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The Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing

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The Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing

  1. 1. Happy Birthday Hydraulic Fracturing 3/10/2015 The Energy Informer – Robert Edgar Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas has become one of the core controversies in global politics over the last decade. Since the extraction of shale oil and natural gas has become economical on a large scale, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have been cemented as two of most innovative processes to hit the oil and gas industry since deep-water drilling. In early 2014 it there was estimated to be over 1.1 million hydraulically fractured wells in the United States, and that number suspected of being even higher today. Over the past 6 years, hydraulic fracturing has become commercially viable to almost all drillers igniting the Shale Revolution; which has increased US production of oil from 5.3 million barrels a day in 2009 to an estimated 9.2 million barrels a day today. Natural gas production has also increased from 26 to 31 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) during the same period. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is an extremely capital and water intensive process. Each fracked well uses on average approximately three million gallons of water, numerous chemicals, and a large amount of sand. These components are injected at high pressures to penetrate shale rock and release tight oil and gas thousands of feet below the surface of Earth. Massive shale reservoirs are located around the world, but are still relatively untouched. Companies in the United States have begun to take advantage of reservoirs located across the country shown in Exhibit 1. The process of fracking has been around since 1949, but did not become commercially viable on a large scale until the mid-to-late 2000s. A huge innovation in and of itself, horizontal drilling, has increased fracking efficiency in ways most never foresaw. Drilling the well horizontally allows for an exponential increase in area excavated and amount of oil and gas recoverable compared to conventional vertical drilling. Combining this technology with fracking has transformed the entire US oil and gas industry into the world’s fastest growing producer. The United States is one of the only countries that has really been able to take advantage of the benefits of fracking. The main reason is that mineral rights belong to landowners in the US, compared to most countries where mineral rights belong to the government. This allows companies to pay landowners a percentage of the revenue gained from oil and gas production. The other factor that has allowed the US to become such a big players in shale is the immediate availability of water on a large scale. As you can tell from the rigorous process of fracking, concerns about water usage and pollution of groundwater have been some of the top fears raised from opposition since fracking has become widespread. Those against fracking feel the process leaves groundwater vulnerable to methane leaking from the well. There have been various reports and documentaries like Gasland that portray hydraulic fracturing as incredibly dangerous to groundwater and a source of pollution that should be banned. Some of the claims include reports that fracked wells have caused people’s tap water to be contaminated with methane and flammable when lit. It turned out
  2. 2. that the director of Gasland had misled viewers with these claims. A report from 1976 by the Colorado Division of Water, before fracking became wide scale, found that there were “troublesome amounts of methane” in water that was naturally occurring. This claim from the film is dispelled by the fact that the process of fracturing the rock occurs approximately 8,000+ feet from the surface. Most municipal water wells are less than 1,000 feet from the surface. This difference is at least 6,000 feet of thick rock formations that fractured gas cannot penetrate. The issue of groundwater pollution is only a real problem if service companies fail to properly lay down cement and steel casing to protect water wells. It is true that a few problems have come to light from over 1 million wells fracked, but the negligence belongs to the lack of due diligence from the drilling company, not hydraulic fracturing. The sheer pressure from wells causes the used water to rise to the surface, which needs to be recovered and disposed of properly. In some cases, oil companies have created pits with the water that have the potential to leak into the ground if not protected properly. The other main concern is the sheer amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing. The water is crucial to create necessary pressure to break up shale rock, but the quantity is troublesome. One solution that has sprouted up recently in response to the need of so much water and treatment after use. Centralized wastewater treatment is gaining momentum and more oil companies are utilizing the method for treating and reusing fracking water. This process involves integrating every phase of fresh water and wastewater management in shale oil and gas production, while optimizing the use of water resources throughout the entire lifecycle of well production. There are many companies specializing in the treatment of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing to allow reuse for other wells. Every intensive industrial process has an impact on the environment and hydraulic fracturing is no different. All types of oil and gas drilling have the potential to be hazardous, but some of the claims made against fracking are unsubstantiated and propaganda against the extraction and use of fossil fuels. To say that Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has had a positive impact on the United States and the economy is a severe understatement. Not only has large-scale fracking created and supported over 2.1 million jobs, the indirect benefits are almost impossible to count. The cost savings realized from the manufacturing sector has helped create more than 500,000 jobs since 2009. It also been estimated that fracking and related chemicals activity has contributed over $284 billion to GDP and that number could double by 2025. In 2012, the IHS estimated that because of the Shale Revolution, households have saved on average over $1,200 and this number has undoubtedly risen with the fall in gasoline prices over the past 7 months. In addition, U.S. public elementary and secondary school districts saved approximately 9.3 percent on electricity and 21.3 percent on natural gas during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, for a total of $1.2 billion – enough to employ over 14,200 teachers. The abundance of natural gas from fracking has also allowed America to wean off the reliance on coal for electricity generation, which has helped cut CO2 emissions by that industry in half. Above all, a viable domestic energy source has arisen from hydraulic fracturing. America has heeded to the gulf countries for long enough because of
  3. 3. the reliance on foreign oil. The Shale Revolution has allowed foreign policy to no longer be handcuffed by the need for a secure international energy source. On its 65th birthday, hydraulic fracturing is still a very hot topic that has many pundits on both sides. Continued improvement in the fracking process has made it safer and more affordable. New processes are being developed and implemented to help silence critics and push for hydraulic fracturing to be legal in every US state. Fracking could have long term consequences on the environment, but so do most industrial processes. The economic benefits are impossible to ignore and the Shale Revolution will allow the United States of America to be energy independent within the next 10 years. There are still new truths that could come to light with a 2nd EPA study pending, but as of now the positives far outweigh potential negatives. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/04/the-gasland-movie-a-fracking-shame-director-pulls- video-to-hide-inconvenient-truths/ http://www.waterworld.com/articles/wwi/print/volume-28/issue-5/regional-spot light-us-caribbean/fracking-wastewater-management.html http://www.fractracker.org/2014/03/active-gas-and-oil-wells-in-us/ http://energytomorrow.org/blog/2014/march/march-17-happy-birthday-fracking

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