Ten things to Note about Hydraulic Fracturing in Nigeria’s Oil and Gas Industry by Olufola Wusu


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Given the time and cost involved in finding oil and gas in commercial quantities, there is definitely a need and desire to maximise returns by use of well enhancement techniques, processes and procedures on the 173 acreages that have been allocated. One such process that can be used is called Hydraulic Fracturing, while Horizontal Drilling is another. Today we will briefly examine Hydraulic Fracturing.

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Ten things to Note about Hydraulic Fracturing in Nigeria’s Oil and Gas Industry by Olufola Wusu

  1. 1. TEN THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT HYDRAULIC FRACTURING IN NIGERIA’S OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY Introduction It has been reported in the news that out of the 388 acreages in the country, 173 had been allocated to 85 companies that are involved in the upstream business, while 215 were yet to be allocated to investors. It was also disclosed that 70 per cent of the 315 oil fields in these 173 acreages are producing oil and gas, while about 30 per cent of the fields are still going through exploration and appraisal stages. Given the time and cost involved in finding oil and gas in commercial quantities, there is definitely a need and desire to maximise returns by use of well enhancement techniques, processes and procedures on the 173 acreages that have been allocated. One such process that can be used is called Hydraulic Fracturing, while Horizontal Drilling is another. Today we will briefly examine Hydraulic Fracturing. What is Hydraulic Fracturing? It is a process used by drilling companies to increase the amount of oil and gas that is produced from each well. Hydraulic fracturing can be defined as the widening of fractures in a rock layer caused by the high-pressure injection of chemicals with water. It widens or creates fractures to speed up the migration of gas and petroleum from source rocks to reservoir rocks. When do you Fracture? Fracturing is done after the well has been drilled into the formation. A fluid consisting of water, proppants (either sand or ceramic beads), and chemicals is injected into the well at extremely high pressures until eventually the rock, clay, compacted sand, or coal fractures (i.e. moves apart). These “fractures” are then held open by the sand or ceramic, enabling the oil & gas to flow more freely out of the well. The “fractures” generally travel a few hundred feet, although fracturing fluids have been known to travel 3,000 feet away from the well. During the extraction process, the fracturing fluid, along with any water present in the rocks before fracturing are partially removed with the oil and gas. Concerns about Hydraulic Fracturing
  2. 2. Hydraulic fracturing is highly variable and unpredictable, and because drinking water supplies are extremely precious resources, numerous concerns have been raised regarding the potential for hydraulic fracturing to contaminate drinking water supplies. Reasons for Hydraulic Fracturing Stimulates flow rate In their natural state Geologic formations may contain large quantities of oil or gas, but have a poor flow rate due to low permeability, or from damage or clogging of the formation during drilling. Makes Oil and Gas extraction more profitable Hydraulic fracturing stimulates wells drilled into these formations, making profitable otherwise prohibitively expensive extraction. Opens up Oil and Gas Deposits It can be said that within the past decade, the combination of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling has opened up oil and gas deposits across the world and brought largescale natural gas drilling to new regions. Possible Legal Regime regulating Hydraulic fracturing The legal regime for the possible regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in Nigeria, should be a medley of existing regulations covering the Oil and Gas Industry. Economic Pressure: Natural Gas Development In Nigeria natural gas has become an important and extremely valuable fuel, Nigeria has approximately 184 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas reserves. While easily accessible natural gas still is being discovered in Nigeria, in other countries the lion’s share of new proven reserves result from applying innovative extraction technologies and techniques to recover previously known resources. Hydraulic fracturing is one such technique. Fracturing and the Environment Allegations of water quality impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing date back to at least the early 1990s, but hard evidence has gradually began to surface. This can be seen in the case of Jessica Ernst who lives in the village of Rosebud, Alberta, East of Calgary, Canada. A big oil & gas company is operating close to her house.
  3. 3. In 2005, Ernst noticed something was happening to the water from her well. At first, her dogs wouldn't drink it. Then, she saw it was fizzing as if it was carbonated. In December, she couldn't turn her taps off: there was so much gas in her water, it raised the pressure and forced its way through her pipes! She also discovered she could light it on fire. When lit, a huge blue flame burns on the surface of the water, before turning orange and escaping upward like a flare. Tests on her water revealed high levels of methane, ethane and several other fossil fuels. It also showed signs of heavy hydrocarbons, like the ones used in drilling fluids. Regulating Hydraulic Fracturing… In this writer’s opinion, both Federal and State Environmental Protection Agencies should carry out comprehensive research in conjunction with civil society groups to ascertain and obtain credible evidence of environmental risks and possible economic benefits obtainable from fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is a national issue, but it is not currently covered by national environmental laws. The National Assembly needs to pass clear laws regulating Hydraulic fracturing and underground injection activities in oil and gas, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) should actually include sections regulating or at least setting the basic framework for regulating these activities. Obtaining Hydraulic Fracturing fluids Disclosure To generate any real debate on the dangers or benefits of Hydraulic fracturing there is a need for civil society groups and all concerned parties to pressurise oil companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids that is assuming it has started in Nigeria. It is obvious that Hydraulic fracturing is not accomplished with water alone, but rather with a mixture of water, propping agents (e.g., sand), and chemicals. While some say that the percentage of chemicals is actually quite small by volume, it takes about 18 million litres of fluid to fracture a well, so even a very small percentage can mean a significant quantity of chemicals. Furthermore each drilling fluid will have dozens of chemicals in it – foaming agents, antifoaming agents, viscosifiers and gellants, biocides, pH regulators, corrosion and scaling inhibitors, tracing chemicals, and many others – and while some of these chemicals are not harmful, the toxicity of others has not been completely determined, and there is no doubt that some are quite toxic. Section 15 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts public institutions from the disclosure of trade secrets, bids etc. However it may disclose same if it be in public interest
  4. 4. It might be prudent for all concerned and interested parties to make applications under the Freedom of Information Act to ascertain the state of activities and regulations as it pertains to hydraulic fracturing in Nigeria. The debate will be centred on whether or not such a disclosure is in public interest. Water Protection Another important issue is the risk to water posed by the fracturing process itself. With regard to withdrawals, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Geological Survey, in “Hydraulic Fracturing of Natural Gas Wells in Michigan” (May 31, 2011) recently explained that 18 million litres of water – necessary for a single fracturing operation – is roughly the equivalent of the water necessary over a season to grow 8-10 acres of corn. Therefore, it would be wise for Nigeria to adopt more detailed requirements in well permits for disclosure of source water bodies and expected amounts of water withdrawals, which will give Nigeria a better sense of what the cumulative impacts of large scale implementation might have on water supplies. Air Quality Protection Concerns also have been raised over potential air impacts. Generally, natural gas contains significantly lower levels of greenhouse gases than coal and other fossil fuels, and therefore increased energy production with natural gas has the potential to significantly reduce GHG emissions. Air controls would be used to address the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of natural gas produced by fracking. Hydraulic Fracturing Best Practices From a public health perspective, the Precautionary Principle should be obeyed, if hydraulic fracturing stimulation takes place, the best option is to fracture formations using sand and water without any additives, or sand and water with non-toxic additives. The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development defined the Precautionary Principle as 'Where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. It is common to use diesel in hydraulic fracturing fluids. This should be avoided, since diesel contains the carcinogen benzene, as well as other harmful chemicals such as naphthalene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene. It is technologically feasible to replace diesel with nontoxic additives such as plain water. Nigeria needs to amend or pass new laws to make sure Non-toxic additives are used by the offshore oil and gas industry; these will compel them to develop or procure fracturing fluids that are non-toxic to marine organisms.
  5. 5. Possibility of Bans and Moratoriums Despite movement toward reasonable regulation to address concerns related to hydraulic fracturing, there is still a strong movement, especially in the mid-Atlantic, toward banning all hydraulic fracturing. New York is the only U.S. state that has actually instituted any sort of ban or moratorium on fracking. Bulgaria and France have banned Hydraulic fracturing while in South Africa there is a moratorium on same. Arguments “against” and “for” Hydraulic Fracturing Arguments against can be summarised thus: Human health should come before material gain; The Precautionary Principle should be applied: Extraction of natural gas may be damaging to the environment: Natural gas does not help prevent climate change. Arguments for can be summarised thus: The free market dictates that we should use shale gas; the world needs more energy; Shale Gas is good for the local economy; Hydraulic Fracturing has been operating for years. Conclusion A crucial question our regulatory bodies need to answer is whether or not Hydraulic Fracturing takes place in Nigeria… The debate over hydraulic fracturing should commence sometime soon and should not be silenced, but it should remain based on fact, it should be focused on the protection that is already in place and what actually is being done to increase that protection or it will have failed to serve the public interest. In this writer’s opinion shedding light on the current status of facts should assist in that endeavour. Olufola Wusu Esq. © 2012 Olufola Wusu is a Commercial Lawyer, Oil and Gas Contracts Specialist and I.P. Consultant He can be reached at folawusu@yahoo.com Please connect with me on LinkedIn: h t t p: / / w w w .li n k e di n.c o m / p u b / o l uf ol aw u s u / 2 2 / 3 1 7 / 5 8 7