back to article Freeman Dyson: Shale gas is 'cheap and effective'

Renowned British-born boffin Freeman Dyson has given a cautious welcome to shale gas – the energy revolution that has caught energy experts, politicians and civil servants by surprise. "A surge in gas production and use may prove to be both the cheapest and most effective way to hasten the decarbonisation of the world economy, …

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'Science writer' Matt Ridley.

Well he certainly knows how to frack up the Rock.

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Anonymous Coward

title

subtle :)

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Quack quack, Squeek, Roar

Is this Matt Ridley the Zoologist?.......

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The change from wax candles to electric light. Ah yes, I remember it well.

"Wax candles did more than government schools to produce a literate working class ... Compared with that, the later change from wax candles to electric light was not so important."

(1) Wax candles were very expensive, even for the middle class. Tallow was smelly but much cheaper. (2) Even if the working class could have afforded them, candles provide very little light. Try reading by one. (3) "The change from wax candles to electric light" never happeped. Many other lighting forms came in between, including gas, which preceeded electric by 100 years.

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I suspect the gas mantle helped out.

Yes, gas light probably helped out, but early gas tech was no better than candles. But once gas mantles were innovated, THEN you had a viable gas-based light that was very bright. It was the gas mantle that kept many people away from electricity until electricity proved too versatile to ignore.

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Anonymous Coward

don't kid yourself

The 'candles' that are generally on sale nowadays are a bit of a joke compared to proper candles*. Get yourself some decent ones and you can easily read by the light one produces, although it's not perfect as there will always be some flickering.

I may be wrong, but i always thought wax was cheaper than tallow, but didn't burn as cleanly, smoky, less light etc. decent modern ones are generally made of stearin which i thought was pretty much a vegetarian equivalent to tallow.

*Probably considered a fire hazard as they give a much bigger and more robust flame.

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Anonymous Coward

Reading By Candle Light?

BTDT, no problem. OK so it wasn't just one candle, it was five but I could read without eye strain.

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Dead Vulture

Cost

Andrew, you say that "By contrast, solar and wind renewables" whilst enclosing a table that puts the cost of [onshore] wind below nuclear and only slightly more expensive than coal.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Cost

I've driven past the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm many times, and it's always been furiously active.

According to this the average wind speed through the pass is 15-20mph and the peak wind coincides with peak energy demand, during the summer:

http://www.eoearth.org/article/San_Gorgonio_Pass,_California

When I pass a wind turbine in the UK, it's hardly ever moving.

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WTF?

What get's me is....

Geothermal energy isn't on this list. You know, drill a big hole in the ground so deep that the natural warmth of the earth heats up water which gives you energy for free. It can't be that expensive to be done on an industrial scale, has almost zero emissions and will never run out - but nope, we still pollute our seas with those useless wind turbines.

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There's a catch.

Geothermal generally isn't practical in most parts of the world because the earth doesn't get hot enough unless you drill VERY (as in expensively) deep. Then why Iceland, you say? Being in a volcanic hotspot has its advantages in that regard.

For more general uses, geothermal tech tends to be better used as a heat pump rather than an energy source: helping to balance ambient temperature by taking advantage of the fact that earth actually stays pretty cool in a decent zone between the surface and the radiant core heat (for the same reason caves made good iceboxes in the past).

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'It can't be that expensive to be done on an industrial scale'

Unless you live in an area with an exceptional geothermal gradient, geothermal power is just not economic. In most of the world the gradient is a measly 15C per kilometre; successful geothermal plants have needed gradients of five or even ten times that - and even then they need boreholes a couple of kilometres deep.

Then you don't just drill one borehole, you drill hundreds, plus plenty more return wells to pump the water back down into the earth - not only because it helps keep the reservoir full, but also because it tends to carry an unhealthy dose of heavy metals, sulfur and carbonates.

In the right places (Iceland, the Philippines are stand-out examples), geothermal is almost as cheap as hydropower; and has the benefit of producing lots of hot water for domestic heating. There are more marginal sites (Cornwall being the best in the UK) where there is some potential for geothermal power, but sadly it won't ever be useful for most of us.

BTW. Did I miss Andrew's long article about the Cornell research into the emissions problems of shale gas?

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: What get's me is....

Geothermal would be on my list, Mr Wanktrollop, it's the only renewable worth considering for now. Unless you live somewhere very sunny.

But you can be sure somebody will tell you off for puncturing Mother Earth with a great big rod - as they already have with fracking.

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Stop

it takes time

Unless you drill right in to the core of the earth (well in to the actual heat source) it is rather limited.

Reason being is that it takes time for the rock to heat up. It's not an unlimited supply in the sense that you either end up extracting energy at a slow rate, or extracting too much too fast.

It's a bit like a water filter, you can have as much water to put in it but you can only drink as much as the rate that it comes through. Certain places like iceland it comes through rather quickly so it's not without it's merits but in most places in the world it can't contribute a very significant amount to the grid.

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Agreed.

Geothermal is a hot topic (sorry!) here in Italy, which has three active volcanos to deal with, plus an irritating earthquake addiction that it refuses to get counselling for.

Nuclear really isn't an option here (much though I agree with your thoughts on that matter) given Italy's geography: there's barely anywhere to put a large one as Italians are rather fond of their beaches. The smaller ones simply aren't going to happen as rural Italians can be even more ignorant than their British counterparts. The Vajont Dam disaster some decades ago is Italy's "Titanic": it gets trotted out every year when its anniversary comes around. So you can imagine what Italians think of hydroelectric power. (Ironically, that disaster wasn't caused by seismic activity, but by poor siting of the dam in a valley with unstable sides. The dam itself didn't collapse: a giant landslip simply pushed a massive wall of water over it and wiped out the towns and villages, and over 2000 people, below in a single night.)

However, Italians are long used to getting only 3 kW/hr. at the door outside of their cities. (It's only twice that in city apartments. Electricity is mostly imported into Italy and costs a fortune: even a small home can pay upwards of €100 / month. The British really don't know when they've got a good deal going.)

But it's simple ignorance—particularly wilful ignorance—that is a far greater danger to Homo Sapiens* than mere pollution. Saving the planet doesn't involve nuclear power, carbon dioxide sequestration, or geothermal energy: all it needs is education. The rest will take care of itself.

* (The Earth itself will get along just fine without us if we wipe ourselves out. Gaia really couldn't give a gnat's chuff whether Homo Sapiens lives or dies.)

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FAIL

"somebody will tell you off for puncturing Mother Earth with a great big rod"

So what. A number of nimby yokels with conspicous 4X4s on their driveways in a village next to a ridge near Evesham with exceptional wind averages surrounded by industrial scale market gardening with square miles of greenhouses within sight have regimented "No to Windfarm" signs outside their cottages because they think the windfarm will spoil the view more than their silly signs . The fact idiots can be found to complain about anything in their back yard shouldn't put the rest of us off from making the right choices.

But there again, nothing scares nimbys more than a well constructed rumour that they are being selected to play host community to a nuclear waste dump or reactor. But making someone else's host community pick up the insurance and property value reduction tabs for that when and where it happens, is cost externalisation par excellence.

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Headmaster

Sorry to be pedantic...

But in terms of energy consumption there is no such thing as 3kW per hour.

Watts are already 'per hour'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilowatt_hour#Confusion_of_kilowatt_hours_and_kilowatts_per_hour

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Cornell Report

Is that the one where one of the authors said that their data was both incomplete and inadequate and the reports conclusions were not to be trusted? If it is, then there's no need to have a long article about it, as it's already been done on plenty of other sites/blogs

Just asking...

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Happy

@Ebaneezer Wanktrollop

"Geothermal energy isn't on this list. "

Good point.

But who uses it?

I think Iceland might and the UK probably should (at least in Scotland with all that radioactive granite)

Note this is a US supplied list and I don't think they have a commercial site *anywhere* in the US. (although either Los Alamos or Lawrence Livermore did a *lot* of work on this in the 1970s. Superheated brine is *nasty* stuff to drive a turbine with).

BTW are you one of the Berkshire Wanktrollops?

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Anonymous Coward

strictly speaking,

geothermal isn't renewable :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Not well suited, but not useless..

Agreed, a windmill is not an optimal production machine for an electrical infrastructure which relies predominately on fossil fuels to store energy for later retrieval. In addition the wind doesn't always blow, and IMHO putting a large heavy generator at the top of a tower makes maintenance costly and difficult. Placing these components in the ocean environment also increases maintenance costs, but the oceans are (wind-wise) an excellent place for them.

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When the World Screamed.

Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Coat

Not a green mabypandy but...

I do seem to recall seeing reports, unreliable as they may be, that talked about cooling of core causing current atmospheric state of Mars; as well as other suggesting that the same was happening here and was already causing atmospheric, magnetic and gravitational anomalies. I seem to recall that it was a couple of documentaries on the ever faithful and truthful telly box.

I guess that must raise the question as to whether pumping heat from the core and liberating it into the atmosphere is really such a brilliant renewable idea??

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Rob

I've seen one in the UK

There's a geothermal plant in Southampton by the shopping centre, well it says it is.

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Alert

sorry to be even more pedantic

Your Retarded - is that a title, like "Your Majesty"? Or did you mean "you're retarded"?

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Happy

There are several possible meanings depending on the context

One of them is as you say.

Hand in hand with that is to demonstrate that I am your Retarded - I am here for you, for the people.

A third insinuation is that the retarded are the responsibility of us all - your retarded, their retarded, our retarded.

If i had really wanted to say "you're retarded" then I would type as such, a final kicker is that those who are in fact retarded would read and understand it that way.

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Stop

No. Just No.

They frack in the states. It buggers up the water table and the hydraulic fluid they use for it is ridiculously toxic and has no recycle/reuse. whilst it may be economically viable in the states to tell people to shut up and drink their toxic water and bury the waste in a strip of desert, in the UK, guess what, the NHS foots the bill for the adverse effects of fracking on the populace, and we D

Don't have anywhere to put millions of gallons of toxic shit* so we'd have to pay out of the nose to ship it out to somewhere that'd take it** or invent and run a reprocessing unit at home (expensive, and just leads to a smaller, higher-concentration of toxic shit)

I find it odd that his report boils down to "Don't worry, there's always something to burn!" um, yes. if you want to get picky about it, we can just wait for the price of coal to rise until its economically viable, and then Dynamite every hill in wales. I mean sure, it'll completely wreck the place visually and ecologically, and it'll fuck the economy up when we stop doing it and have to lay off all those people _again_, but hey, we'll be 50 years further down the line with still no alternative to high-consumption, inefficient fossil fuel or a changed lifestyle, and now with even less 'easy to reach' fuel supplies.

there needs to be less duplicity and self-servingly edited facts in the energy market. there is no such thing as clean coal : you're ripping soot out of the ground and trucking it around. its going to be dirty. Glass-substrate photovoltaics have a massive energy debt because you have to _make glass_ to make them. a little more emphasis on energy efficiency and a little less bullshit about CFL light bulbs. would go a long way.***

Not just changes in efficiency (can we stop with the crap "only boil as much water as you need" adverts?) but emphasis on basic changes (how much energy would be saved by converting all street lights in the UK to LED? how bout if we did all the traffic lights? how about if we greenroofed**** / solarpanelled every new building made, and retrofitted old ones where possible? changes to domestic compressors for HVAC and refrigeration away from cheap, simple, and ghastly wasteful 25-year old designs would also be a boon. Everyone went "ooh" when people started building datacenters with a cold tunnel and an exhaust tunnel rather than just blowing as much clod air in there as you could and hoping for the best. more of this!

but no, why talk about creating a long-term, sustainable culture of efficiency which would employ literally thousands of regular people (you know, fitters, electricians, small businesses, fab shops, rather than government quangos and porkbarrelling asshats) across the country fitting insulation, panels, doing light consultations, when we can just bullshit up a reason to pump toxic waste into the ground.

*ok, Birmingham, but srs

**probably Africa.

***uses less energy, but gives shit light! you'll use 4 when you used to use 1, and bam! extra glass, industrial use of mercury... etc etc... why did we never have a 'fuck CFLs, lets all switch to high-efficiency, high-power LED clusters?

****not just better energy efficiency than the creation of new kiln-fired tile, but also helps with rainfall draininage needs by creating soak within inner city areas.

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Anonymous Coward

I also like...

...the bit about Gazprom and that powerful environmental lobby sharing the same billing. Those powerful hippies, between passing the bong around, are right up there next to the Russian military-industrial oligarchy when it comes to exerting their power on whole nations. Aside from everyone living in fear of their lives (or, at the very least, livelihoods) thanks to rampant extra-judicial activity enforced by infamous criminal figures, those hippies must also have a special kill-switch, presumably just behind the "for their own use" medicinal herbs greenhouse, to deny "the good vibe" from whole nations. Which as we all know is as potent as denying any nation the basis of light and heat production in the dark and cold months of winter.

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Megaphone

Africa

I am in South Africa and people in the Northern Cape don't want fracking any more than you!

** and they dont want your toxic shit either

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Sasol in South Africa?

Doesn't Sasol do something similar (Fischer-Tropsch synthetic gasoline from coal), how is it to live near such a plant? I'm curious what SA does with the slag left over after mining, crushing, boiling and reacting the coal stuff.

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Yag

One of the best solution...

... would just be to wait a bit for low/non toxic fracking chemicals.

The shale gas won't disappear if we don't use it for 10 more years.

On the other hand, I'm very dissapointed about those high power leds... Those crappy china-made things have a life duration far lower than vintage 80s/90s components. Perhaps it is due to the chemicals themselves instead of the production process, but I doubt it.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: No. Just No.

"but no, why talk about creating a long-term, sustainable culture of efficiency"

Because what you call "sustainability" isn't in the long-term sustainable. A 50 per cent drop in demand just isn't going to happen - even if you try and enforce it at gunpoint. An abundance of cheap energy is what we need, and what we'll get.

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Quoi?

> An abundance of cheap energy is what we need, and what we'll get.

You might - but your children won't, and your grandchildren certainly won't.

Cheap energy is a short-term, mostly 20th century addiction - not to be continued for long. Smart-ass statements like ""sustainability" isn't in the long-term sustainable" won't change reality. Your cheap energy addiction isn't sustainable - with or without scare quotes.

Even now, it is only being sustained by very expensive wars in unstable countries, or by grotesque pollution in other (corrupt) countries. The pampered West may be content to close its eyes to those who suffer for our profligacy, but the rest of the world is wising up. They are already deciding they can't afford to maintain the West's comfortable ignorance.

And your repeated dismissal of science won't change how the environment reacts to our input.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Quoi?

strum: "Cheap energy is a short-term, mostly 20th century addiction - not to be continued for long"

If the people need it, then the people will get it.

"[ ... ] the pampered West [...] the West's comfortable ignorance."

Guilt and self-loathing are much in evidence in here. I recommend getting a hair shirt, and flogging yourself daily. You can do my penance for me.

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We're already there.

An abundance of cheap energy is what we already have, and we're pissing it away on cars designed to haul 7 people that only haul one, on lighting,heating and cooling massive, uninsulated box stores 24/7/365, on mass transit systems powering ancient, superheavy rolling stock, on smelting god only know how much bloody aluminium a year for the automotive and food industries that then ends up in landfills.

Im sorry, but the closer you cleave to 100% efficiency the more sustainable the energy situation becomes, period. waste + growth is mutually exclusive with anything sustainable, and frankly your argument has implications as bad as Dysons : dont worry, Im sure we'll invent room-temperature superconductors and fusion reactors pretty soon! jolly good, carry on! Life isnt that simple; its not good enough to carry on putting energy purchases on a metaphorical credit card because sooner or later you're going to win the lottery or get a promotion and pay it all back.

we're stuck in a legacy situation : we have legacy infrastructure that we've spent the last hundred years perfecting the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. its somewhat unsurprising to me that with that heritage its pretty damned cheap to use FF rather than anything else. we're also stuck in another kind of legacy situation : everything is designed for cheap power. efficiency is a sort of nerdy, hippy term, only really talked about by people who run massive consumption units and the sort of dork that lives in the woods and craps into a bucket by candlelight.

until we hit a point where either cheap FF power becomes too expensive, or we hit a point where we realise we're trying too hard to stay on cheap FF power* we're going to be stuck in this situation forever, a situation where the alternatives will always be more expensive, where it will always be easier to carry on doing what we are doing, because change is hard. and yes, change is hard, but like a fat dude eating his way towards a heart attack, maybe change is a good idea, and frankly massive improvements in efficiency I believe are the way forward to giving alternate energy producers breathing room to make their products more competitive**.

*(lets drill alaska and the arctic circle, fuck the wildlife, lets dynamite the welsh countryside, fuck the repair bill, lets frack everywhere, fuck the water table)

**or give FF advocates a few more years breathing room, depending on how negative/cynical you are about the situation.

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Sustainable

We need the efficiency that Heff recommends, while researching to create Andrew Orlowski's energy fantasy. Heff's vision, even if it were not 100% sustainable, will certainly sustain a lot longer than just doing nothing, giving the needed research more time.

Unfortunately this debate is quietly steered by the oil companies et al, who pervade every forum and influence every decision. Their objective is to delay action and to muddy argument for as long as possible. Thousands of scientists cannot gainsay them. They have even got us using the nice term "climate change" instead of the more accurate and ominous "global warming".

Almost every global-warming-denial article written can be traced back to oil company sponsorship or patronage. (I am not referring the the Dyson article here). Recall, if you are over 40, the old arguments over aerosol CFCs and the ozone layer. The manufacturers claimed that using an alternate propellant was simply impossible. Everyone believed them until the government just passed a law saying it must be so. Overnight, they switched to a harmless propellant, and the ozone layer has healed itself in the intervening years. Big companies are not really bad people, they are just blinkered because they are so busy making money out of something.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Sustainable

"Unfortunately this debate is quietly steered by the oil companies et al, who pervade every forum and influence every decision. "

That, sir, is a paranoid fantasy.

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Methane is a potent greenhouse gas

Natural gas is mostly (80-100%) methane which produces less CO2 when burned / unit of heat produced than coal (or other hydrocarbons). However, methane in itself is 50x or so more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Some will leak and/or escape unburned which narrows the cap. Still, burning some that can be sourced locally is much better than having to depend of Gazprom / Middle East.

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Flame

coal is not clean

Gas is not clean, whilst cleaner than oil and coal and bountiful but it is still a fossil fuel and you cannot decarbonise by by using it.

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WTF?

Burning shale gas

... is still burning gas. How exactly does that reduce carbon dependence? All natural gas is a hydrocarbon, no?

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WTF?

tittle

""A surge in gas production and use may prove to be both the cheapest and most effective way to hasten the decarbonisation of the world economy, given the cost and land requirements of most renewables," he writes in the foreword to a new report."

Wait, what?! The solution to decarbonize the world economy is to start burning a new type of hydrocarbon??

The only way this would kind of work is if coal was internationally banned as a fuel source and replaced with shale gas. But that doesn't seem to be what is being proposed here. In fact the document even states ""Though oil may yet grow more scarce and costly during this century, there is no realistic prospect of the world 'running out' of coal or gas this millennium."

So exactly how does burning shale gas (which is largely methane isn't it?) *as well* as coal and oil decarbonize the economy? It doesn't - it actually does the opposite. This is just another business as usual disguised. We will still burn through the coal and oil as fast as we can, but now we will start burning shale gas ASAP as well.

"The report, written by science writer Matt Ridley, was commissioned by the Global Warming Policy Foundation"

Ahhhhh

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Relative truths.

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/14/world_renowned_scientist_dr_theo_colborn

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4s3EANkQ6E part 6 Mainly 3.25 onwards to understand how dangerous this is.

It is criminal how environmentally abusive hydraulic fracturing on Marcellus shale deposits can be. No one person in their right mind would accept this as an alternative energy source. As they would know, with a little research, that the cost is just too great in the long term. Talking of subsidies, what about all the money that will be poured into habitat management and “preservation” affected sites in the future. Do you know where the UK deposits actually are?

People need to understand exactly what this is before all politically fuelled mis-information gets to them. I haven’t had time to check the British Geographical Surveys to know to what extent we could be impacted. I’m would hazard a guess the energy interests are mostly looking to use Britain as a platform into the rest of Europe where the larger deposits are. According to Wikipedia the deposits are located as shown in the link below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EIA_World_Shale_Gas_Map.png

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Stop

"No one person in their right mind would accept this.."

Want to phrase that as a wager?

People will accept anything as long as it keeps teh interwebs and their 50" plasma screens powered for a low monthly cost.

Yes it may fuck up the Earth but that's for the next generation to worry about and there is no unsafe/unsightly nuke* pile at the end of the street.

* I am pro-nuclear**

** what is it with footnotes today?***

*** It's coffee o'clock and I'm getting tetchy.

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Anonymous Coward

Read the report, not the press release.

Again, it's the glossing over of important sections that does in another Orlowski "science" article.

When you wrote: "Geologist Art Berman wonders why one-third of shale wells drilled in the past "four to six" years are already abandoned; advocates say they should last 40 to 50 years." did it strike you as unusual? Maybe the sort of thing that could have done with a bit of developing?

Page 18 of the report states that Shale production decline rates are still highly uncertain, and great differences exist between good and bad shale deposits. Also, predictable models of shale production cannot yet be accurately produced. Not only are you risking putting your eggs in a shoddy basket, you can't even guess how shoddy the basket will be.

Top work again.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Read the report, not the press release.

Estimates of shale gas production so far have been wrong in one direction. They've all underestimated the yields.

So we'll have to wait and see if this continues. But since shale requires no subsidies, it's the investors who will bear the risk and will take a bath if yields fall short of expectations.

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Hydro's pretty efficient...

...but then again, I doubt residents of Scottish or Welsh valley villages would appreciate a giant concrete wall being built down the road, or being told to bugger off elsewhere when the sluice is closed. Especially as nowadays they probably wouldn't bother to build a replacement village - just tell them to move to Cardiff or Glasgow and give 'em about enough money to buy a bedsit in one of the dodgy areas of town.

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Pirate

Hydro

Problem with Hydro is location - Scotland is already a significant exporter of leccy, except for those times, as was reported only a few days ago, when the link to England fails, possibly because it was already overloaded.

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Anonymous Coward

Local energy for local people

Some areas with high rainfall and the right geography can generate loads of leccy from hydro. However there are other costs. There is the initial cost of building the dam things and of course theres the cost in land. And not just financial costs either. Look at the mighty Colorado. There are so many dams on that river and it's tributaries that by the time it reaches the see it is a shadow of it's former self. It seems that evaporation from all the artificial lakes (not least lake Mead) is the main cause of this loss.

Advocates of every form of renewable energy see their preferred source of power as being the only one. The reality is that different forms work best in different locations. The sooner people involved in renewables stop arguing the better. And the only way I think this will happen is if politicians pull out of the argument.

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