EAGLE COUNTY - As long as China keeps belching out carbon emissions at its current rate, America's reductions won't do much to slow pollution-triggered climate change, said a Stanford University geophysicist.
China produces three times more CO2 per year than the U.S., and China has enormous natural gas reserves that could slash that rate of pollution, said Dr. Mark Zoback, a professor in Stanford's School of Earth Sciences, while speaking at the recent Vail Global Energy Forum.
The natural gas boom is a recent phenomenon. It is having a positive effect in reducing greenhouse gases, Zoback said.
Countries around the world are watching the U.S. and they'll emulate the things we do correctly as they develop their own natural gas reserves, Zoback said.
North American per capita energy consumption hasn't changed significantly in almost a decade, Zoback said. At the same time, carbon emissions are way down.
"Per capita, our carbon emissions are down where they were in 1960," said Gov. John Hickenlooper.
China's carbon emissions have soared, largely from new coal-fired power plants that won't be replaced anytime soon, Zoback said.
"With what China is dumping into the system, it doesn't matter what we do here. That has to stop," said Jim Brown, Halliburton's Western Hemisphere president. "I'm an oil and gas guy, and I cannot imagine why they're not pursuing nuclear energy in a safe way. It's part of the all-of-the-above philosophy."
Zoback said burning natural gas is 50 percent cleaner than coal to generate electricity. Methane can escape from gas wells and some have argued that methane, because it's a more potent greenhouse gas, offsets any benefit from natural gas.
That's not true, Zoback said.
Well built wells
Brown said when it comes to protecting water supplies and the environment, there are three things the gas and oil industry needs to focus on:
1. Well construction.
2. Well construction.
3. Well construction.
"It's not very sexy, but that's what needs to be done," Brown said.
Wells are now built around layers of cement, another layer of pipe and a well head, and cost around $9 million.
"It's cheap insurance," Brown said. "You should sit through some of our meetings. Every one starts with a discussion about safety. If we destroy the environment, we're out of business."
Earthquakes and energy
Energy companies are learning all the time, Zoback said.
Earthquakes seem to increase proportionate to the amount of wastewater injections in those areas. In other words, if you jack industrial lubricants into an earthquake fault, it causes earthquakes. P
"If you have a fault that's going to slip someday, by increasing pressure you may move up the time period, possibly by 10,000 years," Zoback said.
The Raton Basin prior to 1974, saw earthquakes up to 2.4 on the Richter scale. After 1994, when injections of flowback water began, earthquakes became more frequent and stronger, Zoback said.
An experiment found that when they reduced the pressure of the injections, the earthquakes subsided, Zoback said.
"We have to avoid injection into potentially active faults. If you don't look, you don't know they're there," Zoback said. "For example, you need to learn to fracture away from the natural fractures. It took a while to figure that out."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.