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Saturday, 18 November 2017
 

Focus: Extreme Energy (4-5)

Shell’s effort was also impeded by persistent opposition from environmentalists and native groups

.  They have repeatedly brought suit to block its operations on the grounds that Arctic drilling will threaten the survival of marine life essential to native livelihoods and culture.  Only after promising to take immensely costly protective measures and winning the support of the Obama administration -- fearful of appearing to block “job creation” or “energy independence” during a presidential campaign -- did the company obtain the necessary permits to proceed.  But some lawsuits remain in play and, with this latest delay, Shell’s opponents will have added time and ammunition. Officials from Shell insist that the company will overcome all these hurdles and be ready to drill next summer.  But many observers view its experience as a deterrent to future drilling in the Arctic.  “As long as Shell has not been able to show that they can get the permits and start to drill, we’re a bit skeptical about moving forward,” said Tim Dodson of Norway’s Statoil.  That company also owns licenses for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, but has now decided to postpone operations until 2015 at the earliest.
Another unexpected impediment to the arrival of energy’s next “golden age” in North America emerged even more unexpectedly from this summer’s record-breaking drought, which still has 80% of U.S. agricultural land in its grip.  The energy angle on all this was, however, a surprise.
Any increase in U.S. hydrocarbon output will require greater extraction of oil and gas from shale rock, which can only be accomplished via hydro-fracking.  More fracking, in turn, means more water consumption.  With the planet warming thanks to climate change, such intensive droughts are expected to intensify in many regions, which means rising agricultural demand for less water, including potentially in prime fracking locations like the Bakken formation of North Dakota, the Eagle Ford area of West Texas, and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania.
The drought’s impact on hydro-fracking became strikingly evident when, in June and July, wells and streams started drying up in many drought-stricken areas and drillers suddenly found themselves competing with hard-pressed food-producers for whatever water was available.  “The amount of water needed for drilling is a double whammy,” Chris Faulkner, the president and chief executive officer of Breitling Oil amd Gas, told Oil and Gas Journal in July.  “We’re getting pushback from farmers, and my fear is that it’s going to get worse.” In July, in fact, the situation became so dire in Pennsylvania that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission suspended permits for water withdrawals from the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, forcing some drillers to suspend operations. Modified from Tomdispatch