Category — Epstein, Alex
The main thing you need to know about FrackNation is that you should watch it. More importantly, given that this blog’s audience is unusually educated about hydraulic fracturing–frac’ing–you should encourage friends and family to watch it.
The use of hydraulic fracturing and (less-publicized) horizontal drilling to extract oil and gas from shale rock is, to the best of my knowledge, the most important technological revolution of the last decade. The existence of enormous deposits of shale has long been known–some of the earliest experiments with kerosene involved shale–but the ability to affordably get oil and gas from these deposits has been elusive for over a century. In Ayn Rand’s 1957 Atlas Shrugged, one of the heroes manages to solve the problem, and it is rightly regarded as an epic achievement.
But, to read today’s media coverage of frac’ing, you would have no idea that it is a heroic, life-giving development. You would regard it as a health menace that must be banned from every town, city, and state.
Until you watched FrackNation. For an entertaining documentary, FrackNation does a remarkably thorough job of giving the truth about frac’ing, including: [Read more →]
January 29, 2013 3 Comments
The story of hydraulic fracturing (frac’ing) is one of the most important stories of our time. It needs to be told far and wide–and certainly by our top talent in Hollywood.
The true story of frac’ing is utterly inspiring. A band of renegade oil and gas executives, engineers, and rig-workers developed a technology that could transform worthless rock into wondrously abundant and affordable energy–enough to improve the lives of every single American. Frac’ing gives some states the cheapest electricity in the world, a boon to our manufacturing. It gives us the oil and gas that run our farms, warm our homes, and fuel our fun.
Whatever ways frac’ing technology has been misused–and for a pervasive technology there are shockingly few instances–our basic attitude toward the industry should be one of gratitude. And the most grateful of all should be the landowners who, thanks to the ingenuity of the frac’ing industry, now have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from a torrent of wealth creation miles beneath their feet.
A good, honest movie about frac’ing would inspire hope and inspire gratitude.
Promised Land, Hollywood’s first take on frac’ing, is neither good nor honest–it is a shameful smear-job by writer-actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski.
January 7, 2013 10 Comments
Imagine you live nearby a pharmaceutical factory. Decade after decade, it creates wealth and jobs in your area by producing life-saving products. Then, one day, there is a fire at the factory, damaging a component upon which half the output depends. The company puts out the fire soon as possible so that no nearby residents are likely to suffer any long-term health consequences.
Obviously, the appropriate response to such a situation would to be to both investigate the cause of the fire and to let the company fix the damage as soon as possible, so it can get back to its important work.
This also should have been the response of the residents of Richmond, California, to last year’s fire at the local Chevron oil refinery, because oil refineries are no less valuable than pharmaceutical factories. In fact, they produce the amazingly versatile materials of which pharmaceuticals–and thousands of other crucial products–are made.
Oil refineries transform oil, an essentially useless natural substance made largely of dead plants, into fuel and synthetic materials–into the fuel that drives a firetruck to your home, into the hose that allows the firefighter to save your home, into the flame-retardant jacket that allows the firefighter to survive his dangerous job.
Unfortunately, our educational system does not teach the value of oil refineries. Thus, ever since a fire at Chevron’s Richmond, California, refinery last August, the company has been pilloried by the local community to the point that it has not been allowed, reports the New York Times, “to rebuild a critical unit damaged in a major fire in August. Chevron says it wants to complete repairs this month at the refinery, where production has been cut in half since the fire. Not so fast, the city says.” [Read more →]
January 4, 2013 7 Comments
“It is the oil industry, not its opponents, that deserves the moral high ground. The moral arguments against oil pretend to be progressive but are in fact re-hashes of primitive philosophical doctrines. For example, ‘sustainability’ is a relic of centuries when human beings repeated the same lifestyle over and over–instead of finding better and better ways to do things.”
Imagine you are an advertising executive, and a CEO asks you: “Do you think you can help improve the reputation of my industry?”
You respond, “Sure, what are some ways your industry makes people’s live better?”
He replies, “Well, actually, our product helps people in just about everything they do. This past year, it helped take 4 million newlyweds to their dream destinations for their honeymoons. It helped bring 300 million Americans to their favorite places: yoga studios, soccer games, friends’ houses. It made possible the bulletproof vests that protect 500,000 policemen a year and the fire-resistant jackets that protect 1,000,000 firefighters a year.”
“If you do all that, how could you be unpopular?”
“We’re the oil industry.” [Read more →]
December 5, 2012 18 Comments
Bill McKibben, who has been called “the nation’s leading environmentalist,” is leading a movement to destroy the fossil fuel industry, which he calls “Public Enemy Number One.” This is the signature issue of his mega-popular organization 350.org under the names “Do the Math“ and “Fossil Free.”
As an energy researcher who knows the indispensability of the fossil fuel industry to my own life and billions of lives around the world, I am doing whatever I can to stop this movement.
My Debate with Bill McKibben
Earlier this month I publicly debated Bill McKibben in order to make the case that his quest “to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of 20 over the next few decades” is pseudoscientific and suicidal.
Throughout the debate I stressed four points:
- For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels are the indispensable source of the abundant, affordable energy that human flourishing depends on.
- The proven science about climate illustrates a mere half-degree warming in the last 70 years, including virtually no warming in the last 15–McKibben’s claims of catastrophe are based on the extreme speculation of climate prediction models that can’t predict the climate.
- The overall impact of fossil fuel use and the technologies it powers has been to make our climate dramatically safer–climate-related deaths have fallen 98% since 1920.
- The world desperately needs more energy–3 times as much if everyone is to get to the same level as Germany–and yet McKibben is calling for 95% of fossil fuels to be illegal.
Readers should watch the debate and draw their own conclusions, but from my vantage point the thing that struck me most about McKibben’s approach was that he was intellectually and emotionally indifferent to the fundamental importance of affordable, abundant energy. [Read more →]
November 30, 2012 12 Comments
99.9% of discussion of fossil fuels and our environment ignores the single most important fact about fossil fuels and our environment: fossil fuels have made our environment amazingly good.
The difference between a healthy environment and an unhealthy environment can be summed up in one word, and it’s not “CO2” or “climate” or “temperature.” It’s “development.”
Every region of the world, in its undeveloped state, is full of deadly environmental hazards such as indoor air pollution, bacteria-filled water, excessive cold, excessive heat, lack of rainfall, too much rainfall, powerful storms, disease-carrying insects, lack of sanitation, disease-carrying crops and animals, etc.
And yet some nations, such as the US, have the best air, water, indoor temperature, crops, sanitation, water supplies, storm-protection, disease-prevention, sanitation, and overall environmental quality in human history–while others are plagued by heat waves, cold snaps, drought, storms, crop failures, malaria and dozens of other dread diseases, filth, dung-burning fires, lack of clean drinking water.
The reason for this is development–the improvement of nature to meet human needs. Development means water purification systems, irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-improved crops, dams, sea walls, heating, air conditioning, sturdy homes, drained swamps, central power stations, vaccination, pharmaceuticals, and so on.
Every aspect of development has one common requirement: cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. And we would not have cheap, plentiful, reliable energy without the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuels have transformed hazardous natural environments the world over into healthy human environments–environments that include an unprecedented ability to explore and safely enjoy nature. [Read more →]
September 28, 2012 13 Comments
[Editor Note: This interview of Alex Epstein was conducted by Jordan McGillis, a graduate student at Seton Hall University. Mr. Epstein, a philosopher, has expanded the energy debate in recent years by adding a moral and interpretive dimension to classical energy-policy debates.]
1. It’s been objectively demonstrated that practices such as frac’ing produce abundant, affordable, and reliable energy, and yet, they are virulently resisted by much of the public. Why, despite the evidence of frac’ing’s value, is it, along with other productive practices, so loathed? Are there some underlying political or philosophical ideas at work here?
I think it’s important to make a distinction between the opposition of environmentalist leaders and the opposition of those duped by their claims. The vast majority of Americans would certainly embrace hydraulic fracturing if they understood what it did, how it works, and what the (remarkably small) risks are vs. the risks of not hydraulically fracturing.
Consider: this is a technology that literally cures hunger–through natural-gas-produced fertilizers, through oil-powered agricultural machinery. It cures disease–through insecticides synthesized from oil and gas, and through pharmaceuticals, also synthesized through oil and gas. And it “cures” unemployment, both from the productive opportunities it generates within the field of energy production, and the lower energy costs it bequeaths on every other American industry.
The alleged risk is groundwater contamination, which has nothing to do with frac’ing, which occurs thousands of feet of impermeable rock below the water table. It’s just a standard, relatively minor and eminently manageable risk. Unlike the risk of not frac’ing, which guarantees unnecessary suffering and death.
When I frame the issue in this way, I have yet to meet a person who objects to frac’ing outside of committed anti-industrialists/”
September 7, 2012 4 Comments
On November 5, I will be debating Bill McKibben, considered “world’s leading environmentalist” by some, on the proposition: “Fossil fuels are a risk to the planet.” I will be arguing that fossil fuels dramatically improve the planet for human beings.
This debate came about at the suggestion of MasterResource’s own Rob Bradley, who pointed me to McKibben’s article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” , which received many rave reviews and not nearly enough criticism. My Center for Industrial Progress colleague (physicist) Eric Dennis and I decided to respond to the article with a video that addresses what we think is the root of the problem–not any given fact but bad thinking methodology. The problem that makes McKibben’s piece possible is that Americans have never been taught to distinguish science from pseudoscience–how to think critically about scientific claims.
At the end of the debate, I challenged McKibben to a debate, offering him $10,000 and an audience at Duke University. To his credit, after some haggling over the topic, he accepted. It should be a great illustration of how the philosophy of environmentalism stacks up against the philosophy of industrial progress. Stay tuned for more.
July 30, 2012 14 Comments
“We should never forget that the oil industry, whatever its problems (and most of those are caused by bad government policies) is the single most vital industry in the world.”
This election year, America faces many crucial legislative choices in the oil/gas industry–and the PR strategy of oil companies will certainly affect the outcome.
What should oil company executives do to improve their industry’s reputation and secure their freedom to produce the lifeblood of civilization?
Unfortunately, the conventional answer is: pretend they’re not oil companies. BP’s John Browne some years ago infamously declared his company’s aspirations to be “Beyond Petroleum”–a slogan that obviously does not aid the industry’s desire for more petroleum drilling rights. (BP, to its credit, no longer trumpets this slogan, which defaults BP back to the implicit original, British Petroleum.)
Chevron’s mega-PR-campaign, “We Agree,” features 10 empty slogans, not one of which expresses pride in producing oil, and some of which are downright offensive. “Oil companies should think more like technology companies,” the campaign says–as if the ability to extract the greatest portable fuel known to man from once-useless shale rock 10,000 feet below the surface of the Earth is not a technological achievement.
This kind of posturing is self-defeating–no one believes that oil companies are anything other than oil companies. And it is a disservice to both their industry, which does not deserve flagellation (except when they rent-seek or engage in self-flagellaton), and to the American people, who desperately need to know the positive importance of the oil industry in their lives.
We should never forget that the oil industry, whatever its problems (and most of those are caused by bad government policies) is the single most vital industry in the world. [Read more →]
June 15, 2012 12 Comments
While recently researching energy history for a writing project, I was reminded of how valuable–and underrated–Robert Bradley’s Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience is. While there are countless books covering the history of energy from one angle or another, very few, in my experience, can be counted on for precision and accuracy.
The majority of books I read that reference early petroleum history, for example, tell a radically oversimplified narrative of petroleum replacing whale oil. However, if one reads Harold Williamson and Arnold Daum’s definitive two-volume The American Petroleum Industry,  one learns about a far more intricate and interesting progress, including the one-time dominance of camphene, a turnpentine-based illuminant that preceded petroleum–or the story of “coal oil,” which was once believed to be the illuminant of the future. (I discuss this history in my essay Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market.)
What distinguishes Williamson and Daum–and Oil, Gas, and Government–is the systematic use of primary sources. For a researcher, this certainly makes life more difficult as it is far easier to use popular accounts as jumping-off points.
But the researchers who undergo this difficult task give the rest of us an enduring resource. Williamson and Daum present the essential technological and economic history of the industry through the 1950s, with exact quantitative data and contemporaneous images throughout. Bradley’s book gives us the essential political and political-economic history of the oil and gas industry through the 1980s, with pains-taking attention to detail. [Read more →]
May 25, 2012 2 Comments