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Truth About Fraccing

TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
time and alphabet,
contains all issues since inception, including the current week.

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com

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You poisonous, bigoted, ignorant, verbose little wa*ker. (except I'm not little - 1.97m)
Reader comments

January 2012

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ISSUE #218 - January 2012


Myspace Clocks, Video Clocks, Flash Clocks, Fun Clocks at WishAFriend.com

ISSUE #218 - January 2012  [355+2243=2598]

Back to President Obama’s (un)popularity; date is on the charts. (Click to get the latest version.)

Rasmussen Daily Poll - 5 Jan 2012

45% Total Approval as at 5 Jan 2012

bulletTruth About Fraccing - 3rd January 2012
bullet Ireland's Surrendered Sovereignty in Action - 20th January 2012
bullet

Issue 218’s Comments to Cyberspace

bullet

Quotes for Issue 218

Truth About Fraccing - 3rd January 2012

Alternative URLs:
http://www.tinyurl.ie/frac or

http://tinyurl.com/myxdy9u

Fraccing is an old technique, but due to advances in sophisticated technology it is enjoying an unparalleled renaissance and creating an energy revolution of astonishing proportions

This post is divided into six parts:

  1. Introduction

  2. Reservoir Rock Explained

  3. Fraccing Explained

  4. Fraccing Criticisms Debunked

  5. Hydrocarbons Unleashed by Fraccing

  6. Fraccing in Ireland

1     Introduction

The negative publicity that has been swirling round the world about hydraulic fracturing for the past year or so has been driving me nuts.  Lots of things drive me nuts but usually it is because I have might have a different opinion about something, for example whether or not Barack Obama has the faintest idea of his duties as an American president. 

But what drives me nuts about fraccing is not an issue of opinion but of facts. 

Let's start with the word.  Within the oil and gas extraction industry it has been spelt with two Cs for as long as hydraulic fracturing has been routinely practiced, which is over half a century.  But when the media suddenly woke up to the word they immediately spelt it fracking, not bothering with even a phone call to check the correct spelling.  Of course these are the same media people who think media (print, radio, TV, internet etc) is a singular noun, not the Latinate plural for medium, so they clearly have spelling issues. 

Then there's the novelty of fraccing.  But after fifty years of successfully improving hydrocarbon production rates across the world by applying this technology, it is by no means a novelty.  It is a novelty only for media too lazy to do a bit of Googling or make a few phone calls. 

Finally, there is the environmental threat that fraccing imposes.  Of course anything with that toxic word environment is an instant publicity-grabber, which is why this entirely invented scare has gained so much traction.  But this merely reflects the media's boundless enthusiasm for carrying out no research or fact-finding whatsoever.    Emotions rule in that strange world of illiteracy and sloth. 

So let's have a look at what fraccing actually is.  It's all pretty simple. 

2     Reservoir Rock Explained

An oil and/or gas reservoir is not a big swimming pool waiting to be drained.  Think of it instead as a giant, solid sponge, ie rock full of pores, each pore being filled with, typically, a bit of water with a bit of oil on top and a bit of gas on top of that.  The ratio of pores to sponge-rock is called the porosity - the higher the porosity the more fluids are present.  The porous sponge-rock  material will usually be

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sandstone, where the pores are the spaces between grains of sand that once lay on a seabed, or

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Porous, permeable sandstone, which once lay as sand on a seabed

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limestone or calcium carbonate (former corals, like this lump) whose pores were once home to tiny marine creatures.
 Porous coral; millions of years hence this will be limestone

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It can also be shale, a clay-like substance with the minutest pores of all, invisible to the naked eye. 
Shale, with very low porosity and permeability

 

When a well is drilled into the middle of the porous sponge-rock, or reservoir rock as it is known, the fluids will flow only to the extent that one pore is connected to another, which is known as permeability. 

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If the pores are well-connected  the oil or gas (or indeed, water) will flow freely. 

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If the permeability is poor, it's much harder for fluid to get from one pore to another and on into the wellbore. 

Where both porosity and permeability are low, as they always are with shales, you can have a real problem on your hands.  This is exacerbated where the oil happens to be viscous, flowing more like treacle than petrol. 

That's where fraccing comes in. 

3     Fraccing Explained

It's a simple concept.  A well is drilled through the reservoir rock layer.  Water is then pumped at ever higher pressure into the reservoir-rock until it simply cracks open.  The resulting fractures make a much larger area of the reservoir-rock open to the wellbore, which therefore increases the flow of fluids into the wellbore. 

There are refinements of course.  For example,

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additives are usually put in the water to reduce friction (make it soapy) and hence power requirements;  

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biocides may be added to kill off any organisms that might flourish and eventually damage the physical properties of the water;

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to keep the fractures propped open after pumping has ceased, proppants” are often added to the water, usually simply sand grains, but sometimes more sophisticated little lumps;

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to help support the proppants in the water while pumping, further additives are generally included which thicken the water. 

Some of these additives happen to be toxic, so when the treated water is recovered from the well it is either cleaned to facilitate safe disposal or else stored for re-use on another well.  This is no different in principle from the way nasty waste water is responsibly dealt with in countless other industries. 

The wells themselves can be very sophisticated when tackling the low-porosity-low-permeability problem. 

Advances in directional drilling have been key: this is the technology whereby wells don't have to be drilled vertically, they can be steered in very precise pre-determined directions through the rock.  Though in former years wells would be drilled vertically before fraccing, these days such wells will always be turned to a horizontal direction within the reservoir rock layer which it will then penetrate for a kilometre or more in order to maximise exposure to the well bore when fracced. 

Vertical and horizontal wells, fracced

For the same reason, they will often also be drilled multi-laterally”, meaning that as the well enters the reservoir-rock, it will divide into several distinct fingers reaching through the reservoir.  Individual fraccing operations are then carried out in sequence, tailored for each such finger. 

 Multilateral well, fracced

Modern seismic technology (which detects the shape of subterranean rock strata by bouncing sound waves off them) also permits ever smaller reservoirs to be detected.  Using directional drilling techniques, these are then accessed with wells that snake along tortuous paths several kilometres long, like a jet-fighter stalking its prey, before veering horizontal and sprouting fingers.  Just imagine the engineering sophistication that causes all this to happen, when all you -  at the surface - can do is

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rotate a five-inch diameter pipe that is over three kilometres long,

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pull it up and down,

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pump fluid through it,

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drop and lower things (eg tools) into it. 

Once fracced, the next job is to produce gas and/or oil from the reservoir in order to get a return on investment.  Sometimes, fraccing alone will suffice.  Sometimes flow has to be helped along (stimulated” in the jargon) by for example drilling injection wells nearby, and pumping fluids (such as steam) down and along their fractures until the reservoir hydrocarbons are forced into the fractures of the producing wells.  In any event, the end product is oil/gas that must be treated in conventional fashion before sale. 

Now let's have a look at the objections.  They generally fall into six categories. 

4     Fraccing Criticisms Debunked

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Fraccing results in hydrocarbons, whose carbon dioxide emissions are (supposedly) bad for the environment. 
Well, of course the hydrocarbons produced through fraccing contribute to global CO2, but that is a function of the hydrocarbons, not of the means by which they are extracted.  It's a non-argument.  Nevertheless it's true that it takes more energy to produce oil and gas through fraccing than when it just gushes out of the ground unaided, but sadly the days of such easy fossil fuels are gone. 

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Fraccing results in toxic fluids coming back up the wellbore
This is often correct, but again not confined to fracced wells.  Moreover it's a problem only if the fluids are then released in a raw state into the environment.  However, as mentioned above the toxic fluids are always either stored for re-use or treated to remove the toxins, while waste products are (should be) disposed of responsibly, just as in any other industrial process. 

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Fraccing can cause subsidence on the surface
Hydrocarbons are found at depths of thousands of metres.  Fraccing pressures are designed to confine fraccing to the reservoir rock alone, with each fracture stretching perhaps tens of metres.  To imagine that somehow fractures can extend several kilometres upwards through multiple strata of rock until they reach the surface, and that the pumping crews would moreover be blissfully unaware of the massive extra volumes disappearing down the hole, is fanciful in the extreme.  It doesn't happen; it cannot happen. 

Water wells are typically no more than a couple of hundred metres deep
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Fraccing fluids can cause contamination of ground water
Groundwater is found at depths of a couple of hundred metres at most (see for example this cider advertisment).  Just as the subsidence scare is ridiculous, so is the idea that fraccing fluids can blast their way upwards and unnoticed, through thousands of metres of solid rock to reach the groundwater reservoirs. 

Up to December 2011 there had not, according to the Financial Times, been a single proved case of contamination of water supplies by fraccing fluid being pumped into a well.

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Hydrocarbons produced from fracced wells can cause contamination of ground water
For similar reasons the produced fluids can also never reach the groundwater, kilometres above.   

This particular scare has been fanned by a polemical anti-fraccing movie in 2010 called Gaslands.  It shows, in a scene (below) that has gone viral, tap water in Colorado catching fire, so laden is it with gas, supposedly the result of having fracced deep shales.  However, the drinking water supply is in fact contaminated by methane seeping from coal seams much closer to the surface than the fracced shale.  The phenomenon long predates any fraccing operations; moreover the gas has a different chemical signature from that produced from the shale, and no other examples have been reported of this occurrence.

 

bulletFracced wells present an eyesore for the countryside
The drilling rig required to drill a well and the array of powerful pumps that will frac it are indeed unsightly and often noisy.  But they are temporary for the duration of construction, just as road maintenance is disruptive for traffic only while it is being conducted. 

After a well is completed, all that is left to see is a set of valves (called a
Christmas Tree”) perhaps three metres high, which can easily be fenced off and hidden, while burying the control cables and the pipeline that takes away the produced fluids. 
Christmas tree: control valves on top of each well

Furthermore, due to multilateral technology, each well is, in effect, usually several wells, thus minimising the number of Christmas Trees.  Moreover, the technology of directional drilling allows the wells to spread their tentacles wide for several kilometeres in all directions, such that the Christmas Trees themselves can be positioned close together.  This allows the wells to be fenced off in a relatively small area and hidden from general view behind, for example, trees and hedges, as this eighteen-well football-pitch-sized pad, in Alberta, Canada illustrates.  Compared to factories, office buildings or wind turbines, the visual impact is very low. 

18 wells on one discreet pad

 

Notwithstanding what I have just written, there is however a way that fluids can theoretically migrate upwards from the reservoir and cause damage.  The well itself can provide such a pathway unless it is properly designed and constructed according to the most elementary standards of what is known as well engineering (declaration: I am a well engineer)

When a well is drilled, the hole is cased”, that is lengths of steel pipe - known as casing - are screwed together and run into the entire length of the hole, after which liquid cement is pumped down and up the outside of the casing.  When set, the cement bonds the casing to the rock, which prevents fluids from migrating along the outside of the casing.  Measurements and tests are conducted to determine the integrity of the casing and of the bond and if necessary repairs are carried out.  Thus a properly constructed well will leak fluids neither when they are pumped down the well into the reservoir rock, nor when fluids emanate upwards out of the reservoir-rock. 

However, just as a house from which an incompetent builder has left out a few roof tiles will leak when it rains, so a well which is incompetently drilled may also leak under pressure.  The solution to such leaks is not to ban houses or wells, but to construct them properly, according to basic engineering norms and to put in place a suitably enforced regulatory regime.  Imagine a world where an occasional mistake due to avoidable incompetence leads to the proscription of all activity in that field.  We would have no technology at all - no aircraft, no medicines, no cars, no buildings, no internet, no nothing.  It is an absurd proposition.  

In fact, none of the criticisms of fraccing stand up to scientific scrutiny.  They mostly boil down to a fear of the unknown and a special suspicion of oil companies and their motives.  The root cause of this is, of course, the oil companies' own abysmal record of explaining to the public what they do, how they contribute to global economic prosperity and development, and their own internal policies on ethics (this, for example). 

5     Hydrocarbons Unleashed by Fraccing

The boom in fraccing activities over the past few years has come about as a result of a perfect storm:

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High oil prices, seemingly permanently close to $100 a barrel

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Advances in sophisticated technologies, especially

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seismic (for detecting accumulations)

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directional, horizontal and multilateral drilling (for accessing them)

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the fraccing processes themselves (for liberating the hydrocarbons),

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Western fear of excessive energy dependence on hostile foreign states. 

 

The results have been truly astonishing.  Just a few years ago, people were earnestly wringing their hands about the imminence of so-called peak oil and thereafter a global decline in production with catastrophic effects on human welfare.  Click to go to Irish Times articleI never agreed with these gloomy, ignorant predictions, which is why I wrote a post in 2005 called When Will the Oil Run Out?”. Some time later this resulted in a feature article in the Irish Times. In similar vein, in 2008 I posted another piece, “Beware the Peak Oil Salesman”. 

My main point was that as the oil price increases, so

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previously uneconomic oil gets liberated by making it economic,

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Inefficient National Oil Companies (who hold by far the bulk of the world's reserves) are tempted to produce more,

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there is a spurt in investment in new technology in order to make more oil more accessible,

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cash becomes available for further oil exploration and thus discoveries,

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every individual and industry is incentivised to conserve energy and reduce consumption, and

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investment is stimulated into alternative fuel sources such as bio, coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, solar, tidal, wind, thus taking some pressure off oil. 

In particular, the new availability of massive gas volumes as a result of fraccing are having a direct moderating effect on oil prices.  This will become ever more apparent as modern techniques spread for converting gas to easily transportable liquid products, such as Shell's new GTL (gas-to-liquid) technology in Qatar. 

I remarked that oil and gas are found not in the ground but in that unfathomable, inexhaustible resource that is the human brain.  And so - yet again - it has proved, thanks (and much to my own personal surprise) to that veteran technology, fraccing. 

For not only has fraccing continued to open up tight - that is, low-permeability - sandstones and limestones as it always had, but it is now able to set about shales.  Shales are found everywhere and have long been known as repositories of hydrocarbons, particularly gas.  But they have equally been regarded as far too tight to ever tackle, unless so close to the surface they can be dug out by open-cast mining and the rock heated and treated to squeeze out its precious cargo.  Huge deposits measured in billions of barrels are already being extracted in this tedious way from, among others, Canadian tar-sands and Venezuelan bitumen. 

Modern fraccing techniques have, however, opened up the deeper shales all over the world as a whole new hydrocarbon resource comparable in scope to the massive oil finds of the last century. 

For example, the remarkable chart below appears in the December 2011 issue of the Energy Institute's Petroleum Review, December 2011 (p38).  It shows how, thanks to fraccing, shales and other tight reservoirs have over the past few years dramatically reversed what was thought to be the inexorable thirty-year decline in America's gas reserves (CBM stands for coal bed methane, another newly exploitable resource). 

The astounding promise of new gas in the USA

Reserves will continue to climb, so that the days of American dependence on foreign energy (notably oil from the Middle East and Africa) now appear to be numbered.  The US currently imports some ten million barrels a day, which costs a massive trillion dollars every three years.

 US oil production and imports

Drastically cutting oil imports because of the extra domestic energy liberated by fraccing has enormously beneficent implications for America and thus the world,

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not just for the obvious balance of payment issues,

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but also for security of supply

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and especially in terms of reducing the scope for further oil-blackmail by baleful Islamic oil-producing states. 

Moreover, while the numbers may differ, the general shape of both of the above two charts is similar throughout much of the developed world.  Oil imports have been going up and up for decades as growth-driven demand has soared while production has declined.  But suddenly fraccing has resulted in new gas and oil which are dramatically changing the domestic energy picture. 

The UK provides a further example.  The British Geological Survey so far estimates that up to 150 billion cubic metres (5 trillion cubic feet) of shale gas exist onshore, which is the equivalent in calorific terms of some 900 million barrels of oil.  This is equal to 18 months of the UK’s requirements and worth over 50 billion (€60 billion) at today’s prices. However, offshore shale gas in British waters, already prolific in terms of conventional oil and gas, is likely dwarf that available on land.

We are truly witnessing an international energy revolution, the likes of which was inconceivable less than a decade ago.  Forget what some people still say about peak oil”: it is and always has been nothing but a Malthusian-style myth. 

6     Fraccing in Ireland

Since this blog is written in Ireland, I have to end with the Irish angle on fraccing. 

Three companies have expressed an interest in exploring and fraccing shales for onshore gas – Tamboran Resources (Australian), Lough Allen Natural Gas Company (Irish) and Enegi Oil (Canadian).  They have their eyes on 8,000 sq km spread over a dozen different counties.  I cannot judge the technical merits of their proposals, but the few public utterances I have heard (eg here) have been suffused with ignorance of the technology, which does not bode well for their projects. 

Nevertheless the issue of fraccing within Ireland is moot. 

From No Fracking IrelandProfessional objectors have already organised themselves into something called No Fracking Ireland”.  It now has its own Facebook page and clever slogans like Frack off” and “Stop fracking with our water”, with a little flame to remind us of the fraudulent clip shown above from the movie Gasland. 

No Fracking Ireland has no doubt been much inspired and encouraged by the successes of the Shell to Sea campaign which has for years been trying to stop or stymie Shell's development of the offshore Corrib gas field, though with exceedingly sparse scientific basis for its objections. (I wrote about this in some detail last November).  Apart from garnering international attention, the major achievement of Shell to Sea has been to treble the costs and the delivery time of the project. This has not only delayed Ireland's energy independence but guaranteed that there will be no profits to tax for a very long time.   

But perhaps Shell to Sea's principle accomplishment is to turn Ireland into a pariah state as far as oil and gas investment is concerned.   It will be a generation before the travails of Corrib will have been forgotten.  Meanwhile, with Ireland's political risk in the order of 200-300% thanks to Corrib, any sane investor is far likelier to look to less politically costly environments, such as Iraq or Somalia or other hotspots, to sink their wells.

Thus, you can be sure that whatever they may say in public, Tamboran and its colleagues will in fact never carry out any fraccing in the foreseeable future.  No Fracking Ireland will probably claim credit for this, but it properly belongs to Shell to Sea. 

Meantime however, the rest of the developed (and less developed) world will continue to ride the crazy fraccing horse to energy independence and prosperity, leaving indebted Ireland behind.

The following relevant postings may be of interest:

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When Will the Oil Run Out?” - February 2005

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Saudi Arabia's Fading Oil Reserves” - July 2006

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Beware the Peak Oil Salesman” - February 2008
 

Also

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The Truth about Fracking - 12th March 2012, by Kevin D Williamson, deputy managing editor of National Review, and excellent non-technical article -  even if it does plagiarise and misspell my title. 

 

Late Note (August 2012)

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See World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States published on 5th April 2011 by the US Energy and Information Administration and publicised by World Oil magazine in its April 2012 edition.  This report includes the chart below showing where huge reserves of fraccable shale reserves exist across the globe, hitherto untapped.

 

It also tabulates how these reserves add up to an incredible 6.6 quadrillion cubic feet of gas.  This is the energy equivalent of 1.1 trillion barrels of oil, worth at 2012 prices over US$ 100 trillion.  By comparison, the national debt which is currently crippling the US is $16 trillion. 

 

Even if these figures are wrong by a factor of ten, they are still enormous. 

 

Moreover, they EXCLUDE the already fossil-fuel-prolific domains of Russia, the Middle East, Malaysia, Indonesia and the entire offshore world.  And the globe's fraccable oil recoverable from shale hasn't been counted at all. 

 

So maybe the figures are not so unbelievable after all. 

 

We are indeed on the verge of a monumental energy revolution, which will lead to an economic revolution and a political revolution, all of which will be entirely benign.  Not least, the cheaper energy it will release will provide the means for a robust economic recovery and so prove to be the saviour of many countries and peoples. 

Even Later Note (February 2013)

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I would recommend that you now view my follow-up post, World Will Frac
This discusses how the
fraccing  technological revolution is leading to an unstoppable energy revolution, which will in turn lead to entirely benign revolutions in global economics and geopolitics

 


Alternative URLs:
http://www.tinyurl.ie/frac or

http://tinyurl.com/myxdy9u

Back to List of Contents

Ireland's Surrendered Sovereignty in Action - 20th January 2012

During the week beginning 17th January, Ireland's nemesis, the Troika, came to town for its quarterly visit.  The Troika comprises the IMF, the ECB and the EU Commission, the three bodies that have been lending sufficient money (€65 billion) to Ireland to enable it to continue in business without bothering to eliminate its gigantic deficit that last year casually added yet another €25 billion to the national debt of over €120 bn.

Troika's gold star for Ireland's conformanceThe price of these loans (wrongly** called a bailout) is that Ireland's fiscal and economic policies must conform to the Troika's diktats.  Every quarter they come along to check progress on things like budget cuts and tax increases, and award a gold star for good performance.  (Greece is going through the same process but always gets a black mark for non-conformance, a source of schadenfreude for the Irish - tempered with a little envy and admiration at the Greeks' naughtiness.)

**They are wrongly called a bailout because if you are in a sinking boat and someone gives you a bailout, it means he scoops out the water and throws it over the side and in time you are back floating properly again; the water in your boat is gone. 

The Troika's so-called bailout, on the other hand amounts to lending Ireland money that Ireland must then use to repay loans to creditors, most of them in the home countries of the principal Troika players - the US, Germany, France.  Ireland remains sinking in just as much debt; it's just that the creditors are now the Troika, albeit at perhaps lower interest rates than before.  Water has been scooped out of the bow of the boat and deposited in the stern. 

The institutions actually being bailed out, in the sense that their debt reduces, are in fact the creditor banks in countries other than Ireland.  The Troika' is interested in Ireland only to the extent it can be forced to save those foreign banks.  For if they sink, the consequences for their host countries could be catastrophic.  If Ireland sinks, who cares?

As a result of the latest visit, the Troika once again gave Ireland a gold star for its obeisance

Two press conferences were then held on the same day but in different venues.  First up were a couple of Irish ministers at the high table:

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Michael Noonan, finance minister

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Brendan Howlin, minister for public expenditure & reform

They made various breezy statements, and a couple of strange ones.  One of these was that they had secured agreement that perhaps €2 bn of the proceeds from the sale of state assets could be diverted from paying down debt to so-called job-creation wheezes.  However when this was put to Istvan Szekely of theTroika in the second press conference, he clammed up, which in effect was a denial of any such deal. 

The dramatis personae for the Troika's conference comprised 

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Istvan Szekely, director of economic and financial affairs at the European Commission

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Craig Beaumont, mission chief for Ireland at the IMF.

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Klaus Masuch, head of EU Countries Division at the European Central Bank

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Barbara Nolan, head of the European Commission representation in Ireland.

I found the Troika conference pretty outrageous.  Here was a bunch of foreigners spouting to the Irish people via the Irish media about Irish fiscal policy and performance. And there was not a single Irish elected politician in sight. I know a separate press conference had just taken place, but how can Irish politicians just step aside from the Troika's event and hide like that?

Elected Irish representatives, and through them the general Irish populace, have become mere obedient vassals of the unelected Troika, who like seagulls fly in, shit on everybody and fly out again.

Top marks, however, to Vincent Browne for skewering the ECB's slippery Klaus Masuch (sounds like a German) who only waffled when asked to justify the demand that Irish taxpayers pay the private gambling losses of the defunct Anglo Irish Bank. As journalist Michael Lewis pointed out some months ago, Anglo only ever had six branches and no ATMs, and its only trade was to borrow tens of billions from European banks and lend it to developers. It had absolutely nothing to do with the general Irish public.

Faced with direct questioning, Masuch clammed up in confusion, ably protected by the Troika's local minder Mrs Nolan (who though Irish is however a professional EUrocrat on the EU payroll).

Ireland's pain is all about saving German banks from their own folly and Masuch knows it. Ireland be damned. 

Ireland surrendered its sovereignty when it agreed to accept loans from the Troika as a result of having brainlessly socialised the private gambling debts of private banks, Anglo Irish among them.  What we have seen this week is that ghastly surrender in action. 

Back to List of Contents

Issue 218’s Comments to Cyberspace

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Technocratic, unelected governments are the ideal
Online comment an Irish Times article
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I have come to believe technocratic, unelected governments are the ideal.
+ The purpose of politics [is] to make a reality of equality or substantive equality – equality of outcomes.
Vintage Vincent! Vintage socialism! Keep the Red Flag flying high. The people must not be trusted. Everyone must have an equal outcome regardless of effort or ability or entrepreneurship. No-one is entitled to his own property if it is more than someone else's ...

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Charities need regulation to maintain public's trust
Online comment on an Irish Times article
No-one has a clue, really, about how well charities are run. Yes, we know how they collect money, but how do they spend it? Do they have procurement policies? Do they acquire goods and services via open tender that ensure only the lowest bidders get their business? I have no idea. Their lack of scrutiny ...

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It's a funny old game when it comes to corruption
Online comment on an Irish Times article
The huge discrepancy between wages paid to players vs referees helps explain the intimidation of refs by players that you so often see when there is an unpopular decision. Not only does the ref put up with it, without for example upgrading from a yellow card to a red card, but he knows that he - a cash nobody - will not be supported by the FA ...

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Free Speech and BNP Leader Invitation
Letter to the Irish Times
How ironic and pathetic that
Trinity Against Fascism and its supporters should favour the Fascist ploy of banning speech they happen to dislike. The world's oldest (328 years and counting) debating society and a bastion of free speech, the TCD Philosophical Society, had invited the British National Party's Nick Griffin to speak at a debate on immigration last October. But at the last minute he was banned because people such as those in TAF don't approve of what he says ...

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Preparing for the budget
Letter to the Irish Times
Your correspondent Liam O'Mahony of ILP, presenting some imaginative ways to reduce the deficit to "€9 billion or €10 billion", concludes "problem solved". Would that were so. The Government tells us that the deficit has been around €20 billion ...

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No escaping fact that rich continue to get richer
Online comment to an Irish Times article by Vincent Browne
Vincent, you perpetually make two heroic assumptions, and this article is no exception, that it is intrinsically wrong that some people are extremely wealthy and that "inequality" is intrinsically wrong.  Neither stands up to any dispassionate rational scrutiny. They are impulses grounded solely on prejudice, emotion and envy, seasoned with economic zero-sum illiteracy ...

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Just try imagining there was no EU
Online comment to an Irish Times article by Fintan O'Toole

Fintan, your analysis of the  two undo-able options being mooted is spot on. But your "solution" boils down to more spending.  Yet spending is what the problem has been all along, as in spending more than you take in. The only solution, long term, is to stop spending ...

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Quotes for Issue 218

- - - - - C A N A D A - - - - -

Quote: To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of removing every car truck, all-terrain vehicle, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle off every kind of Canadian road.”

Peter Kent, Canada's environment minister,
announces that Canada is withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty,
the first country to do so. 

Climate change poseurs notwithstanding,
many more will surely follow.

- - - - - I S R A E L   /   P A L E S T I N E - - - - -

Quote: “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state - (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places.”

Newt Gringrich, US Republican Presidential Hopeful,
states the bleedin' obvious and is excoriated for his trouble. 

Quote: “A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Howard Gutman, President Obama's US ambassador to Belgium,
shows his own anti-Semitic leanings
by providing excuses for Muslim anti-Semitism. 

It is as if he has never even read a word of the Koran or its Hadiths
and their anti-Jew rhetoric
such as

The Hour [Judgment Day] will not come
until the Muslims fight the Jews and
until the Jews hide behind the trees and rocks and
the trees and rocks will say,

‘O Muslim, O Servant of God! Here are the Jews! Come and kill them!’”

- - - - - € U R O - - - - -

Quote: There might be some assets worthy of consideration — precious metals, for example. But other metals would make wise investments, too. Among them tinned goods and small calibre weapons.

Warren Buffet's Hathaway investment vehicle gives its advice
about how to  hedge and prepare for a break-up of the €uro

Quote: Telling a European that one has to earn her or his health-care benefits or social insurance or pension or access to amenities and infrastructure is equivalent to challenging a brick wall to be flexible and dynamic.”

Constantin Gurdgiev, Ireland-based Russian economist

- - - - - T O P   G E A R - - - - -

Quote: Frankly, I would have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they have got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?”

Jeremy Clarkson's solution to strikes by public “servants” in the UK.

Unfortunately he later (sort-of) apologised for his joke. 
Apparently a joke which offends people is not a joke.

[Of course a joke which offends no-one is never funny.]

Coincidentally, sales of Mr Clarkson's latest DVD, Powered Up, soared.

- - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - -

Quote: Difficult choices are never easy.

Who knew?

Ireland's Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, makes a truly profound observation
in his first-ever State of the Nation address. 

Indeed, it was only the sixth such speech since the foundation of the state,
the last one being 25 long years ago by a criminal predecessor.

Quote: Connemara ..., as it is open to the Atlantic, [and] in terms of cloud computing, we have dense thick fog for nine months of the year, because of the mountain heights and the ability to harness this cloud power, there is tremendous scope for cloud computing to become a major employer in this region ... the Government should be doing more to harness clean industries for the Connemara area ... wind energy and cloud computing are two obvious examples.”

Connemara councillor Seamus O Scanail, Independent, sets out his vision for the regeneration of his windswept constituency.

Fellow councillor Martin Shiels remarked that
you must be a fecking eejit to think that
cloud computing had anything to do with climate
”.

Late note (20 Jan 2012):
Sadly this story turns out to be a hoax.
Hat-tip: Mark Humphrys

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review

+++++

Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
This
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
in
May, June, and July 2010

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

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how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,

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the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.

+++++

Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,

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part of a death march to Thailand,

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a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),

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regularly beaten and tortured,

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racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

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a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,

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torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,

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a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.

+++++

Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:

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Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

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People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.

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Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.

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Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 

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Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.

++++++

False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

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Why does asparagus come from Peru?

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Why are pandas so useless?

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Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?

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Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:

bullet

Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)

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Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

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The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 

+++++

Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.

+++++

Other books here

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