fossil fuels

The War Over Fracking Comes to the English Countryside

It may seem like an unlikely place, but the quintessentially English village of Balcombe in the southeastern county of Sussex, has become the scene of an emotional war over fracking. More than a thousand activists have descended on this rural community over the past few weeks, protesting against the exploratory oil drilling that is currently taking place in the lush green countryside on the outskirts of Balcombe. Fracking — or, as it is properly known, hydraulic fracturing — involves pumping a mix of water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rocks and release oil or natural gas that’s trapped inside. While fracking has become widespread in the U.S., where 25,000 new fracked wells are being drilled every year, it has become a major environmental controversy in Britain. Although British Prime Minister David Cameron has lauded its potential economic benefits — which he says will include lower energy bills and thousands of new jobs — environmentalists and activists have voiced worries about water contamination, seismic tremors and the industrialization of Britain’s venerable countryside. (MORE: Amid Economic and Safety Concerns, Nuclear Advocates Pin Their Hopes on New Designs) For all the noise, no shale gas has yet been commercially produced onshore in Britain, but exploratory drilling for gas and oil has been under way across the country since 2011, apart from an unofficial suspension between June 2011 and April 2012 after the process was widely blamed for triggering two minor earthquakes. The protests against fracking in Balcombe, which began on July 25, were given a renewed injection of energy over the weekend with the launch of a high-profile protest camp, initiated by U.K. environmental group No Dash for Gas. In addition to causing the energy firm Cuadrilla to temporarily suspend its test drilling program for six days (from Aug. 16 onward), the campaign culminated in direct action on Aug. 19, with 20 protesters blockading Cuadrilla’s headquarters in Staffordshire, six activists gluing themselves to the glass door of the central London offices of Cuadrilla’s p.r. company and 200

From Forests to Fossil Fuels: U.S. Energy Consumption Since 1776

What did the Founding Fathers use to power the American Revolution? Pretty much one fuel source: wood. And until the late 19th century, forests remained America’s chief energy source. Since then, it’s been mostly fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — with a little bit of hydroelectric, nuclear and a smidgen of renewables like wind and solar. That’s the takeaway from a neat infographic put out yesterday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the invaluable — and too often underappreciated — statistics arm of the Energy Department. The EIA has been keeping close tabs on U.S. and international energy use going back several decades, but obviously there was no U.S. of A in 1776, let alone an EIA. So Tyson Brown, the analyst who put together the brief, estimated energy use in the colonial era based on population at the time. Wood was just about the only fuel source early Americans had access to — whale oil for lamps would have been another one — which is one reason why the great forests of the eastern U.S. were systematically cut down. Wood may qualify as a renewable resource, but it’s an inefficient one with the rather significant side effect of deforestation. It’s notable that U.S. energy consumption as a whole didn’t increase all that much until the late 19th century, when coal — powering the trains that crisscrossed the country — and then petroleum began to enter the economy in a big way. Even today, renewables produce more energy than the U.S. as a whole would have used during the Civil War. But the energy story of the electrified 20th century is the story of fossil fuels: petroleum, natural gas and coal, which produced 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade alone, even as renewables began to creep up. “What you have from the 1970s on is a parity between the existing technologies, with some tweaking on the edges,” says Brown. We’re still a carbon-based society. And we’re unlikely to declare our independence from fossil fuels