Shale natural gas, the return to cheap but highly polluting energy

Shale natural gas, the return to cheap but highly polluting energy

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By Adán Salgado Andrade

Shale is a sedimentary stone composed of clayey mud and small fragments of other minerals, such as quartz or calcite. Such deposits are at great depths, of more than two thousand meters and for this reason, the method to extract natural gas is complicated and, above all, highly polluting.

Some time ago I wrote an article entitled “More energy or more waste?”, In which I analyzed that the need to find new energies, especially the so-called “green” or “clean” ones, obeyed, at that time, the imperative of counting with more sources, which, allowing the continuation of our growing energy requirements based on those, were, on the other hand, eco-friendly, that is, they would reduce the polluting and destructive impact on the environment (see the aforementioned article in this blog). However, right there I showed how practically all clean energies had a problem and it is that their influence is so limited that they cover a very small percentage of the requirements of today's high consumption and energy waste society. And not only do they fail to cover issues such as fuels or electricity generation, but the cost, well above that of fossil fuel-based energies, has made them in many cases not very functional, especially for this savage capitalism, which it favors low costs and high profits, regardless of the consequences.

Another conclusion I come to in the aforementioned work is that there will not be energy sources that can be achieved if you insist, as is being done, on increasing energy consumption, instead of reducing it. Every year industrial, transportation, electrification, agricultural consumption increases considerably… in short, of how much activity is used by any energy source and not so much because it is in direct proportion to the growth of said activities, but waste also grows. For example, the fact that the hyperconsumption society has been imposed as an economic model has caused, among other things, that the products acquired are less and less durable, so they must be changed faster, something ideal for the system, the that on purpose has created those limited useful life times, in order to sell more and increase profits (see in this same blog my article “Programmed obsolescence, the deliberate act of designing defective products, of wasting more and of destroying the environment environment ”, in which I analyze the dramatic levels of waste and garbage that we have reached, especially in the so-called electronic waste –e-waste–, of which millions of tons are produced every year).

On the other hand, the absurd trend of making everything disposable, packaging, bottles, cameras, glasses ... also increases the energy needs associated with the waste that this irrational trend implies (and it is something that refers us to the days of yesteryear, when it should be carried the empty soda container, which was returnable, to buy another, or the basket to put the bread, the grocery bag and other things that did not imply discarding and throwing away once the product was consumed). Add to that that recycling does not even reach 25% in the countries that do it the most and the problem of having more and more energy sources tends to grow exponentially (in addition, recycling also requires energy and a lot).

Above all, many of the “clean” energies were not clean, in addition to causing other problems, such as biofuels, which to produce them use cereals, yes, food, which in a hungry world like this (more than three million children die every year from malnutrition or lack of food), it is completely aberrant. That, using corn or soybeans, for example, is the cause that the problems of food shortages and famines have become more acute, in addition to the fact that due to combustion, they are anyway as polluting as fuels obtained from oil ( See in this blog my article "Biofuels, transgenic taxation, not an ecological alternative").

Thus, the most promising clean energies turned out to be wind and, above all, solar and would be even more so when the infrastructure used to manufacture the components to produce them, such as generators moved by the wind or solar cells, were also manufactured. With such energies, which until now has not happened this way or has been minimally (the current impact of the use of solar and wind energy in the world does not even reach ten percent).

Just in the United States, in 2007, when in its search for new energies that would solve the deficit caused by its then declining oil reserves - which implied relying more on imports, especially from Arab countries, many of them questionably stable. in its governmental regimes–, it decided to invest both private (venture capital) and public resources for the development of green and renewable energies. Bush, for example, established as a mandate that in 2015 almost all the fuels used in the United States would be produced from cereals, but at that time he was unaware that to produce enough soybeans or corn, several times the arable area of ​​the United States would be required, something totally impossible. Thus, the most promising energies turned out to be solar and wind, as I already said.

As for solar, in 2007, with the high prices that a barrel of oil reached (of about 70 dollars), and its reflection in the production of electricity, it was the one in which the most effort was made for its development. It also had a lot to do with the fact that there was a kind of general environmental awareness, especially in important characters. Al Gore, for example, provoked important reflection with his documentary "An inconvenient truth." Investors such as millionaire John Doerr, a good friend of Gore, gave a moving speech on March 8, 2007, in which he stated that his teenage daughter had told him that it was really up to Doerr's generation to solve the serious environmental problems that his irresponsibility had provoked. He even shed tears and promised to promote a company that would develop the most efficient technology possible to take advantage of sunlight.

All these factors, in addition to a government program aimed at public support for the development of clean energies, resulted in the emergence of companies like Solyndra, which at the time represented a technological milestone for the United States, which promised a promising future in regarding the development and consolidation of solar cells. The potential of solar energy is high, since with one hour of sunlight, if it can be captured and used, the entire planet could be supplied with the necessary energy for a year. The problem is that really efficient technologies that could take advantage of all solar energy did not yet exist at that time ... and they do not exist today.

However, Solyndra seemed like a promising company that would manufacture revolutionary solar panels, more efficient and, it was assumed, cheaper than the existing designs until then. Founded by the doctor in semiconductor processing Chris Gronet, who until then had served as general manager of the company Applied Materials, a company that provides equipment and software to manufacturers of semiconductors and solar technology, that company immediately received support from both private investors, as well as, best of all, the government. And it was up to the then new administration of Barack Obama to provide financing and whatever fiscal and administrative stimulus existed to Solyndra, of which, Obama said, on one occasion when he visited its facilities, in May 2010, that the company represented "a machine of economic growth. The future is here". Unfortunately, after that visit, which soon after turned out to be a fiasco for Obama's image, the company faced various adverse circumstances that caused it to fail.

To begin with, although the design proposed by Gronet was more efficient than conventional cells (these only manage to transform barely 20% of the solar radiation they absorb into electricity) and took more advantage of solar energy from any angle, it was made of four materials , substitutes for silica, which by then had become too expensive due to the unexpected demand for solar panels (as I said, it was the fashion to be eco-conscious). Its price had gone from $ 50 per kilogram in 2004 to more than $ 300 in 2008. Gronet based his model on copper, indium, gallium and selenium or CIGS, as the combination of materials was called. And while they were a little less efficient than silica, they were cheaper. Solyndra did not count on the fact that in a short time, in 2010, silica fell again in price dramatically, to less than $ 30 per kilogram, which made its compound somewhat expensive and impractical.

Second, the drive for solar energy and other clean energies was due not only to the widespread environmentalist spirit prevailing in the US in those years, but also to savage capitalism, always eager for the next great technological milestone that allows it to do good business. and making juicy profits, he saw in the new “green” companies a very good investment opportunity. The problem was that, unlike other types of companies, such as those dedicated to developing applications for the Internet, for example, companies like Solyndra, dedicated to the manufacture, in this case of solar panels, which were also based on a new model, they required real factories, with heavy equipment and machinery, and not just a rented room with computers and Internet connection. In addition, they are investments that take, according to analysts, at least ten years to recover the investment and give returns. But, in addition, Solyndra's problem was that he based his model on supposed advantages that lasted a very short time, such as expensive silica and that the cost of electricity was also high, given the scarcity of fossil fuels that the United States had. Thus, if the initial advantages had been maintained, in any case the investment, especially of private capital, would have required time to recover and give a profit.

But when those competitive advantages ended, the company could not do it anymore and declared bankruptcy, losing private and public investments, which discouraged other private investors from continuing to put money into companies dedicated to producing elements for clean energy. It was when, suddenly, that "green spirit" vanished. You see, this is how convincing and fickle savage capitalism is.

Third, since the technology to produce electricity from solar cells has been known for a long time (as early as 1954, the Bell Laboratories invented a very efficient solar cell), over the years it has not only been perfected, but also facilitated its manufacturing, in such a way that they are currently so relatively easy to produce that even companies that have nothing to do with the electrical industry can manufacture them. For example, at that time, Arno Harris, manager of the electricity company Recurrent Energy was contacted precisely by a Chinese textile manufacturer company, to see if he had an interest in the solar panels that that company was about to start manufacturing. So if a Chinese textile company could make solar panels, the sophisticated and expensive equipment assembled by Solyndra, which made the cells it produced even more expensive, could not compete any more. Indeed, the manufacture of solar panels today has been greatly simplified, in such a way that tutorials are even offered on YouTube that indicate how to make them (in this link you can see it: = OrGIj8P9Ys8).

This ease of construction has caused China to currently produce more than half of the solar modules used in the world, in addition to its models being 20% ​​cheaper than the American ones, due to its cheap labor, as well as its materials. Also cheap premiums (of course at a great ecological cost, since China is currently one of the most polluted countries in the world. See in this blog my article: "The overvalued and anarchic Chinese economic growth").

Even so, it is still expensive to electrify a house, for example, with solar panels, due, on the one hand, to the low efficiency of this technology, since each cell transforms only 20% of the solar radiation it receives, which is translates into just 0.5 volts of electricity. That is why it requires arrangements of several solar panels placed on the roofs of the houses that are electrified like this and that is expensive (here, for example, I have consulted with people who are dedicated to the business of solar energy and it would cost around between 150 and 200 thousand pesos to electrify a home with, let's say, normal electricity needs). For this reason, in the US the "solution" has been to rent solar panels. There, electrifying a house of about 280 square meters in area currently costs around $ 20,000 dollars ($ 260,000 pesos), which is not cheap and in the midst of the current brutal crisis, it would not be attractive either.

However, some companies, such as SolarCity or Sungevity, supported by tax incentives, rent solar panels for less than $ 119 per month which, in that country, would be, let's say, "cheap" (they are more than $ 1500 pesos, than in Mexico, with millions of people paying 200 or 300 pesos per month for electricity, it would not be something affordable). And with this rental scheme, the demand for solar electrification has risen somewhat, although, as I said, it is thanks to government subsidies, which means that to be "green", the government must finance, with the money of the taxes, a good part of the profit of the companies that are dedicated to that. And it returns to the scheme that it is society that must help savage capitalism to do its business or to "rescue" it when it goes wrong (Solyndra, for example, declared bankruptcy and the money that the government had "lent it "Was lost and became" public debt "). In other words, at the end of the day, as I pointed out before, capitalism does not act in the business it does for a philanthropic reason, but for a profit situation. If investing in clean energy is business, there will be companies, otherwise, they will not do it or they will do it marginally.

In fourth place, and it is what ended up practically burying the "green" effervescence, was the discovery of the enormous deposits of shale that the US has, from which natural gas began to be extracted, with a polluting method (fracking) that if it was expensive at first, over the years it has already become quite cheap, to be now the very promising energy of the future, not only for the US but, unfortunately, for the whole world ... especially for countries that have shale deposits . However, this energy source will cause many more problems in the future than the supposed advantages currently attributed to it, as we shall see.

Shale is a sedimentary stone composed of clayey mud and small fragments of other minerals, such as quartz or calcite. Such deposits are at great depths, more than two thousand meters and for this reason, the method to extract natural gas is complicated and, above all, highly polluting, as we will see.

It requires, first, to drill the ground more than 2000 meters until reaching the shale deposit, after which a steel pipe is installed that is reinforced with a layer of cement, surrounding it. Then, horizontal drilling begins, so that extensions of the shale deposit are covered. Once the drilling is finished and all the pipe is installed and covered with cement, in the part where it is horizontal, by means of electrical and explosive charges, dozens of small holes are made along its body, through which the pipe will be pumped. liquid that will flow through these holes, will break the layers of shale and release the natural gas, which will come out under pressure through the pipe (in the following link a video is shown where you can see the process: http: // www / watch? v = CM8Lh7SAm6A).

This procedure is called hydraulic fracturing, better known in industrial jargon as fracking.

And everything would appear very clean, as if it were a drilling to extract oil. However, the problem is the liquid that is injected to release the gas. It consists of a mixture, most of which is water, combined with sand and, the drills emphasize, only 1% of chemicals that, they also insist on rinsing, are found in household products that we use daily, such as detergents, cleaners and so on, which is false, as I point out later. The problem is precisely the chemicals that are added to the water, which are far from being "harmless", as the companies dedicated to the exploitation of this "unconventional" energy insist on saying. Precisely because this energy is not conventional, the problems that its extraction generates are not either. And although there has been much insistence that it is a "safe and clean, non-polluting source of energy", several studies are showing the opposite, even that over time, the increase in extractive wells will exacerbate the problems that are already beginning to emerge. introduce oneself.

In the following video you can see, just, the problems caused by the use of fracking: Produced by the non-governmental organization, it shows a recent study coordinated by Earth Focus and the Ecologist Film Unit of England, carried out in the United States, in the shale deposit known as Marcellus Shale, which covers part of the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, New York, and even some Lake Erie.

This deposit has been in operation for some years (Halliburton is the pioneer company that began to apply fracking there) and it is calculated that it could supply natural gas to all the energy needs that use it in the United States for around fourteen years ... of course, at a very high environmental and human health cost, as explained in said documentary.

One of the opening scenes shows a man standing next to a plastic container. Inside and outside the container water circulates. A tube protrudes from the top of the container. A bluish flame comes out of this tube. Later, the man, a farmer, explains that this water comes out of a well and is supposedly "drinkable", but that it has already suffered methane contamination, among other things, due to the fact that nearby there is a well extracting natural gas from a reservoir of shale. In other words, it is flammable water. Of course it is no longer drinkable. The investigation, conducted in Bradford County in northeastern Pennsylvania, also offers testimony from other families whose problems with contamination of the piped, “potable” water they use began as soon as wells that exploited natural gas were established. A woman comments that the water smells like gas, like gas used for cooking. Another woman says that her quality of life is totally ruined, because drinking water is not a commodity, but a necessity. “It's my life, without water, it is not possible to live. I am very, very angry about the serious problem that these people have caused, which threatens our lives. When we wash the dishes, the bottom is oily, like that, like diesel. I have to put lotion on my hands every time I use the water. It is useless like that! ”. An organic farmer also offers her testimony, while showing images of a pair of horses, in which you can see the damage caused to the fur on their neck by the contaminated water they drink. “It is not possible for the government to allow them to do that, to mix water with chemicals that cannot be in the ground, that can harm my family and the people around me, that should be prohibited. Many better farmers are selling their land, because they cannot cope with the problems that these companies bring us and prefer to get money in return. But that is causing the few remaining farmers to disappear very soon and that will be very serious! ”.

The documentary also begins by arguing that the discarded water that is polluting the aquifers, in addition to the chemicals used, contains radioactive substances, such as radium 226 (radium 226). The testimony of Professor Tony Ingraffea, an engineering scholar at Cornell University, a pioneer and expert in the study of the fracking method and its consequences, is offered. “The problem is that the exploitation of natural gas in Pennsylvania has only taken three years, of a plan that aims to last thirty. There are about two thousand wells at the moment, but every day three or four are incorporated. And the energy industry plans to build three or four thousand wells each year for the next thirty and if they can do it, they will also do it in New York ”, comments the professor, referring to the fact that, for now, New York has banned the drilling of wells in its territory, although, on the other hand, ironically it allows the waste water to be stored in the waste sites it has for it.

The fact that extractive wells must be established near water sources, since fracking is a method of intensive use of this vital resource, has caused that not only water is overexploited, but, as I have already commented, seriously and irreversibly contaminate. Lou Allstadt, former vice president of the Mobil company, comments that it is really insane to have allowed such wells to be 45 meters from rivers or drinking water sources. "That is truly irrational!" He says in dismay.

Another expert, Mr. James Northrup, a former investor in energy companies (perhaps that is why he has ceased to be, right?), Also offers his testimony. "None of the chemical agents used are drinkable, methanol, glycol ... about one percent of the mixture used to extract the gas is various chemicals, but do the math, that means five thousand gallons (19,000 liters)! per well! So if there were about eight wells, that would be forty thousand gallons (152,000 liters) of toxic chemicals! ”

In effect, the problem is that that already contaminated water cannot really be treated, not at least for other uses that are not in the extraction of gas, in addition to being used intensively, since each well uses three million eight hundred thousand liters! As the proportion of spent water is greater than that which can be processed so that it can be used again, massive tanks are being destined to store it, but as in Pennsylvania, where the largest production is concentrated, there are not enough waste wells - the which also represent a very serious problem in gestation, as I mention later - new places must be found to store it, such as in New York, a state that I already mentioned has not yet allowed wells to be drilled, but it does leave, irresponsibly, that contaminated water is disposed of on its territory.

On the other hand, the transportation of the growing volumes of natural gas, as well as of contaminated water, has greatly increased the traffic of pipe trailers, which have made quiet towns, such as Bradford, noisy places where these heavy transports circulate. 24 hours a day, non-stop, as one of the inhabitants complains, who points out that before they could start talking on the porch of their houses and now that is no longer possible.

In addition, points out James Northrup, the former investor, a very serious additional problem that could arise, in the event that a truck carrying contaminated water crashed near a river and its contents were emptied into the waters of that river, it would be terrible. it would produce a serious environmental problem. Now, imagine that thousands of such vehicles circulate every day, since the probability of their occurrence increases every day. And, as an example, we offer the testimony of a man whose dream when he retired was to live in peace, in the middle of the forest. And it was just that an extraction company came to establish itself very close to his home, that the problems began. On one occasion, due to an accident, there was a leak of contaminated water, which slid into the surrounding lands, which it contaminated, but also reached a small lake, located next to the man's house, which it also contaminated. “Before, the only thing you heard here at night was your heartbeat. Now, everything is completely devastated. The land is polluted and so is the pond… there are no longer fish, frogs, or turtles. We have health problems, the tap water is contaminated with lead and we have been advised not to drink it. What used to be heaven is now hell! "

Professor Ingraffea points out that the estimate of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Preservation is of a serious accident that will severely damage the ecosystem for every fifty wells. Apparently it would be minimal risk. But as the professor clarifies, this is cumulative and it must be taken into account that every time there will be thousands and thousands of more wells, about 400 thousand, which will create a cumulative effect of potential damage to the environment. "That's why you can't see the problems right now," he tells the interviewer, "but come back in ten years and you'll see what will happen."

As a sample, the testimony of a former employee of an extractive well is offered who laughs that the government says that they are "well regulated". “Yes, one or two, but the rest, 95%, are not. I've seen how terrible these leaks are. There on the mountain were hundreds of gallons and gallons of a reddish, corrosive liquid, leaking out, splashing over the top, and then sliding down the slopes! It is a lie that they are regulated ”.

But, as I pointed out before, not only the concern of environmentalists and scientists studying the problem are chemicals, but also the discarded water is also contaminated with radioactive substances, such as radium 226, which has been found to exist in large amounts in shale deposits. In this regard, Northrup points out that “radium is a radioactive, deadly, carcinogenic substance, and the level that exists in Marcellus is 267 times higher than what humans can tolerate, that is, it can kill it. There is also evidence that these deposits are rich in uranium and other radioactive compounds. As I said, radium is carcinogenic, so all these materials are being brought to the surface when there are spills and that is going to cause terrible consequences, because the environment is being contaminated with substances that did not exist there before ”.

However, despite all the evidence against the exploitation of natural shale gas, politicians, as well as companies dedicated to it, have carried out an intense campaign in favor of this energy, pointing out that it is "a panacea for States. United, which offers a fuel that is both cleaner, as well as safer than relying on external sources of energy. And indeed, Obama is emphasizing a lot that shale natural gas is America's future and that the country's reserves will last for more than a century. In addition, in his speeches he adds that the US will no longer depend on unstable countries, such as the Arabs, to provide itself with energy. This factor, above all, the low or no dependence on imported oil, is the one that has most fueled the nationalist factor that is driving almost all Americans to agree on the exploitation of said gas, ignoring or minimizing the serious damages and risks that are in the making or already exist. Even many industrial sectors have gone further, stating that the US is going to become an importer to an exporter of energy. And in the midst of the current economic crisis, the possibility of receiving extra income to mitigate it, of creating jobs, as it is another overvalued and exaggerated reason to give everything to the exploitation of shale gas.

However, despite all the hype, Professor Ingraffea disagrees. “Speaking of uses, oil and natural gas are not interchangeable. Oil is used mostly for transportation, while natural gas is used for industry, heating and stoves. As long as it is not demonstrated that there is a national energy plan, which already has contemplated how our entire transportation system is going to be converted to use natural gas, that argument is empty ”(in Mexico, LP gas is used, in effect, as Fuel for cars, but not natural gas, since it has more energy and caloric content than natural gas. This was done because LP gas was cheaper than gasoline before, but the sharp increase that its cost has suffered since then, doesn't make it that attractive anymore).

Y también apunta el profesor que aunque la combustión del gas natural es más limpia que otros combustibles, no es más limpio considerando su ciclo de vida. “Se están realizando estudios que demostrarán que ese gas, en términos de producción de bióxido de carbono y metanol, es tan o más contaminante que el mismo carbón”. Eso lo señala el profesor porque EU sigue dependiendo bastante del contaminante carbón para producir electricidad, pues más de la mitad de aquélla la obtiene de viejas plantas carboeléctricas. Y eso seguramente se obtiene al incluir en la ecuación todo lo que se requiere para extraer el gas natural de esquisto, desde la energía necesaria para perforar un pozo, para inyectarle agua contaminada, para extraerla, los cientos de miles de tráileres que lo transportarán o los gasoductos que se vayan a construir. Sumado todo eso, afirma el profesor Ingraffea, el gas natural de esquisto es más contaminante que el carbón.

Y también le preocupa que ya se esté generalizando la explotación de los mantos de esquisto por todo el mundo, pues, como señalé, estudios muestran que hay grandes yacimientos en muchos lados. “Me preocupa que ya se esté empleando esta tecnología demasiado rápido, sin tomar en cuenta todos los problemas que ocasionará al medio ambiente y a la salud humana”, declara, consternado.

Pero, claro, como ya señalé, la propaganda política destinada a convalidar la explotación de dicho gas es enorme y es de esperarse que logre justificar que se haga en Europa, en Asia, en India… en todos lados (en México, por ejemplo, se tienen evidencias de grandes yacimientos en el norte del país, pero las limitaciones en ese caso serían por la poca agua con que se cuenta, además que las frecuentes sequías la vuelven mucho más escasa, así que sería, pienso, impráctico explotarlo, claro, a menos que EU quisiera “colaborar” para hacerlo, y entonces, sí, quizá hasta desalinizar agua de mar se les ocurriría, con tal de hacerlo).

Además, las compañías energéticas han sido muy obstinadas en proporcionar la información sobre cómo se desecharán todos los compuestos químicos que se emplean tan sólo en un solo pozo, más de 285,000 litros, así como 19 millones de litros de agua que se contamina irreversiblemente. Tales empresas se escudan en el Acta de Política Energética, aprobada durante la administración de George Bush, muy buen amigo de las corporaciones, que no las obligaba a hacerlo. Sin embargo, en septiembre del 2010, ocho empresas tuvieron que revelar qué químicos se emplean para el fracking, a petición expresa de la EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Fueron las compañías BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC, Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, Weatherford y la nefasta Halliburton (sí, la que tiene fuertes intereses petroleros por todo el mundo, sobre todo en el invadido Irak). Halliburton, la empresa que comenzó con ese contaminante sistema, señaló que se emplean los siguientes muy tóxicos químicos: 2-butoxietanol, etilhexanol, formaldehido, glutaraldehido, ácido bórico, glicol de etileno, metanol, monoetanolamina, dazomet, anhídrido acético, isopropanol, alcohol propargílico, 5-cloro-2-metil-4-isotiazotina-3-uno, diesel y bicarbonato de sodio, a lo que hay que agregar las aún más tóxicas y fatales sustancias radioactivas, mencionadas antes, tales como el radio 226 y el uranio, que salen junto con los químicos descritos en el agua desechada.

Esos químicos y sustancias radioactivas ocasionan enfermedades tales como cáncer de huesos, hígado y mama, males circulatorios, respiratorios y gastrointestinales, así como desórdenes en el desarrollo del sistema nervioso y cerebral, entre otros.

Y dígase lo que se diga, a pesar del “bonito panorama” que se ha tratado de presentar en relación a la explotación de ese energético, esas sustancias terminan contaminando las fuentes de agua limpia, así como el aire. Como se señaló, puesto que se emplea más agua que la que puede procesarse, la desechada se almacena en depósitos hechos en terrenos, antes agrícolas, que están por todas partes, desde Pensilvania, Nueva York, Virginia Occidental y Ohio, como se muestra en el documental. Se insiste en lo irónico que resulta que Nueva York, estado que se opone al fracking, respondiendo quizá a obscuros intereses de las empresas energéticas, permita que en su territorio se deseche el agua contaminada, mucha con altos niveles de radiación y que ni siquiera ordene que se analice antes de ser vaciada a los depósitos que tiene para tal fin o que de allí se lleve a los sitios en donde se le da “tratamiento” (pero esa agua, aunque sea tratada, no sirve ya para el consumo humano, como dije antes, sólo se vuelve a emplear en el fracking). Además, considérese que el empleo intensivo de agua en un mundo cada vez más sediento y necesitado de ella es verdaderamente aberrante, pues además es agua que ya no servirá para el consumo humano (ver en este mismo blog mi artículo “El agua dulce: cada vez más demanda y cada vez más escasa”, en donde analizo ese grave problema de un mundo cada vez más sediento).

Un problema adicional, que no se menciona en el documental, es que mucha del agua desechada, al ser imposible tratarla o almacenarla en depósitos superficiales, a alguien se le ocurrió, desde hace algún tiempo, reinyectarla en profundos depósitos subterráneos. Esa absurda, irresponsable forma de deshacerse de ella, ocasiona dos graves problemas. Por un lado, dicha agua contaminada va lentamente trasminándose entre las capas rocosas y sedimentarias que la contienen, hasta llegar al mar, al que contamina, más de lo que ya está de contaminado, pero con químicos mucho más peligrosos o con las mencionadas sustancias radioactivas. Es un método, la reinyección, usado en muchos lados, en efecto, pero que está ocasionando cada vez más problemas de contaminación marina, dañando irreversiblemente muchos importantes ecosistemas, como los arrecifes de coral, vitales para la cadena alimenticia. Hay que señalar que más de la mitad de nuestros alimentos, provienen del mar (en el siguiente video se puede ver el problema que la reinyección de aguas negras, menos dañinas, ocasiona en Hawái:

Por otro lado, el U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), ha realizado estudios recientes que correlacionan tanto al fracking, así como a la reinyección de agua contaminada ¡a la ocurrencia de temblores de magnitud media, de alrededor de 4! Por ejemplo, se registraron varios temblores, debidos a la acción del hombre, en el condado de Youngstown, en el estado de Ohio, lugar que se encuentra cercano a los cientos de pozos que actualmente están explotando el depósito Marcellus. La respuesta que dio el USGS ante la inquietud de habitantes del lugar es que “Existe una creíble conexión entre las actividades requeridas para la reinyección del agua de desecho y los recientes temblores, incluyendo el de magnitud 4, que ocurrieron en la noche del año nuevo del 2011. La conexión se basa en la cercanía de los temblores al pozo de reinyección y que además aquéllos tuvieron lugar justo después de los procedimientos de reinyección”. Y es que el mismo USGS ha declarado que el método de fracking tiende a debilitar las capas geológicas al justamente fracturar piedras y sedimentos, lo que lleva a un debilitamiento de las capas superiores y a movimientos de las mismas. Como “consuelo”, señala que la misma tendencia se observa en el mundo con respecto a la explotación de los mantos petroleros, pues la extracción hasta la última gota, digamos, de crudo, deja oquedades en el subsuelo que ceden a las tensiones de las capas geológicas que lo contenían, dando lugar a movimientos y subsecuentes temblores (quizá eso explique por qué últimamente en todo el mundo ha habido temblores de distinta magnitud. Probablemente algunos de ellos, como declara el USGS, se deban a la nefasta acción del hombre).

Así pues, esos son los inconvenientes ocasionados por esa peligrosa y contaminante explotación del gas natural de los depósitos de esquisto… y los que aún irán surgiendo con el tiempo.

A pesar de ello, EU seguirá con sus planes de autosuficiencia energética, sobre todo porque el precio del gas natural de esquisto ha bajado bastante y que el precio del petróleo está subiendo demasiado, debido a que se están agotando muchos yacimientos (como el de Cantarell, en México). Por ejemplo, en el 2008, mil pies cúbicos de gas natural costaban $13 dólares. Hace una década, que comenzó a explotarse el gas de esquisto, éste contribuía con menos del 2% de los requerimientos estadounidenses de gas natural. En la actualidad, constituye casi un tercio. Como la cuarta parte de las plantas generadoras de electricidad en EU lo hacen con gas natural, su abundancia y baratura, por ahora, han logrado que la electricidad también sea barata (en costo, claro, pero no en impacto ambiental). Así, en la actualidad, cuesta sólo diez centavos de dólar producir un kilowatt-hora (considerando que un hogar estadounidense emplea, en promedio, 10000 kilowatt-hora al año, eso reduce su cuenta eléctrica a 1000 dólares, unos 83 dólares mensuales, por lo que sería una razón más para que la gente en EU esté feliz y no proteste por los problemas ambientales y de contaminación provocados por ese energético. Recuérdense las airadas protestas que en el año 2000 tuvieron lugar cuando la ya extinta empresa productora y distribuidora de electricidad, Enron, provocó fuertes escándalos por los altísimos cobros de energía eléctrica que de repente comenzó a facturar tanto a empresas, así como a los hogares y que si no pagaban, les suspendía el servicio).

Por tanto, a pesar de tantas desventajas, las que rebasan a las ventajas, EU y el resto del mundo están decididos a disfrutar nuevamente de energía muy barata, pero muy contaminante y a seguir destruyendo lo que nos queda del deteriorado medio ambiente de este muy seriamente devastado planeta.

Adán Salgado Andrade –

Video: Cheap Oil and the Prospects for Energy Innovation (July 2022).


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