Jason Barton

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Hydraulic Fracturing Has Great Potential, Some Dangers

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Let’s be clear: There is great potential for fracking to improve our domestic energy security. It’s also important to note that there are ways to do it that are unsafe.

For more articles about hydraulic fracturing (fracking), click here.

JANUARY 31, 2011, 11:50 P.M. ET

By RYAN TRACY

WASHINGTON—Data submitted to Congress by 12 oil and gas companies indicates they pumped hydraulic-fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel into wells in 19 states without proper permits, three House Democrats wrote in a letter released Monday.

The letter from Reps. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Diana Degette (D., Colo.) calls on Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to investigate whether the companies violated the Safe Drinking Water act.

The letter is the latest salvo in a battle over the safety of hydraulic-fracturing, a practice central to the expansion of U.S. natural gas production in recent years. Industry officials say hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressures deep underground to extract oil and gas trapped in rock formations, is safe. Environmentalists and their allies in Congress are concerned that increased use of the practice is putting drinking water supplies at risk.

Read the entire article here.

House Energy Panel Investigating Hydraulic Fracturing

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Bloomberg

February 18, 2010, 08:32 PM EST

By Daniel Whitten

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) — Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger Ltd. are among eight companies asked by lawmakers for data on chemicals used to get natural gas from shale in an inquiry into effects of the hydraulic fracturing process on the environment.

Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent letters to the chief executive officers of the companies seeking information on the number of wells and amount of chemicals used. The panel announced the investigation in a statement today.

Written by Jason

February 19th, 2010 at 8:24 am

Regulating gas drilling & fracturing

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Internalize the externalities. That’s the job of government in this situation. If there are external or indirect costs from drilling for natural gas, particularly with technologies such as hydraulic fracturing that involve greater risk, the companies performing the drilling, and people like us who then buy the finished product by lighting our homes, pay those costs.

For example, if the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing leak into drinking water and make people sick, the economic costs such as hospital bills and lost work are paid by the company who was doing the drilling involved with the leak. Of course this doesn’t solve all the problems caused when people get sick from bad water, but it motivates the companies to prevent such accidents, as opposed to setting up government funds to fix them, which motivates neither prevention nor the guilty parties taking responsibility for their actions. Then, as these costs are passed along to we the consumers, we’re motivated to pay more attention to the companies that provide our electricity, further enforcing the cycle.

Yes, it may seem shallow or even vulgar to think about issues of human health only in monetary terms, but it presents a set of very efficient tools for solving so many of the problems that go much deeper than money.

PA senator says US should regulate gas drilling

August 20, 2010, 8:13AM ET

By MICHAEL RUBINKAM

SCRANTON, Pa.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Thursday that Pennsylvania’s emerging natural gas industry has the potential to create jobs and wealth, but also carries environmental risks that must be addressed.

The Pennsylvania Democrat told a forum in Scranton that the “gas rush” taking place in the vast Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania “can create a great economic boost” in a state where nearly 600,000 people are unemployed. But he added: “We must not fail to protect our people, our land, our water and our future.”

Read the entire article here.

New Study Finds that Fracking is Safe

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I agree wholeheartedly that it is entirely possible to conduct fracking safely, but also think the scientist from Duke makes a very important point:

‘This is good news,” said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the study. He called it a “useful and important approach” to monitoring fracking, but cautioned that the single study doesn’t prove that fracking can’t pollute, since geology and industry practices vary widely in Pennsylvania and across the nation.’

There’s no doubt that hydraulic fracturing can be and generally is done without harming water supplies. The problem is that, as we continue to demand the lowest possible prices for electricity, there is considerable incentive for some, less scrupulous companies to cut corners in their safety and compliance efforts. I am not a proponent of larger government that stifles the free market, but believe there is a place for simple, transparent regulation that ensures future generations have clean water, air, and other natural resources. Citizens must also remain vigilant to keep companies honest, and an effective media is also essential to provide accurate, objective information to keep everyone honest.

Study finds fracking chemicals didn’t pollute water: AP

July 19, 2013, 5:41 AM

A Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig explores the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, Pa. in April 2012

A Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig explores the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, Pa. in April 2012.

 

PITTSBURGH A landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, shows no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site, the Department of Energy told The Associated Press.

After a year of monitoring, the researchers found that the chemical-laced fluids used to free gas trapped deep below the surface stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas that supply drinking water, geologist Richard Hammack said.

Read the entire article here.

Water among victims of gas drilling process

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Here is another article on what is to me an interesting and very important subject: hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Not only is it a human health concern, or even just a matter for energy, trying to balance the advantages of the free market with the need for some sort of safety regulation is an effort that spans so many aspects of life in a capitalist society.
Published: August 22, 2010

Fracking. It’s a word you probably hadn’t heard a year or two ago. Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to postpone a public hearing on the subject in Syracuse, N.Y., because of concerns the venue might not be able to accommodate the 8,000 or more people expected to show up and speak about the subject.

Both New York and Pennsylvania residents are getting to know “fracking,” an issue that’s of increasing concern to people in these states and the others that sit on what’s known as the Marcellus Shale – a geological formation that stretches north from West Virginia. In total, this shale contains what may be the biggest natural-gas deposit in the world.

To extract the fossil fuel, companies first drill deep wells and then use a technique called hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” for short. It’s a process that injects, under high pressure, huge amounts of water laced with sand and more than a hundred chemicals into rock formations deep under the ground.

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Chemicals and water – there’s your first clue to why people are alarmed. A report released by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association this month showed that there have been 1,435 violations of the state oil and gas laws in the past 2.5 years – at least 952 of which affect the environment. That’s more than one a day, the Sierra Club notes.

Read the entire article here.

The Hope and Peril of Shale Gas

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Here’s yet another perspective in the ongoing discussion over shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking, spelled (“fracing” below by Samuelson).

I agree that natural gas provides great promise for the next several decades, especially as it diminishes our reliance on dirtier coal and dirtier and imported oil. But let’s look at that new estimate 90 years worth of gas coming from these new, deeper sources previously locked within shale.

If we move to more vehicles powered by LNG and swap out coal for gas in electricity generation, that 90 years must shrink as estimates on availability are projected according to current use. This means that gas is very helpful to me and maybe to any kids I may one day have, but even within those kids’ lifetimes, and definitely within the lives of the next generation, we’re going to have some serious problems.

As Samuelson says, natural gas is not a panacea. Yes, we should use it, as well as planning on using every drop of petroleum and every last chunk of coal. Continued innovation on other, renewable forms of energy now, not 20 years from now, will ensure that we sill have available gas, coal, and oil 500 to 1000 years from, rather than only 50 to 100 years from now.

This also ties in with the environmental threats posed by shale gas, only briefly mentioned by Samuelson. He says that fracking has been occurring decades “without polluting water supplies,” but the movie he cites, HBO’s “Gasland,” illustrates that this is not accurate.

Developing other energy technologies means that we can hold off on drilling for the supplies that are tougher to access until safer technologies have been developed.

Increasing supply of a diverse suite of energy options while diminishing our demand makes prudent decisions much more likely than if, 30-50 years from now, we are scrambling for any energy sources that are available.

Shale gas: Hope for our energy future

By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, August 2, 2010

You probably have never heard of oilman George Mitchell, but more than anyone else, he has changed the global energy outlook. In 1981, Mitchell’s small petroleum company faced dwindling natural gas reserves. He proposed a radical idea: drill deeper in the company’s Texas fields to reach gas-bearing shale rock more than a mile down. Because the gas was tightly packed, most engineers believed it was too costly to extract profitably. But after nearly two decades of trying, Mitchell proved doubters wrong. The result: The world has far more available natural gas than anyone suspected.

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How much shale gas exists is unknown, but estimates are huge. The Potential Gas Committee is a group of geologists who regularly estimate future U.S. gas supplies. In 2000, the group’s estimate equaled about 54 years of present annual consumption; by 2008, it was almost 90 years. “This isn’t the end,” says Colorado School of Mines geologist John Curtis. Globally, one study estimated the recoverable supply at 16,200 trillion cubic feet, more than 150 times today’s annual world gas use.

Some standard drilling techniques, applied imaginatively, liberated shale gas. The first was “fracturing” (also called “fracing”): injecting liquids into reservoirs to create openings that allow the gas to flow up the drill pipe. For years, Mitchell’s engineers experimented with different “fracing fluids.” All were expensive, and the resulting gas flows weren’t profitable. In 1997, engineers tried a less costly mix of sand and water. The economics of shale gas improved dramatically, says Dan Steward, a former geologist for Mitchell.

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Shale gas has many virtues, but gains will come at the margin. It isn’t a panacea for every energy ailment.
Consider the impact on oil imports. In theory, natural gas — compressed or converted into a liquid — could replace oil in some vehicles. But natural gas now fuels only about 120,000 of roughly 250 million U.S. cars, vans, trucks and buses. At today’s prices, natural gas is competitive with oil, but there’s a chicken-and-egg problem: Drivers won’t use it without filling stations; companies won’t build stations without drivers.
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The second threat to shale gas is over-regulation. Environmentalists are split. Some favor shale gas as a desirable “bridge fuel” until use of non-carbon energy expands. Others argue gas drilling will threaten drinking water supplies; that was a theme of “Gasland,” a film shown this year on HBO. The charges seem overblown. As the BP spill reaffirmed, all drilling requires regulation. There are environmental issues, especially the safe disposal of “fracing fluids.” But onshore drilling, including “fracing,” has proceeded for decades without polluting water supplies. In shale gas, thousands of feet typically separate shale deposits from water tables.

Read the entire article here.

A Special Report on Water

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Many have pointed out the inextricable links between water and energy. Beyond the similarities in demand and scarcity mentioned in the first line of the article below, “Water, it is said, is the new oil,” there is also the need for water to produce biofuels, many forms of solar power, hydroelectricity, and water used for oil and gas extraction processes such as hydraulic fracturing.

Before I focused on bioenergy and agriculture, I was initially interested in the economics of water. While it’s important to focus in order to understand the intricate details of any of these essential areas, it is equally important to consider the others, the entire context, when examining any of them.

A special report on water

For want of a drink

Finite, vital, much wanted, little understood, water looks unmanageable. But it needn’t be, argues John Grimond (interviewed here)

May 20th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

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WHEN the word water appears in print these days, crisis is rarely far behind. Water, it is said, is the new oil: a resource long squandered, now growing expensive and soon to be overwhelmed by insatiable demand. Aquifers are falling, glaciers vanishing, reservoirs drying up and rivers no longer flowing to the sea. Climate change threatens to make the problems worse. Everyone must use less water if famine, pestilence and mass migration are not to sweep the globe. As it is, wars are about to break out between countries squabbling over dams and rivers. If the apocalypse is still a little way off, it is only because the four horsemen and their steeds have stopped to search for something to drink.

The language is often overblown, and the remedies sometimes ill conceived, but the basic message is not wrong. Water is indeed scarce in many places, and will grow scarcer. Bringing supply and demand into equilibrium will be painful, and political disputes may increase in number and intensify in their capacity to cause trouble. To carry on with present practices would indeed be to invite disaster.

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Soaked, parched, poached

Many of these conceptual difficulties arise from other unusual aspects of water. It is a commodity whose value varies according to locality, purpose and circumstance. Take locality first. Water is not evenly distributed—just nine countries account for 60% of all available fresh supplies—and among them only Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Congo, Indonesia and Russia have an abundance. America is relatively well off, but China and India, with over a third of the world’s population between them, have less than 10% of its water.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

May 21st, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The Promise of Shale Gas

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This important subject has been addressed on this site before, and as I said then, if we can manage our demand for natural gas, we can give these companies time to develop this fracturing technology so that it can be done in more cost effective and environmentally responsible ways.

February 19, 2010

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider
Editor-in-Chief

Advanced drilling and completion techniques are the critical means by which natural gas developers now hope to probe vast amounts of shale gas, considered by many to be able to fuel much of the country’s electric generation for decades to come. But before that aspiration can be achieved, producers must solve the environmental complexities.

At issue is how to retrieve such vast resources without harming water quality. The problem is that the shale is a sedimentary rock that holds natural gas 2,000-12,000 feet deep in the earth. To get it out, developers use a process known as hydraulic fracturing whereby millions of gallons of water and chemicals are pumped into the ground, allowing the natural gas to flow to the wellbore.

Read the entire article here.

How to Profit From the Geothermal Energy Push

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February 10, 2010

Geothermal energy isn’t a new concept in the United States.

It’s actually been around for some time, with numerous geothermal power plants in California, Nevada and a few other western states. There are new plants on the drawing board, too. Unfortunately, the recession has stifled the construction progress on many of them.

Enhanced geothermal system 1:Reservoir 2:Pump house 3:Heat exchanger 4:Turbine hall 5:Production well 6:Injection well 7:Hot water to district heating 8:Porous sediments 9:Observation well 10:Crystalline bedrock

But all that’s about to change. Thanks to a few key technological developments – and a big cash infusion from the government – the stars are aligning to produce the perfect storm for this super-green energy source.

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[T]he natural-gas industry successfully commercialized the technique of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

This simple process involves drilling a hole down to the shale rock, which contains the natural gas. The drill bit then continues through the rock for as much as several miles. The bit is then withdrawn when the hole is pressurized enough, and the rock is hydraulically fractured. This process releases the gas, which then flows to the surface.

This is what has created boom times for the natural gas industry.

Today, geothermal scientists are experimenting with a modified version of the natural gas technique for geothermal energy – known as an Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS).

[…]

So how much power could be generated using this technique?

According to a 2006 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the amount of EGS resources in the United States could provide 140,000 times the total annual energy use in the country.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 11th, 2010 at 7:44 am

Drilling Tactic Unleashes a Trove of Natural Gas—And a Backlash

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If there demand is  for natural gas and the technology is feasible, we’ll extract the gas even if the technology for a given location cannot be guaranteed to be safe. If demand is diminished, there is greater opportunity to develop the technology to be safer and more cost effective.We should take advantage of the vast natural gas resources available domestically, and we should do so responsibly and in ways that ensure sufficient energy resources for generations to come.

JANUARY 21, 2010

By BEN CASSELMAN And RUSSELL GOLD

SHREVEPORT, La.—A mounting backlash against a technique used in natural-gas drilling is threatening to slow development of the huge gas fields that some hope will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and polluting coal.

The U.S. energy industry says there is enough untapped domestic natural gas to last a century—but getting to that gas requires injecting millions of gallons of water into the ground to crack open the dense rocks holding the deposits. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing, has turned gas deposits in shale formations into an energy bonanza.

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Matt NagerTrinidad Drilling driller Adam Rios works at the Reveille 1H Chesapeake Energy natural gas site in Fort Worth, Texas, on Nov. 23, 2009.

Frack

The industry’s success has triggered increasing debate over whether the drilling process could pollute freshwater supplies. Federal and state authorities are considering action that could regulate hydraulic fracturing, potentially making drilling less profitable and giving companies less reason to tap into this ample supply of natural gas.

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“We can now find and produce unconventional natural-gas supplies miles below the surface in a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible manner,” Mr. Tillerson told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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[frack]
[…]
Natural gas heats more than half of U.S. homes and generates a fifth of America’s electricity, far less than coal, which provides the U.S. with nearly half its power. The industry and its allies are promoting natural gas a bridge fuel to help wean the U.S. off coal, which emits more global-warming gases, and imported oil until renewable fuels are able to meet the demand.

What most worries environmentalists isn’t the water in the fracturing process—it’s the chemicals mixed in the water to reduce friction, kill bacteria and prevent mineral buildup. The chemicals make up less than 1% of the overall solution, but some are hazardous in low concentrations.

Today, the industry estimates that 90% of all new gas wells are fractured. Shale—a dense, nonporous gas-bearing rock—won’t release its gas unless it is cracked open, and other types of formations also produce more gas when fractured. Easier, more porous formations, which don’t require fracturing, were tapped in earlier decades and have largely dried up.

On a recent Friday morning, a crew from Cudd Energy Services worked to fracture a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Caddo Parish, La., the heart of the Haynesville Shale gas field. While cattle chewed grass in a field across the street, a team of Chesapeake and Cudd employees monitored computer readouts as 21 diesel-powered pumps forced nearly 3,800 gallons of water a minute down a well that reached two miles into the earth.

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It is a process Chesapeake says it has learned how to do both efficiently and safely. “We’ve done it 10,000 times in the company’s history without incident,” said Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a separate interview.

But in a coffee shop in nearby Shreveport, Caddo Parish Commissioner Matthew Linn said he had concerns after more than a dozen cows died during a Chesapeake Energy fracturing operation last year. A preliminary investigation linked the deaths to chemicals that spilled off the well site into a nearby pasture. A Chesapeake spokesman says the company compensated the cattle’s owner and has taken steps to prevent a similar incident in the future.

“I’m all for drilling, and I want to get the gas out from underneath us,” Mr. Linn said. “But at the same time, how do you balance human life and quality of life and clean water against that?”

Natural-gas companies say what’s at work is fear of the new. “When you introduce something like hydraulic fracturing in a part of the country that hasn’t had any experience with it, I think it’s natural for there to be questions about the procedure,” says Mr. McClendon.

Read the entire article here.