Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I Support Hydraulic Fracturing

Some of you have asked if I am for or against hydraulic fracturing (fracking). I support it

The oil and gas industry has been using this stimulation technique commercially since 1949. Among the tens of thousands of wells that have been hydraulically fractured, there are few documented cases in which contamination of shallow aquifers has occurred. In those rare instances, the cause has been overwhelmingly because of improper pumping procedures or pipe specifications that have allowed parting of the conductor casing and cement that protects the aquifer. In other cases, contamination of aquifers occurred because natural gas liberated by the fracturing process found its way into improperly plugged vertical wells nearby. These unfortunate situations are preventable.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report in 2004 which concluded that hydraulic fracturing of coal-bed methane wells had minimal effect on groundwater quality. Since coal-bed methane wells are generally very shallow, they have higher likelihood of affecting aquifers than oil and gas wells drilled thousands of feet deeper. EPA is currently studying the impact of hydraulic fracturing on shale gas wells. The conclusion of research is expected by the end of 2012 and the study should be published in 2014.

I respect the concerns of people living in the vicinity of oil and gas wells that have been or will be hydraulically fractured. At the same time, it is difficult for me to imagine that fluids injected thousands of feet underground can migrate through multiple sealing rock formations into aquifers a few tens or hundreds of feet below the surface. The pressure requirements to do this are far beyond any pumping technology.

Hydraulic fracturing is critical to unlock the oil and natural gas found in low permeability reservoirs. There are risks associated with this stimulation technology. Those who fear the potential negative effects of fracturing must balance their concerns with their need for a continual supply of electricity generated by burning natural gas. They should also weigh the more negative impact of burning coal, the only viable alternative at least for the short term.

On the other side, the oil and gas industry should be more sensitive to the public's fears, and should be more forthcoming with information about the chemicals pumped into oil and gas reservoirs. We should also willingly undertake stricter self-regulation anticipating the less desirable but inevitable government intervention if we do nothing.

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