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Listener Letters - Bakken Shale

Listener Letters - Bakken Shale

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Published by: NPRombudsman on Oct 07, 2011
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04/22/2012

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Listener Letters
 –
 
New Boom Reshapes Oil World, Rocks North Dakota
 Weekend All Things Considered, September 25, 2011Mr. Raz,I like to think that NPR will present factual information on important issues rather than extremeexaggeration but your segment on U.S. oil production and resources (Sept. 24, 2011) falls into the realmof extreme exaggeration.Your segment highlighted the Bakken Shale, which is mostly in North Dakota. I believe you stated thatthe Bakken Shale has ~11 billion barrels of oil, if not more.An April 2008 USGS report estimated the amount of technically recoverable oil using technology readilyavailable at the end of 2007 within the Bakken Formation at 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels (680,000,000m3),with a mean of 3.65 billion. The state of North Dakota also released areport that month which estimatedthat there are 2.1 billion barrels (330,000,000 m3) of technically recoverable oil in the Bakken. Basedupon historical estimates from the USGS, technically recoverable oil is an inflated estimate of how muchoil that will ultimately be extracted from a region. I expect the 2.1 billion barrels to be too high. Toplace the figure in perspective, the U.S. consumes approximately 7 billion barrels of liquid hydrocarbonsper year. Although one of your experts gave the impression that technology is improving daily, frackingtechnology is quite mature at this point in time.
Through the first 4 months of this year (most recent US DOE/EIA data), North Dakota’s oil production
had dropped 0.79% relative to the last quarter of 2010.
That’s after increasing over 30%/year the last 2
years. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
There seems to be considerable misunderstanding concerning the Bakken Shale and what is termed “oil
sha
le”, theshale in places like Colorado.
In the Bakken Shale, there is actually oil impregnated into theshale. That is not the case for most shale in the U.S. When you give a figure of 2 trillion barrels of presumably recoverable oil for the U.S., most of that estimate is based upon oil shalewhich has a solidorganic material called kerogen in it. No amount of fracking will remove the kerogen from the shale. It
appears unlikely that the “oil” in oil shale will ever be produced on a large scale.
It is not at all like theBakken Shale.You stated that U.S. oil production is increasing very rapidly. Based upon data from the US DOE/EIA,U.S. crude oil + condensate production, what I consider as oil, increased 2.66% through the first 6months of 2011 relative to the first 6 months of 2010. I expect the second half increase for 2011 to beless than the first half. The decline in U.S.liquid hydrocarbon imports has been influenced substantiallyby an approximate 2 million barrel/day decline in liquid hydrocarbon demand in recent years.
 
One of your experts in the segment was Amy Jaffe. She may be a good cheerleader for U.S. oilproduction, but her forecasting record for oil has much to be desired. Here is the summary of an articleshe wrote in 2000:Summary:As oil flirts with prices that call to mind the shocks of the 1970s, the usual Cassandras have beenwarning of dwindling oil supplies and sky-high prices. But the danger is precisely the opposite. The nexttwo decades will witness a prolonged surplus of oil, which will tamp prices down. This world of cheap oilwill have serious political reverberations. Without rising oil revenues, such key states as Saudi Arabia,Russia, Mexico, and Colombiawill face worsening crises at home. The same is true in spades for CentralAsia, where Washington's current wrongheaded policies could drag it into crises that make the Balkanslook like a pregame warm-up. The world should worry less about a scarcity of oil than about a glut.At the time oil was $25-30/barrel and as I remember it, she was talking about ~$10/barrel for the nextfew decades.
We’ve been a bit higher than $10 or even $20/barrel for a long time.
Is that really your oil expert?You claim that soon, the U.S. will be producing more oil than Saudi Arabia and Russia. I view that asextremely unlikely. Realize that oil production in major producing areas such as the Gulf of Mexico(GOM) and Alaska are declining. Through the first 4 months of 2011, GOM oil production is off ~163,000b/d relative to the first 4 months of 2010 while that of Alaska is off ~40,000 b/d for the first 6 months of 2011 relative to the first 6 months of 2010. I personally expect that in 5 years, U.S. oil production will beless than in 2011. I think my record at predictions for future oil production rates are pretty good as thislinked commentary shows:http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2011/04/a-look-back-at-north-sea-oil-production-projections/ - Roger BlanchardSault Ste. Marie, MIDear Mr. Schumacher-Matos,Last night I sent an email to you with a complaint about Guy Raz's puff piece on the North DakotaBakken Shale, which ought to be an embarrassment to you and NPR. Today the NYTs published thispiece, which characterizes some of the complexity of a boom scenario, and what the flaring of theBakken gas wells means in terms of wasted energy and increased GHG emissions ought to give athoughtful person pause. Now there's a story for you, reportedly 30% of this ND gas is being burned aswaste, and additionally, " The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into theatmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit,alarming some environmentalists."
 
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/business/energy-environment/in-north-dakota-wasted-natural-gas-flickers-against-the-sky.html The gas companies scream and threaten and sue communities saying we need this resource right nowfrom every rock that can be drilled and fracked and yet they are allowed to waste it with impunity. Thisis not sound energy policy.Lisa WrightBrooktondale, NYTo the un-critical listener, your Sunday ATC piece "New Boom Reshapes Oil World, Rocks North Dakota"with Guy Raz sounded upbeat, comforting and down right exciting. To me, the piece sounded an awfullot like the industry propaganda we hear all the time from the big oil and gas companies poised to begindrilling using horizontal hydraulic fracturing where I live in upstate New York. And yet when you see abill board paid for by IOGA, at least you know the bias of the message. Cloaking industry propaganda inthe guise of "in depth"(did you manage to cover every aspect of industry's view point?) reporting is dangerous. I thought NPR,as a publicly funded news organization provided me with access to actual information about issues I donot have first hand knowledge of. After hearing this piece where I have an intimate personalexperiences of the unreported and totally ignored "other" side of the story, I have has my eyes opened.How will I ever listen to another NPR story again and trust what I hear?Autumn StoscheckVan Etten, NYDear Mr. Schumacher-Matos,I just discovered your response to emails from listeners who felt that NPR did not do a good job coveringthe shale-gas reserve estimates that had been reported from quite a different perspective in the NYTsand Bloomberg.http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2011/09/09/140336124/hydraulic-spinning-oil-industry-favored-in-fracking-story I also just listened to this more recent story online-- which opened with an ad for the American NaturalGas Alliance.Please listen to this piece with an open mind, and tell me truthfully-- is this journalism? Is Raz's toneappropriate and balanced? Were the chosen experts appropriately balanced as well?

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