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Friday, April 20, 2012

Frac'ing, the EPA and the Emperor's New Clothes

So in its zeal to protect us from ourselves the EPA has issued new regulations constraining how hydraulic fracturing (fracing) of natural gas wells.

One of the goals of this new regulation (look at the "Overview Fact Sheet") is to reduce VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) released into the atmosphere.  They estimate that some 190,000 tons of VOCs would not be released upon implementation of the these new regulations.  Also some 12,000 tons of "Air Toxics" and up to 1.7 million tons of methane.

On the surface this seems like a laudable goal.

However, a little research reveals the following.

The best estimates I can find on the mass of the earth's atmosphere is that its approximately 5 x 10^15 tons.  So these VOC's the EPA is regulating represent .000000000002 % of the atmosphere.

The cost of this to the natural gas industry?

Tens of millions of dollars a year.  But don't worry - these costs will be offset by profits...

So given these numbers let's see what's being talked about at a more technical level.

A US football field is approximately 91.44 meters long.

If we take .000000000002 x 91.44 we get 1.8 * 10^-10 or something about the size of a hydrogen atom.

So the relationship we are talking about here is the length of a football field to the length of a hydrogen atom.

So let's take this a bit further.

Suppose I have a kite string 91.44 meters long attached to a kite flying up in the sky.

The EPA is proposing that something the size of a single hydrogen atom will have an impact on the kite's string.  (Of course, the kite string is much thicker than the hydrogen atom so we can simply imagine it to be of the thinnest material known to man instead of actual string - the results are the same.)

We could also think about this in terms of the number of atoms involved, but the numbers are so ridiculously large that its not worth even writing it out.

Now in science we know that at STP (Standard Pressure) a single Mole of Hydrogen gas, or about 10^24 hydrogen molecules, takes up about 22L - or let's say two 5 gallon gasoline containers.

We cannot, due to quantum mechanics, even know anything about where a single atom of hydrogen would be in this volume of gas much less what its impact would be on, say, a kite string, i.e., it cannot have a measurable impact at the macro level of the kite string.

Yet they are regulating it.

And claiming this has any effect at all on the planet or our atmosphere is beyond ridiculous.

Personally I think that this is the result of bad education.

If it was my job to think about these things, and actually it is as a citizen of the US, one would have to see how preposterous these "regulations" really are.

Even the millions of tons of methane supposedly produced is dwarfed by the annual production of methane in the world that we know about.

And as far as global climate change water vapor dwarfs any impact of methane.

So, at least in my mind, this is not about science at all.

Its a shame to even call it scientific.

Its all about ignorance.

The emperor is not only not wearing any clothes, there isn't even an emperor in the first place.

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