Why is the headline Obama backs shale gas drilling important?

 President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged support for the U.S. shale gas boom, but said government must focus on safe development of the energy resource.

In his State of the Union address, Obama called for government to develop a roadmap for responsible shale gas production and said his administration would move forward with "common-sense" new rules to make sure drillers protect the public.

"America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk," Obama said.

Let me stress at the outset that since I don't vote, I don't want to get involved in US politics.  A cursory glance round here tells you where my heart might lie, but that's not the point. I certainly don't have enough readers to antagonize people who otherwise are my natural supporters.

The political spin behind the headline is not very important, but the story itself can be very significant in two ways.

1.  The Green left progressive wing anywhere in the world has painted this story and themselves, into a corner.  Under their narrative, any one who supports shale is a climate change denier or big oil stooge.  In this universe, opposition to shale is a liberal/left given. Supporting shale gas is about as kosher as a cheeseburger.

Obama's support of shale may be presented by the right as opportunistic or mealy mouthed, but that isn't relevant, especially so outside US politics.  But do the left feel so strongly, if wrongly in my opinion, on shale that they are going to add Obama to the left/green enemies list?  No one should underestimate the possibility of political movements to fracture,  but Obama's support can only marginalise green ultra's even more.  By ultra I mean the leave the gas in the ground wing of Josh Fox or Frack Off.  To give an example in France the motto on the banners of opponents read 


Shale gas and oil: Not here, not anywhere else/ Not today Not tomorrow

Substitute Obama for shale and I can't imagine it getting a rousing reception.

2.   It remains that the vast majority of Europeans have not heard about shale gas, and are actually of the opinion that we are both running out of energy and that we have no alternative to the present economic crisis except economic austerity for several years.  Obama's support of shale is going to underline what I pointed out as the big trend of the year:  Shale moves from energy to economics.  Once shale is positioned there,  it can make the leap to politics much more easily, which returns us to the support of Obama.

The story of shale so far has been that most of the conventional City of London wisdom has been way behind the curve.  The City experts,  speak to brand name energy experts,  ignoring that they have an institutional bias towards maintaining the status quo ante narrative which simply had no place for natural gas at all.  That then moved to either a  denialist or dismissive attitude.  

The value of this site looking at shale since mid 2008 is that we can see the evolution of the sentiment.

First,  it was very important to dismiss shale exploitation in the United States as water, land and chemically intense. That then led to a view that it was too expensive to work, thrown in with doubts about the size of the resource.  This from the FT in 2009 encapsulates that thinking:

 Shale gas, the latest magic solution being financed with other people’s money, now appears to be costing more, and has much less certain prospects, than Wall Street, Washington, or their consultants around Boston, were counting on.

Ben Dell, of Bernstein Research in New York, whose work is respected by both sides in the debate, says: “The average well deteriorates more in quality, and more wells fail, than people believe. Still, I think a rise in prices would make more (shale prospects) economic. Plenty of plays work at $9 per mcf [1,000 cubic feet].”

 So when I hear the conventional wisdom today on why shale won't work in Europe,  I look at the track record .

The first results from wells in Poland show Europe is unlikely to match the U.S. boom in shale gas, analysts at Bernstein Research said.

But today's economic story is, as Obama notes, that America is back.Which leads to the question of why?  And in a European context, why isn't Europe back?  What is holding us back?  It's ironic that  two key supporters of American exceptionalism are US Republicans and European Greens. Europe is different:  We're broke. But the answer to our problems lies under our feet. Let's start at least looking. Here, Everywhere, Today and Tomorrow.

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  • Joe Soap

    Nick,<br /><br />Regards understanding your phrase [I]'two key supporters of American exceptionalism are US Republicans and European Greens.'[/I] <br /><br />American exceptionalism - the shale energy story ?<br />US Republicans - yes, ok, due to them being, traditionally, Big energy supporters ?<br />European Greens - supporters ????

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  • The point I was trying to make, is that European Greens are saying that the US is different in that shale energy is some special kind of American thing not for the likes of us. <br /><br />Hope that makes it slightly clearer.

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  • Andy

    I was a little bit puzzled about President's mention of "shale gas" not shale oil, but then I see this out of the great [url=http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/state-to-study-natural-gas-production-trends/article_1747d8bc-475f-11e1-9329-001871e3ce6c.html]Bismarck Tribune[/url]:<br />"A standard assumption has been that oil and natural gas production fall at the same rate as a well ages, Kringstad said. However, early data indicates that natural gas output falls less rapidly, which would boost the fuel's expected production numbers in the future, he said."<br /><br />Which means that even if the industry goes for oil they will probably get enough gas in the bargain to make laying oil and gas pipelines to the wellhead worthwhile.

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  • Words cannot describe the scale and the stupidity of this movement! Let’s take multiple truckloads of cancer causing compounds and ram them down thousands, upon thousands, of wells and “hope” that the next 100 years keeps them contained! But of course, we already know that is wishful thinking! Thankfully, research is underway to determine how these compounds get into the water table! In another 10 to 20 years I am sure we will have all the answers. After that, the next 1000 years will be spent fighting over any remaining clean water and dreaming about how to clean up the rest.

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