A couple of weeks ago the price of natural gas dropped below $2 per thousand cubic feet, the lowest it has been in more than a decade before rebounding somewhat. For that, the 99 percent — the 99 percent of Boulder residents who heat their homes with natural gas, that is — can thank an oil company.
The reason the price of natural gas is down and the market is glutted is because the oil and gas industry deployed a suite of technologies, including three-dimensional seismology, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), to access enormous gas and oil deposits in shale and other non-porous rock formations (“tight sands”) that have been mostly inaccessible until now.
(These technologies are often referred to as “new,” but they have actually been around for 30 years or more.
What’s new is using them to extract oil from shale and tight sands.)
Six years ago the price of natural gas was about $10 per thousand cubic feet. If 3-D seismic, horizontal drilling and fracking hadn’t come along, Boulder residents would be paying that much for gas today. Or more, because worldwide demand for natural gas is exploding. In Japan, which imports all of the gas it uses and which recently shut down 50 nuclear plants, natural gas is selling for around $15 per thousand cubic feet.
For the peace and justice/occupy Wall Street crowd, anti-fracking is the new anti-GMO, but that doesn’t change one stubborn fact — Boulder is so dependent on natural gas that its economy and its way of life would fall apart without it.
Virtually every home and business in Boulder is heated by natural gas.
More than a third of the city’s electricity is generated with gas. Most of its food is produced with fertilizers and agricultural chemicals made from natural gas. Cut off the gas supply and the ensuing economic and social disruption would make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park.
Moreover, there is no way Boulder could end its dependence on natural gas quickly. The only real alternative for heating would be all-electric heat, and a complete conversion to it would probably take a minimum of 20 or 30 years.
Boulder’s putative municipal utility would have to create the infrastructure to generate and deliver twice as much or more electricity as it would have to today to meet the needs of an all-electric city, and from green sources at that.
Converting to all-electric heat would also require replacing 30,000 to 40,000 furnaces and boilers, and increasing the insulation in tens of thousands of homes and businesses to the point where heating with kilowatts becomes more or less affordable. Those sorts of changes are not made overnight. They’re done over a generation, as old buildings are remodeled or replaced.
Which means Boulder will be dependent on natural gas for the next 20 or 30 years whether it likes it or not. Natural gas sustains Boulder’s way of life, and fracking keeps it affordable.
The most striking thing about the folks who don’t like fracking is how dependent their lifestyles are on the product fracking produces, and how clueless they are about it. Chances are, most of Boulder’s gas comes from the Wattenberg Field, which covers 3,000 square miles of Weld County. Since the field was discovered 40 years ago, more than 20,000 wells have been drilled in it — and nearly all of them have been fracked.
Think of it — 20,000 fracked wells.
If fracking were remotely as dangerous as the anti-frackers intimate it is, Weld County should be a national sacrifice area by now, with its water, soil and air hopelessly contaminated, its people chronically ill, and its agriculture destroyed.
But it isn’t. Weld County is one of the most productive agricultural counties in the United States. Its agriculture has coexisted comfortably with the oil industry for 40 years, and it is a healthy and attractive place for people to live.
So healthy and attractive, in fact, that the biggest threat to Weld County farming is the explosive growth of subdivisions on prime agricultural land, (like the subdivisions from which some of the louder antifracking NIMBYism is emanating).
As was the case with last year’s anti- GMO cause célèbre, the anti-fracking narrative verges on the apocalyptic, but there is a paucity of actual victims.
Fracking is supposed to be a dagger at the heart of the country’s water supply, but half-a-million fracked wells later, it’s proved nearly impossible to find examples of it happening. The two cases which anti-frackers like to cite, one in Pennsylvania and one in Wyoming, have been debunked by further investigation.
It’s all the rage in Boulder these days to talk trash about oil companies and fracking, but you know, it’s not very nice to spit in the faces of the people who make your lifestyle possible. It’s beyond rude. It’s decadent.
Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.