Author: Gary Sernovitz

Title: “The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking and the Future of Energy.”

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, 2016, hard cover edition. 239 pp. plus 40 pp. of bibliography and index

Gary Sernovitz learned about fracking, oil shale and energy, first as an oil equity research analyst for Goldman Sachs and later as a managing director of an oil and gas focused private equity firm with time off between these jobs to write two novels.

He writes with a definite point of view about fracking — it does not cause earthquakes nor does it cause ground water pollution except in the few early cases where marginal operators did not properly drill wells in Pennsylvania. He seems amazed that New York has banned fracking, “but do New Yorkers have the moral right to use one-twentieth of the nation’s consumed gas … and effectively outsource the local consequences to Pennsylvanians?”

Sernovitz writes “if the U.S. shale revolution hadn’t happened, oil and gas prices would probably be triple what they are today.” According to Sernovitz “the shale revolution is a testament to American engineering, rowdiness and a cocky refusal to give up. It came so suddenly, from such small adaptions to how the oil business was usually done, and from such seemingly unnatural places — rural Pennsylvania and North Dakota rather than Silicon Valley —that it is hard to measure how fundamentally it has already reshaped our prospects.”

In North Dakota, we are familiar with Harold Hamm who “bet it all” on the Bakken. He didn’t invent fracking or lateral drilling, but he invested heavily and made existing technology work in North Dakota to our great benefit.

The movie “Gasland” caused alarm about gas from fracking polluting water, but even the EPA in 2015 “could find ‘few, if any documented examples’ of frack fluids contaminating the groundwater.”

With that theory debunked, the shale opponents focused on leaking methane, but EPA data shows “methane emissions from gas and petroleum systems fell by over 4 percent during … a time when U.S. gas production rose by 32 percent.” Sernovitz asserts “the United States has led the world in carbon dioxide emissions reduction because of shale gas.”

Sernovitz is hard on environmentalists, but he does accept “the scientific consensus that climate change is happening now because of fossil fuels.”

“Of course,” Sernovitz notes, “there’s no consensus on every input into every climate model, but the idea that stuffing the atmosphere with carbon, water vapor and other particles traps the sun’s heat is not some ‘theory.’ Without it, the earth’s average temperature would be 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Without it, none of us would be alive.”

For Sernovitz, the shale revolution has altered the environmental debate. The use of shale gas has reduced the use of coal. He believes, however, environmental concerns have had a benefit and he does not see cheaper oil and gas prices “halting the momentum of the world relying on more renewable energy sources.”

He quotes a Saudi oil minister of the 1970s, “The Stone Age did not end of lack of stones, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” He notes a government study which concludes “13 percent of all U.S. coal-fired power plants, as measured by generating capacity, will shut down between 2012 and 2015.”

This is an excellent, informative and well-written book about the shale revolution in North Dakota’s Bakken formation as well as other shale formations in the U.S. The author writes with a sense of humor, which helps make this such a good read, one that is hard to put down.

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Robert O. “Bob” Wefald is a retired North Dakota State District Court judge who served in the South Central Judicial District for 12 years. He was attorney general from 1981 to 1984. He served on active duty as a Naval officer from 1964 to 1967 followed by 24 years in the Naval Reserve retiring in 1991.