think about that for a minute. How much new energy is it going to take to increase economic activity on that projected scale?
    I also came upon some chilling stats at The Globalist web site. Automobile production set a record of 73-million vehicles in 2010. By 2013, it jumped to 83-million. By 2018 it's expected to reach 100-million. The biggest role in those soaring numbers is the Chinese market. And at car production consuming an average of 39,000 gallons of freshwater per vehicle (including tires) how do you see that factoring into China's distressed water crisis, especially when they add fracking to the mix.
    You can find links to these materials in guest posts put up at Politics and its Discontents.

  2. MoS, "good" is a relative term: the earth's commons benefits if the Chinese use gas to generate their energy rather than coal, because fewer GHG are produced. As for China's decision to increase their per capita GDP, and drive more cars, that is their decision: there is no world GDP Cop to regulate those decisions. We are partly to blame because our economic and political elites allow the West's populations to outsource the production of many consumer and other goods to China - so we are causually and morally partly responsible for China's emissions.

    Anything that reduces the amount of GHG emissions is "good" for the earth's commons - using the greatest good of the greatest number test of morality.

    As for our species' headlong rush to destroy our atmosphere through more and more GHG, we are far from people agreeing on or even seeing the connection to our actions (outsourcing to less energy efficient producers, consuming more and more questionable emissions-creating products). Nature will teach us a lesson about our harmful efforts.

    And when that happens, a whole lot of international interaction to reduce further global warming is going to take place.

  3. Unfortunately, Glenn, they're called "tipping points." By the time the waters are pouring in over the gunwales, the issue is decided. In terms of global warming, tipping point refers to the degree of warming at which by then unstoppable natural feedback mechanisms that may dwarf human emissions kick in.
    The World Meteorological Organization last week announced our only remaining chance of staying under 2C is to peak emissions by 2020 and implement rapid and drastic emissions cuts thereafter. Some place that deadline at 2015. The tide change of public attitude necessary to create the political will to abandon fossils and substitute non-carbon energy alternatives is easily a 25-year time frame, more likely 40. Yet the WMO wants just that underway in barely more than five years?
    Bear in mind, Glenn, that climate change, incredibly threatening as it is, still is just one critical challenge we're running out of time and options to rectify. Globally, agriculture - the world's food supply - hangs by the most tenuous of threads, increasingly dependent on environmentally destructive and marine life extinguishing artificial fertilizers and unreliable precipitation from a broken hydrological cycle - the one that brought waters flooding into the Saddle Dome. Food shortages and soaring food prices played an integral role in every uprising of the Arab Spring - Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the major role in the Syrian civil war that rages today. It was no coincidence that the despots of the Gulf States raced to quell unrest by immediate and insanely generous food relief to the masses.
    And then there's freshwater, the very elixir of life. Do you realize that India and Chinese army units are massed along the border of India's northernmost state, Arunachal Pradesh? China didn't invade Tibet on a whim but for secure control of the Himalayan headwaters. That makes India vulnerable to China's aggressive dam building and water diversion projects upstream of its vital water supply. Pakistan's two Himalayan water sources are likewise subject to the very same predations by India. The Monsoon, once as reliable as Big Ben, is now hit or miss. Meanwhile, in India's main agricultural zone, groundwater resources are severely depleted. All three of those dubious countries have nuclear arsenals and are engaged in one or two arms races with each other. Do the math.
    Iraq is in the same boat with upstream neighbours, Syria and Turkey damming and diverting essential waters from the Tigris and Euphrates. Egypt, relying on the Royal prerogative of the British crown, claims 70% of the waters of the Nile and is constantly threatening air strikes on its numerous upstream neighbours who want to dam parts of the river for development.
    The thing is, Glenn, these are potentially existential threats and they're all related. At the end of the day you won't solve any of them unless you resolve them all. Cherry picking won't work. Yet we can't even must the public demand to forge the political will to act on climate change.
    I can't recall the individuals name (they're somewhere on my blog) but a year or two ago a leading climate scientist was asked by a reporter what was the best thing the journo should teach his son to prepare him for climate change. The scientist replied, "teach him how to shoot a gun."

  4. MoS, I am far too much of an optimist to believe that our rugged, deadly, perservering, cunning, organizationally-adept, evolving species will easily be dislodged from our spot on the top of the food chain.

    Our ingenuity is incredible: given the right impetus (from nature if we are unable to provide it ourselves) we are capable of extraordinary things.

    So I believe we will adapt - slowly perhaps, and with a great deal of messiness, but adapt we will. We will reduce our GHG emitting energy generation methods, on a massive scale; we will mitigate some (but not all) of the impacts of global warming; and we will find ways to remove GHG from the atmosphere. These changes will be wrenching, and upset our ordered little world, but our drive to survive as a species will get us there.

    So count me in the ranks of the cautiously optimistic, over the longer run.

  5. Not sure if anyone reads the articles I link to occasionally here but they're posted with the good intention of providing a contrary view. In that spirit a post from Small Dead Animals. Good links in the comments there too.


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