Physics, fracking, fuel, and the future

Physics, fracking, fuel, and the future

M. Marder, T. Patzek, S. Tinker. Physics Today, volume 69, issue 7, pp. 46, (2016)
M. Marder, T. Patzek, S. Tinker
Fracking, Fuel
2016
For how long and in what ways can humans sustain the energy-intensive way of life we take for granted? That consequential question is one that physicists must help answer. As we pass the middle of 2016, oil prices are at a 10-year low, partly because of the surge in production of oil and natural gas from fracking. The current fracking boom may ease the transition to a new mix of energy resources. Conversely, it may make us complacent and delay the transition or incite popular resentment and impede the transition. The physics community must participate in shaping how energy issues play out over the coming decades. The development of fusion reactors, photovoltaic cells, and other potential energy sources clearly requires contributions from physicists. As educators, many of us occupy the central position of teaching students the very definition of energy and the fundamental limits on extraction of free energy from heat. Beyond the classroom, we should all be concerned with the public’s understanding of what energy means. Even in the specific case of fossil fuels, there is room for our increased technical engagement through collaboration.