Fracking Covers CA Solyndra Scandal
By WAYNE LUSVARDI
The California scandal involving a $535 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Solyndra Corporation has put so-called green-tech industries and government agencies on the defensive. After funneling the money to political operatives in the Democratic Party, Solyndra went bankrupt. Government agencies have gone into a damage-control mode and want to “clean up” their “dirty” image by touting all the contributions they have made to the economy.
What better technology could there be for government to claim credit for than hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” — that cheaply extracts previously untapped subterranean oil and gas? Fracking technology may even lead the United States to the long-sought Holy Grail of energy independence.
What a coincidence that Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus who head the Breakthrough Institute website, claim that the U.S. Department of Energy under former President Jimmy Carter developed the key fracking breakthroughs in 1980. In an article, “The Secret of Where Good Energy Comes From,” they claim:
“Sometimes pundits point to natural gas drawn from shale as an example of how the private sector does the job better. They claim fracking and horizontal drilling were developed by a solitary entrepreneur named George Mitchell in the 1980s. In fact, the key breakthroughs in the development of shale gas technologies occurred thanks to intensive DOE demonstration efforts pursued by President Jimmy Carter, the frequent butt of energy-related jokes, in response to the 1970s oil embargoes.”
Halliburton Spread Fracking Technology, Not Jimmy Carter
But the joke is apparently on Schellenberger and Nordhaus as much as it is on Jimmy Carter. They could have easily checked with the American Oil and Gas Historical Society, which definitively shows that the first patent for generic fracking technology was issued during the Civil War to Col. Edward A. L. Roberts for U.S. Patent No. 59,936, November 1866. Sketches of the actual patent technology are shown online here.
Moreover, I’m sure that Shellenberger and Nordhaus would be chagrined to learn that the first commercial application of fracking was by the Standard Company and Halliburton Corporation on March 17, 1949, also documented on the American Oil and Gas Historical Society website. The Standard Company patented the technology and later licensed it to Halliburton. I rather doubt that Halliburton, made infamous by former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney serving as its CEO, is one of Sshellenberger’s and Nordhaus’ politically correct corporations.
Geologist and engineer George Mitchell later refined fracking technology by injecting harmless sand and water into wells so that it could extract oil and gas from shale rock formations, thus he is considered the “father of shale gas.”
Apologists for the DOE
Schellenberger and Nordhaus are apologists for the U.S. Department of Energy, which they have given credit for inventing fracking during the Carter Administratio,n purportedly as documented by a representative of Halliburton no less. They write:
“The Department of Energy was there with research funding when no one else was interested,” said the head of Julander Energy, a member of the National Petroleum Council, “and today we are all reaping the benefits.” A Senior Director at Halliburton said, “In the early 1980s, the industry as a whole did not have a clear vision for producing gas from shales, and benefited from DOE involvement and funding of [electro-magnetic telemetry] EMT technology… there is a clear line of sight between the initial research project and the commercial EMT service available today.” Dr. Terry Engelder of Penn State calls the DOE’s Eastern Gas Shales Research Program “one of the great examples of value-added work led by the DOE.”
However, if you read carefully what the DOE contributed was ancillary technologies, such as “electro-magnetic telemetry,” or wireless global positioning systems (GPS), not fracking technology itself. GPS technology was first used by the U.S. Air Force, but was developed by Ivan Getting at the Raytheon Corporation in the 1950s.
Technology Innovation Culture War
Shellenberger and Nordhaus’ Breakthrough Institute website is an apparent attempt to stake out a center-left position in a culture war over whether government or private industry can lay claim to creating innovative energy technologies. It is an ideological culture war over jobs and political turf and patronage.
I will give credit to Schellenberger and Nordhaus for at least posting an article on their website by Steven Hayward of the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute titled, “Can Conservatism Rule?,” which is a critique of partisan ideology in energy development and government.
But the title of Schellenberger’s and Nordhaus’ article, “The Secret of Where Good Energy Comes From,” is not productive to a non-ideological dialogue on technology breakthroughs. It implies that all “bad” or “dirty” technology comes from “conservatives” or the private sector and only “good” or “clean” technology comes from government. I would hope that Schellenberger and Nordhaus have more to contribute to the discussion about technology innovation in the future than such innuendos.
Government can’t lay claim to inventing fracking technology as a way to cover up the sins of the Solyndra Scandal or the absolute waste of surcharges placed on California electricity ratepayers for bogus energy research that, according to the state Legislative Analyst, has yielded “no payoff.”
June 18, 2013