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
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
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.
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
where the pores are the spaces between grains of sand that once lay
on a seabed, or
calcium carbonate (former corals, like this lump) whose pores
were once home to tiny marine creatures.
It can also
be shale, a clay-like substance with the minutest pores of all,
invisible to the naked eye.
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
If the pores
are well-connected the oil or gas (or indeed, water) will flow freely.
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.
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
There are refinements of course. For example,
are usually put in the water to reduce friction (make it soapy) and
hence power requirements;
biocides may be added to kill off any organisms that
might flourish and eventually damage the physical properties of the
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;
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.
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.
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.
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
rotate a five-inch diameter pipe that is over
three kilometres long,
pull it up and down,
pump fluid through it,
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
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.
Fraccing results in hydrocarbons, whose carbon
dioxide emissions are (supposedly) bad for the
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.
Fraccing results in toxic fluids coming back up
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.
Fraccing can cause subsidence on the surface Groundwater is found at depths of a couple of hundred metres at
most (see for example this cider advertisment). 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.
Fraccing fluids can cause contamination of ground water.
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.
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
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
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
Fracced 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
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
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,
Compared to factories, office buildings or wind turbines,
the visual impact is very low.
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
The boom in fraccing activities over the past few years has come about
as a result of a perfect storm:
prices, seemingly permanently close to $100 a barrel
sophisticated technologies, especially
(for detecting accumulations)
directional, horizontal and multilateral drilling (for accessing
fraccing processes themselves (for liberating the hydrocarbons),
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
and thereafter a global decline in production with catastrophic effects
on human welfare. I
never agreed with these gloomy, ignorant predictions, which is why I
wrote a post in 2005 called
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,
the Peak Oil Salesman”.
My main point was that as the oil price increases,
previously uneconomic oil gets liberated by making it economic,
there is a spurt in investment in new technology in order to make more oil more
cash becomes available for
further oil exploration and thus discoveries,
every individual and industry is incentivised to conserve energy and
reduce consumption, and
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
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.
cutting oil imports because of the extra domestic energy liberated by
fraccing has enormously beneficent implications for America and thus the
not just for
the obvious balance of payment issues,
but also for
security of supply
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
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
it is and always has been nothing but a Malthusian-style myth.
Nevertheless the issue of fraccing within Ireland is moot.
objectors have already organised themselves into something called
“No Fracking Ireland”.
It now has
Facebook page and
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:
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
So maybe the figures are not so unbelievable
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)
I would recommend that you now view my follow-up post,
This discusses how the
is leading to an unstoppable energy revolution, which will in turn
lead to entirely benign revolutions in global economics and geopolitics
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 (€65½ 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
price of these loans (wrongly** called a
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.)
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
Two press conferences were then held on the same day but
in different venues. First up were a couple of Irish ministers at the
Noonan, finance minister
minister for public expenditure & reform
They made various breezy statements, and a couple of
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
director of economic and financial affairs at the European Commission
Beaumont, mission chief for Ireland at the IMF.
head of EU Countries Division at the European Central Bank
head of the European Commission representation in Ireland.
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
hide like that?
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
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.
Technocratic, unelected governments are the ideal Online comment
an Irish Times article +
“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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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
around €20 billion ...
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 ...
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 ...
“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
announces that Canada is withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty,
the first country to do so.
Climate change poseurs
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
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
“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 - - - - -
“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
“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.”
Ireland-based Russian economist
- - - - - T O P G E A R -
- - - -
“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
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
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.
“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”.
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
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
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
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
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
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.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible 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
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
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
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
“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
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:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
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.
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
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
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:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
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
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.
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
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