A month or so back I reported on Laszlo Varro of the IEA saying the United States was complacent on public acceptance for shale. He's starting to look right.
European shale companies, and their brave investors, often look at the US and dream of a social landscape that allows American companies to expand production quarter after unbelievable quarter. We certainly have any number of both US companies and City analysts declaring that the since the US shale revolution is a result of privately owned mineral rights, it will be hard to replicate here. What if they’re wrong? What if under the complex tectonics of US social geography, a big threat to US, and thus global, shale energy is lurking?
If look closer at that we see some huge differences. As I reported last June in some detail, US opinion polls often show a greater level of public opposition to shale than we have in the UK. At the time, I said:
Apart from pointing out to my American friends that perhaps I'm working on public perception in the wrong country, what can we learn from this?
Since then, things have started to go to hell in a hand basket as they say in Oklahoma. We already had the insane predicament of beyond belief shale resources in the sweetest spot of the Marcellus in North Eastern Pennsylvania being unextractable for no reason apart from the New York State Line.
In Europe we talk of France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands waiting on UK shale. In the UK, we have the problem that to most people, Pennsylvania is indistinguishable from North Dakota, leading to the oft cited Europe is too crowded for shale gas argument against shale development. Yet, we have the City of Binghamton in Broome County, only a dozen miles away from Susquehanna County appearing as if it’s on another planet passing a fracking ban, despite a spillover of similar geology underneath and even gaining a great economic benefit from the neighbouring riches.
If we think French politics complicated, they are as nothing compared to New York State. The Empire State has politics built on the eternal battle between upstate Republicans and New York City Democrats divided by a cultural gulf often wider than the Atlantic. But far worse, we now have divisions opening up in California between Democrats and Democrats. California has more shale oil than anywhere but it’s also afflicted by amnesia. Los Angeles was built on oil and the movie industry and we have oil wells all over LA, including not only at Beverly Hills High School since the 1950’s, but here at Hillcrest Country Club
California is also famous for earthquakes, yet just last week.
Was the earthquake that struck Los Angeles on Monday triggered by fracking?
Three Los Angeles City Council members Tuesday called on city staff to investigate whether oil and natural gas drilling methods like fracking caused the magnitude-4.4 temblor.
What we have here is a failure to communicate on a massive scale.We also have as the WSJ reports today, an accident waiting to happen:
A split is growing in the Democratic Party, one that ought to rival the divisions on the right that the headlines trumpet. Greens are increasingly bitter about President Obama —annoyed that he's dropped climate legislation, scaled back green subsidies, ignored fracking. They've channeled their frustration into the fight against Keystone, warning that they'll turn their significant money and resources against Mr. Obama's party if the president approves more "dirty oil." Since this president cares about nothing so much as winning elections, he's sat on the pipeline for five years.
Emboldened, the eco-warriors are now dramatically upping the stakes, demanding that Democrats turn against the natural-gas revolution that has propped up the Obama economy. More than a thousand activists flooded last month to a Keystone-like rally protesting Cove Point, a Maryland facility that is due to be the first to export liquefied natural gas. The Ukraine crisis and calls for greater gas exports have given the issue a big new lift. On Wednesday 16 prominent green groups sent an open letter to Mr. Obama demanding he essentially shut down Cove Point.
Cove Point is the closest US LNG terminal to Europe. This is happening just at the time when the EU is starting to think about depending on US LNG to provide some balance to Russian gas as well as the logical step of saying that if can import US shale gas, we can producer our own.
The left's new fracking demand is not so easily avoidable. The White House is technically in favor of natural gas, has reaped its environmental and economic upside, and its candidates are coalescing around drilling and export expansion. The president's green troops now demand an end to this. To crack down on fracking would be economically and politically dumb. Not cracking down risks tipping his green base over the edge.
Mr. Obama has for years politically danced around the U.S. natural gas boom, but Mr. McKibben & Co. are now forcing the issue. The president may not be able to punt on this one.
This isn’t going to get any easier. We have not only the Senate mid term elections, but more importantly, Andrew Cuomo in New York State waiting on the campaign for Governor this November. He doesn't want to lose that election, because the real election is 2016. If Hillary Clinton decides not to seek the Democratic nomination, then we'll see the historical suicidal tendencies of US Democrats creating a left/right debate over fracking where no one escapes unharmed. If the US fracking debate then collapses into one where US shale proponents are unable to enter into the nuanced conversation I’m trying to open with EU greens, we may as well literally switch off the lights.