What the frack? Combustible water and other late capitalist novelties

Imre Szeman, a Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta, has a new commentary out in the latest issue of Radical Philosophy on hydraulic fracturing. It is entitled, “What the frack? Combustible water and other late capitalist novelties.”

Here is the introduction, the rest is available here:

What the frack?

Combustible water and other late capitalist novelties

“There is a reason why oil gets the lion’s share of attention when it comes to the global game of petrocarbon extraction. Through the multiple products into which oil is refined, most important of which are gasoline and diesel, oil is the blood that animates the body of capitalism. It is a substance necessary for economies to keep operating and profits accruing, which is why access to it fuels so many geopolitical struggles around the globe. The atrocities committed by major oil companies almost everywhere they have set foot – of which spills such as BP’s recent debacle in the Gulf of Mexico are but the tip of the iceberg – draw public attention to the consequences of living in oil societies, and so too to the full scale of our dependence on the substance. And whether or not we believe tales of peak oil, as oil gets harder to access and in shorter supply and so more expensive, the extent to which oil and capitalism are tied together cannot help but make us sit up and pay attention. Economist Jeff Rubin has recently argued that the unprecedentedly high price of oil over the past decade is the primary reason why economies around the world have found it difficult to recover from the 2008 crash.1 While the current price of around US$90 per barrel is well below its recent peak of $147 in July 2008, it is still exponentially higher than the average $2 per barrel at which oil was priced during capital’s massive expansionary phase from the 1920s to the 1970s – a virtually free form of energy with an extraordinarily high ratio of energy returned on energy invested.

If natural gas is also making the news today, it is due only in part to its expand­ing use in fleet vehicles (replacing petrol or diesel) or in the generation of electricity (replacing coal-fired or nuclear power plants). Despite the ever-expanding market for liquefied natural gas (LNG), ‘the world’s fastest growing energy source’, the price of natural gas remains too low to excite many investors.2 One of the reasons for the reduced cost of gas is the recent global expansion of natural gas supply, which is due almost entirely to the discovery of a new source: the decaying organic material that makes up the compressed rock of black shale. With this discovery, the world is now awash in shale gas. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the USA has 2,632 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, enough to address domestic demand for 100 years at current rates of use. In the UK, the discovery of a gas field in north-west England by Cuadrilla Resources promises enough gas to meet demand for 64 years.3 Even if profits are not as high at present as producers might want, consumption of natural gas is expanding rapidly (29 per cent over the past decade) and the growing capacity for LNG means the possibility of servicing export markets such as China and Japan, which needs more of the fuel than ever in its current post-nuclear phase. As an easy allegory for the disaster of runaway consumption or the tendency of human beings to gleefully destroy the environments that support them, natural gas certainly cannot compete with oil. But as it begins to occupy an ever-greater segment of the overall market for energy, the race for shale gas is resulting in ecological and political problems that should cause all of us to pay as much attention to gas as we are starting to pay towards oil.”

Advertisements

Comments

  1. Makere Stewart says:

    Reblogged this on The Turning Spiral.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: