Category: environmental articles

The Real Risks of Fracing

Picture of a gas drilling rig
Gas Drilling Rig In Texas – Thanks to Wikipedia

In my last blog post I took the position that natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracing) is a good thing. This is an assertion that is born out by the history of natural gas drilling around the world over the last twenty to thirty years. Indeed, hydraulic fracturing has been used in one form or another for the last seventy plus years!

The technology has enough history, and the practitioners enough expertise that hydraulic fracturing should not be a problem, anywhere. It is physically impossible for seepage from a fractured shale formation over a mile deep to get to the surface. There are just too many layers of other, different types of rock prohibiting that seepage. The greatest risks for environmental problems lie elsewhere, not with the actual fracturing of a shale structure.

The environmental risks of any drilling technology can be expressed in three categories:

  • Water
  • Air
  • Land Use

Water – This is perhaps the most common pollution problem found at a drilling site. The hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause a problem. Most environmental problems linked to fracing are caused by the mishandling of drilling muds, fracing water, waste water, transportation spills of toxic chemicals, and improperly constructed wells. The literature is very clear on this account. If the well is properly constructed, and if the fluids are handled properly, there is no problem. Please read this article from the Shale Gas Wiki.

Much of the so-called evidence against natural gas hydraulic fracturing is anecdotal. It is just one uninformed, emotional story after another. The people in New York State are rightfully concerned about the natural gas drilling into the Marcellus Formation. The same shale formation underlies portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.There have been reports in these states of methane pollution of the drinking water. This is not unusual.

Graph of Marcellus Shale extent
Extent of Marcellus Shale Formation

In one study it was found that out of 60 water wells tested in Pennsylvania and New York, eighty-five percent showed thermogenic methane content. This means that the gas was caused by natural seeps from deep in the earth. Thermogenic methane comes from deep underground, and biogenic methane is the stuff produced by biomass (garbage, etc.) near the surface. There had been no natural gas or oil drilling in that area.

The Marcellus shale structure shows up at different depths across Appalachia. In some places it is barely 1,000 feet under the surface, and in others it is over 8,000 feet beneath the surface.

Water drawn from wells that receive water from a coal seam has methane and other toxic chemicals with it. Water wells are a large source of the methane problem, but the consumer doesn’t know this because methane is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. There are about 20,000 unregulated water wells drilled in Pennsylvania and New York, every year. The probability of getting methane in the well water from natural sources is high.

Also, in  about a thirty year stretch lots of gas wells were drilled in the Marcellus shale. Mistakes were made as the technology was developed. Many of the negative attitudes and stories originate in that development period.

Fracing is blamed for a lot of things. Just because there are natural gas wells in the area does not automatically mean that hydraulic fracturing is at fault.

Air Pollution – Natural gas is mostly made up of methane. In the natural gas extraction process, there are natural gas liquids produced, also. These are ethane, butane, and propane. There are some nasty gaseous compounds removed, also, and this is where air pollution can occur. If the removal processes are faulty, there will be escaping gas into the atmosphere.

Because there are over 860,000 oil and gas wells in the USA, it is safe to say that the oil company people have figured out how to keep the air unpolluted at drilling and processing sites.

Environmental activists go overboard  on the danger of methane, and the risk it may pose to the environment. Remember, the natural gas drillers cannot make money from gas that is escaping to the atmosphere. They have a huge incentive to be safe and responsible with their operations.

It comes down to the fact that air polluting wells are not a technology problem.

Land Use – Here come the earthquakes. One of the most misunderstood risks about hydraulic fracturing is that they can produce earthquakes, usually micro-seismic events. We are not talking about the New Madrid quakes of 1811 and 1812 (the largest in the nation’s history). The seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing, for the most part, cannot be felt on the surface. So, when someone says that they felt an earthquake and it was caused by fracing, season the information with a little salt.

Drilling wells is an ugly business. Ugly is pollution, too. The drilling structure is from fifty to one hundred feet tall. There is cleared land to accommodate the drilling equipment, fluid storage, and transportation equipment. Plus, roads have to be built to access the sites. With all those roads and tanker trucks come chemical and toxic water spills. This is the most common and greatest environmental risk in the whole process. This is also the most manageable portion. There are state and federal regulations about drilling, transporting, and cleaning up spills. Spills are avoidable.

So, there are real risks linked to natural gas shale hydraulic fracturing. All these risks can be properly mitigated. The technology is basically not a problem. The problems are management problems. With proper well construction, liquid transport and handling, and attention to details, environmental risks are relatively small.

Fracking Is Good!

Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and look something up, or study a technology to learn the truth. I had to do this with global warming, and I am having to do it with natural gas fracking, technically known as hydraulic fracturing.

I have known that this process existed in the drilling of oil wells since we lived in Houston in the 1970’s. A simple Google search will tell you that fracking in oil wells has been done since the 1940’s. There are over 840,000 oil and gas wells in the United States, and about 1.2 million wells world wide. In most of these wells some form of hydraulic fracturing was used.

Here’s my reference:

Hydraulic Fracturing 101: What Every Representative, Environmentalist, Regulator, Reporter, Investor, University Researcher, Neighbor and Engineer Should Know About Estimating Frac Risk and Improving Frac Performance in Unconventional Gas and Oil Wells

This is a paper written for the Society of Petroleum Engineers International, the professional society of engineers engaged in the petroleum industry. As such, their members have generated reams of technical studies about hydraulic fracturing. There have been over 550 papers on shale fracturing, and there are over 3,000 papers on all aspects of horizontal wells. This is one of the most studied and researched technical areas in science.

Whenever an oil or gas well is drilled, a risk matrix is constructed for that well and field by the company. Those guys have been at it for so long, and have done this so many times that these estimates of risk are pretty much everyday things. They know how to do this.

Here are some of the salient points of the paper.

1. Polluted ground water is not caused by hydraulic fracturing. Fracking in and of itself cannot pollute ground water because the fracking takes place over a mile under the surface. It is usually a well construction problem, and that is a problem easily mitigated. Most often, ground water pollution is caused by water well drilling, and the water seeping up through the well has come through a coal seam, and is already polluted. This is a well known problem, especially in New York and Pennsylvania. If you remember the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. They didn’t drill to discover oil because it was laying all over the ground. There are thousands of places where oil seeps to the surface and contaminates ground water, naturally.

2. Risk of earthquakes is extremely over-stated. Earthquakes can be caused by hydraulic fracturing, but very few will be felt at the surface. We are not talking about San Francisco scale earthquakes, here. The quakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are usually micro-quakes, and very few reach the intensity high enough to be felt on the surface.

3. General surface pollution can be caused by other processes. There are many sources of pollution around drilling sites. Thousands of gallons of drilling mud are used there, along with the water used in the fracking process. Pollution can result from accidental spills, or from the transport of those fluids to the drilling site. Care has to be taken in these areas.

In the introduction the author makes the following statement:

“The spectacular increase in North American natural gas reserves created by shale gas development makes shale gas a disruptive technology, threatening profitability and continued development of other energy sources.”

Yep! Natural gas from shale takes money out of the pockets of coal companies, solar companies, and wind turbine companies. Natural gas from shale fracking is so cheap that everybody is against it except the consumer.

Now, you know why there is so much press against fracking in natural gas wells. There is no evidence that it will pollute the environment, or that is can poison an entire region’s water supply. There is no reason to panic, unless you are invested in solar and wind power.

Follow the money!

So You Favor Wind Energy

We hear a lot of horror stories about how windmills are affecting people and their way of life. This video illustrates some of the problems. First, you have to live with the noise that can be heard, and felt. for long distances. Then, you have to look at the darned things. If you are against cell phone towers, you have to be against windmills.

Know that wind power is not efficient, and will cost you more money, even when mixed into the current supply grids. Wind power is not a solution. It is a nightmare.


H/T to NoFrakkkingConsensus

Taking Potshots At Environmental Pubs Is Fun

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t spend a lot of time writing blogs for this site. I enjoy writing, but as a condition of surrender to my wife, I will no longer write long, accusatory, and inflammatory blogs about politics, no matter how bad or how wrong those other guys are. Blogging is supposed to be bad for my blood pressure.

There is a loophole.

As far as I am concerned, I am not prohibited to comment on blogs or other articles. This is important. You see, I can get online, read a bunch of blogs and articles, and comment to my heart’s content. I can say anything I want to without having to accept responsibility because I am pretty much anonymous in my commenting.

Let me give you an example. On a Saturday mornings, I might read and scan 20 to 25 blogs, and check out 50 or more articles in my Google Reader. With these articles, sometimes the newspaper or magazine will allow comments, and this is where I go bananas.  Articles in all sorts of publications accept comments, and I will close in on one or two articles that I deem really dumb, or totally out of the realm of reason. This is mostly true with environmental pubs, and I take a devilish pride in ridiculing the marshmallow intellects who believe the garbage they read there.

Mother Jones is a great pub with which to do a drive-by commenting attack. The people who hang out there are at the bottom of the intellectual food chain, and don’t have the capacity to reply in a coherent manner. Plus, the article is usually so old that nobody is reading it but me, anyway. I am assured of having the last word,

I can sometimes spend hours peppering the unsuspecting world of smaller brains with my wisdom and smart-ass comments. It is a lot of fun.

It is also a waste of time. But, I don’t get caught putting the same stuff on my own blog and violating my spouses rules to keep street language out of my writing. I suspect she knows what is going on, but as long as my words cannot be connected with her, my life is secure.

God bless the environmentalists. Without them, we would have to look long and hard to find the stupid people.