Blog Description

Fraccing With Two C's is a blog focused on the highly controversial topic of hydraulic fracturing stimulation in the oil and gas industry. The title of this blog stems from the slang term for hydraulic fracturing as it is spelled in the oil and gas industry, which differs from that commonly used in the media and by the general public, 'fracking'. Fracture stimulation is also commonly referred to as fracing, but at Colorado School of Mines the Petroleum Engineering Department generally spells the slang term with two c's.

This blog will address some of the concerns, misconceptions, and recent news on this topic. Though personal opinions are present, we will remain factual and provide evidence for all discussions. We welcome comments of all sorts, whether they agree or disagree with our opinions, as long as they are appropriate for a classroom setting, since this is a project for a science communication course.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Communicating Science

Just when we thought the campaign ads were over...

Wait... that isn't actually a political campaign... it is an energy campaign. This advertisement is paid for by the American Petroleum Institute to encourage America to support the growth of the energy industry because it creates jobs for the American people. Though no where in this ad is hydraulic fracturing mentioned, I think this may be a step in the right direction for the oil and gas industry. 

Communicating with the public was the main focus of this blog. Being engineers, we all LOVE to throw jargon around like it is a hot potato, but actually talking to people is quite a challenge to us. By communicating about a scientific subject in a blogging format, we were supposed to gain experience communicating science to the public. As I have tried my hand at it, I've realized the DIRE need for this skill in the petroleum industry. 

In one of the books we read, Don't Be Such a Scientist by Randy Olson, the evolution versus creationism debate was discussed. Olson said that creationists almost always won debates because they were able to tell a story and pull at the heartstrings of the audience/panel. The same goes for hydraulic fracturing! We can spew scientific facts to the public, but that will never win over one person telling the story of how they rely on a water well, and they are afraid fracturing will ruin it. 

We, scientists, engineers, and especially the oil and gas industry need to learn how to stop being such scientists and actually talk to the public, to communities, to individuals. So is this commercial from the American Petroleum Institute doing the job? Does it speak to the public? Would doing informative commercials for hydraulic fracturing be a possible way to improve the image of the industry? I would love to hear what you guys think!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Anti-Fraccing Movement Around the USA

We've posted a lot about the anti-fraccing movement in Longmont, but not much about where else that has been happening. Much to your surprise, or maybe it's not surprising, movements similar to this one have been happening all over. A recent article shows the top five states leading this fight against fraccing. The top five including their highlights are as follows:

  1. Michigan: The Committee to Ban Fracking is collecting signatures to amend Michigan Constitution to ban horizontal fraccing as well as banning it from becoming a fraccing wasteland.
  2. Colorado: Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights was successful in getting a city-wide fraccing ban on the ballot.
  3. New York: Activists helped to delay horizontal fraccing until environmental impact regulations have been revised.
  4. Pennsylvania: Many activists have performed protests against fraccing similar to what is happening in New York.
  5. California: People have gotten together to sue the state for not evaluating risks of fraccing many wells in the past year

This is only a few of the many examples of the fight against fraccing. I thought it was appropriate to point out a few of the places where anti-fraccing is occurring since we have shown so much pro-fraccing examples.

The point of this post is to point out the major places against fraccing and suggest that it is good to debate fraccing. If people didn't care about it, it would not be regulated. Clearly, over the years, more and more regulations have been placed on fraccing. Because of this, fraccing is getting safer by the minute. So I encourage the debate. It's a great way to push engineers and other employees of oil and gas companies to be more diligent and ensure they are being as safe as they can be.

-Aubrey Bagley

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Royal family of the Oil-Rich United Arab Emirates finances anti-fraccing movie?

I wanted to touch again on the movie Kelsie mentioned a few weeks ago that is coming to theatres this December, Promised Land staring Matt Damon, is a movie based in a small Pennsylvania town where bad guys (fracking companies) come to present a way for the citizens to get out of their current bad economic times. From the trailer and reviews I am understanding the town is initially in favor of the new production until a local steps in to say that his entire piece of land has been contaminated killing all crops and poisoning his livestock. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency there has not actually been any evidence of contamination in Dimock PA where the film is based out of. Anyways the opportunity to make the citizens money is being taken away by the individual who is claiming that this is a highly hazardous process.  And o yeah, what's up with a Royal family of the Oil-Rich United Arab Emirates financing the production of this movie?

There are many areas these days that are benefiting from production in their area such as in Tioga North Dakota.  These benefits include 1% unemployment, families paying off debts, not having so file bankruptcy, people coming up to start local businesses such as restaurants, and people graduating high school and sticking around. They are out of housing so construction workers are making a great living building new homes.  With drastic claims being made sometime moratorium are being placed which stops progress while they’re studying the effects and for many this is devastating.  For environmentalist concerned with the industry it is important to come talk to the locals and see how they feel about the new production.

The video included above is another great explanation of the technology and process that is being implemented. Though the casing may be at one point passing through a drinking water aquifer, the drilling fluids used are of water based composition.  Also,  two, sometimes three or four layers of casing may be used to ensure that no content will leak out of the wellbore.  Next, for the stimulation process which is at the deepest vertical depth in the horizontal section,  the perforations are only a couple inches thick and propagate only a couple hundred feet outward from the casing  This means there still remains a 5000 to 9000 foot gap between the fractures and any producing drinkable water aquifers 


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Future of American Energy

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released the 2012 version of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the agency’s main publication.  The 2012 WEO shows that there is a major shift in the global energy map.  With this new shift is the United States of America going to prosper or decline in the economy of exporting energy?

In the upcoming years of the future there is a predicted major rise in the amount of energy demand throughout the world for many sources of energy.  The oil demand around the world is predicted to increase by 4 million barrels per day through the 2020’s.  Natural gas demand will increase by 50% worldwide by 2035.  Nuclear power expectations have decreased for the future years because the IEA is predicting more policies and regulations haltering quick progress.  With all of the demand increase will the United States be able to keep up or will we need to start importing more from places like the Middle East?

According to the IEA, the United States is leading the way for a transformation of oil and gas production affecting regions all around the world.  The IEA has predicted that the United States will become a net exporter of natural gas and will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by the year 2020.  With this dramatic change in energy production the IEA says that most all oil exports from the Middle East will go to Asia by 2035 instead of North America.  The United States is stated to become almost self sufficient in energy by 2035 which will not only help reduce energy prices within the country, but will also create millions of domestic jobs to boost the economy.  Even though energy prices have become a growing concern, the future for the United States looks bright with the advances in technology for oil and gas production making processes safer and more efficient.  


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prosper Colorado

We have done a couple of posts about the hydraulic fracture stimulation controversies that have made the headlines this year in Longmont, Colorado. The small Colorado town made the news again last week, by voting to approve the "fracking ban." The amendment prohibits the process of hydraulically fracturing and the storage of the waste produced during the fracturing process within city limits. Other cities across the state are also reported to be working towards creating similar bans. Though the people of Longmont have made their opinions quite clear, 59.81% of over 41,000 voters, voted to approve the ban, there is still some uncertainty of the outcome of the vote. Movements like this, where the opinions of individuals can conflict with economic interest of the public, have been brought to litigation in the past. "In 1992, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Greeley could not outlaw drilling within its city limits.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the "Frack Free Colorado" event in Denver. Today, a very different event, referred to as "Prosper Colorado" was held in response to Longmont's Ballot Question 300 being passed. About two hundred people showed up in support of the oil and gas industry with the main message that "energy can be developed responsibly and help the Colorado economy." Unfortunately, the majority of the news reports and articles about the event focus on the protestors and their stances on the subject, so the voices of the event are hard to find in the media. Some of the signs held by "Prosper Colorado" attendants read "Working Families for Energy," "Geologists for Responsible Regulation," and one even reads "Information over Ignorance."

Whether this will amendment will be brought to litigation is still not clear, but as an editorial in the Denver Post points out, the most important part of this vote was the message sent to the industry. The message? Things need to change. 


Monday, November 12, 2012

Energy Industry Supporting 3.5 million Jobs by 2035

With the current unemployment rate at a low of 7.9%, who wouldn't be excited to hear that any one industry could potentially support 3.5 million jobs by 2035? In our current economic position, statistics like that sound extremely appealing.

According to API President and CEO Jack Gerard, development of the United States' unconventional oil and gas resources could create 2 million new jobs over the next two decades. The energy industry could potentially be the main component in getting our nation back to where it was economically ten years ago. According to another article on America's Natural Gas Alliance, shale gas alone is expected to add 1 million new jobs not only in the field but also in related industries. This news sounds incredible, and I believe is completely attainable if and only if we continue hydraulic fracturing operations throughout America.

A major part of unconventional oil and gas operations is shale gas drilling. When drilling into shale, very little oil and gas will be produced unless the well is hydraulically fractured, "fracced." To make each of the wells profitable when they begin to produce, they must be fracced.  Knowing this, it is obvious that the industry will only be profitable and create new jobs if these wells are economically profitable once drilled.

What I am trying to get at in this post is that America needs hydraulic fracturing until there is a new technology developed to get the oil and gas out of the shale. If we slow down or discontinue fraccing operations, as a nation, we will not be able to produce nearly as much domestic oil and gas and will continue relying on other countries more and more.

-Aubrey Bagley

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Generalizations can be Over-Generalized.

On this weeks episode of "Why Isn't Everything Perfect?, we will discuss how fraccing will contaminate your drinking water and kill you. Drilling companies are looking to suck all the resources out from under your feet, use it all themselves, and looking to harm you.

Okay sorry, that was a poor effort of humor and a bit sarcastic but please read on...  :)

This post is not geared towards making the Oil and Gas industry innocent of ever doing anything wrong, and it's not intended to relay that environmentalist and reporters are liars and uneducated. If anything I would like to point out how some information that is spread across media can be blown way out of proportion and cast a negative connotation on individuals, industries or even ideas through generalizations.

This first generalization comes from an article in the New York Times, by Ian Urbina where she references Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil where he stated, “There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,”
This is quite the bold statement and I for one do not want to be caught in the generalization, as a Petroleum Engineer, that I have as strong of beliefs as Mr. Tillerson does.  Whether this is even an exact quote, who knows, but I know that there have been some instances of miscalculations or projects coming across obstacles that may cause problems.  Do you think that the NASA scientists intended on designing a shuttle that would kill the Austronauts in the Challenger disaster?
There have indeed been proven cases such as a property in West Virgina where a well that was drilled had fluids that had migrated into the landowners water well and had been specifically identified and rendered as unusable.  If I were the engineer for this project, I would compensate for the troubles, find a remedy to this land, learn a lesson to improve future projects, and then keep doing what I do, and that is to keep providing our country with energy.

Bill Mercer

Friday, November 2, 2012

Is There More to Worry about in Pavillion?

Over the past couple weeks Aubrey and I have been posting about the controversies that have come up in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming.  The previous posts were concerned with the water contamination and finding the source of the contamination, but is water contamination the only concern that residents have in Pavillion?  Many of the residents of Pavillion have also been making complaints about the possibility of poor air quality.  To investigate these claims EnCana Oil put a mobile monitoring station in the town of Pavillion.

The mobile monitoring station placed in Pavillion measures the levels of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and ozone to figure out a level of air quality.  The station measured the air quality from January 2011 through March 2012.  After analyzing the data, none of the levels exceeded any of the standards for air quality monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The only level of air quality that came close to being a concern was ozone which still remained under the legal limit.

Many of the residents were outraged to find out the results of the tests and said that they did not get a fair sample of air to test.  Residents believed the test was unfair because the mobile monitoring station was placed on a hill that was about 20 feet in elevation above the well field. 

Representatives claimed that they careful chose the location for the mobile monitoring station and took many factors into account including wind direction, access to electricity, and topography in order to choose the best location.  Even though the results of the testing say otherwise, the residents of Pavillion believe something is wrong with their air quality and future testing will likely be done.  No testing is currently going on because all of the mobile monitoring stations owned by EnCana are already in use at other sites.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frack Free Colorado

Being the nerd that I am, I adore Discovery Channel's Mythbusters. What geek doesn't?! On this show, a group of scientists and engineers get together and test myths to see if they are actually true. I thought it would be fun to do a little Mythbustsers blog on a recent protesting event in Colorado. Last week, Denver hosted an event called Frack Free Colorado to inform the public of the dangers of hydraulic fracture stimulation. The event website has a series of facts on hydraulic fracturing and says the event consisted of "a free concert, world-renowned speakers, good ole fashioned protesting & solutions." I want to look at some of these facts a little, Mythbuster style.

Frack Free Colorado Website as documented by Fractivist Blog on Blogger

Fact 1: "Colorado doesn't have enough water. 2-8 million gallons of fresh water are used per well. There are over 48,000 active wells in Colorado. [That equals] half a million olympic sized swimming pools."

Mythbusting: Hydraulic fracturing does use a lot of water, but not every well requires fracture stimulation! The first oil field in Colorado was discovered in 1881 but modern hydraulic fracturing wasn't even put in use until the nineties. Some wells have an economic life of over fifty years, so its likely that out of the 48,000 wells in Colorado, a lot have never received modern fracture stimulation. Also, most companies do everything that they can to re-use completion fluids. Obtaining so much water is expensive and often quite a hassle, so recycling water for multiple wells reduces the concern of massive water volume usage. So, while it is true that frac jobs use a lot of water, it isn't nearly that much!

Fact 2: "Of the 300+ chemicals presumed in fracking fluids: 40% are endocrine distributers, 30% are suspected carcinogens, more than 30% are developmental toxicants, [and] over 60% can harm the brain and nervous system"

Mythbusting: In traditional hydraulic fracture stimulation, there are a lot of chemicals used. Chemicals can be added to the frac fluid for many reasons, be it inhibiting bacteria that is in the water from growing in the well or reducing the viscosity of the fluid (making it easier to push down the hole). As with any field though, improved technology is reducing the number of chemicals used in frac fluid. More companies are working towards "green frac fluid," some of which Halliburton's CEO is willing to drink

Fact 3: "Fracking is worse for human, environmental, and climate health than coal"

Mythbusting: Frack Free Colorado gets this fact from Shane Davis, an volunteer research biologist for the Sierra Club. The link in the reference brings you to a blog called the Fractivist. This blog, which also posted on the Frack Free Colorado event, has many bold claims and facts in their posts, but no references for the data, making it difficult to track this fact. Since I cannot play mythbusters with the sources used for this fact, I will share what I know on this topic. Hydraulic fracturing is required for the economic production for most of the natural gas in America. Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal,  "natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides at the power plant [than coal.]" Hydraulic fracturing is a process that can assist the U.S. in achieving a greener energy portfolio. According to Science Daily, the increased production of natural gas, due to hydraulic fracturing in shale formations, has created a surplus of coal in our economy. The coal is being exported rather than being used in America, making the U.S. more "green." Coal is an extremely dirty energy source, natural gas is MUCH cleaner. 

There are a lot more facts from this website that I would love to look into a little more, but I don't want to make a three page post! Let me know if you see any that you would like to know more about!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

More on Pavilion, WY

Last week Adam wrote a post about the water contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming. This post contained a lot of information and summarized much of what the report said; however, because of the length of this report and the significant amount of information it entailed, I would like to add onto what Adam said and give more information regarding the report.

People in Pavilion had noticed a foul taste and smell to their drinking water, so they notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about this and complained until they said they would come out and conduct a study. In this study, many hydrocarbons and other compounds that can be related to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas production were found in the soil as well as the water.

These compounds were found to most likely be from hydraulic fracturing and surface pits used during drilling. When a well is drilled, surface pits are used for drilling wastes and produced and flowback waters. These are usually man made and should be cleaned up once the well has been drilled.

So this may make hydraulic fracturing sound like a horrible process and encourage us to discontinue it. However, there is more to consider while reading this report.

First, these wells were drilled in the 1950's. Much has changed since then including drilling technology and certain standards needing to be met. Information was lacking in the well design of these wells in Pavilion, so it is hard to know exactly how they were drilled.  Secondly, these wells were only a few hundred feet beneath the surface. In my research, I have never heard of a single well being that shallow. From my experience working at BP America this summer, each of the wells we discussed were all a few thousand feet beneath the surface. Because the wells in Pavilion are so shallow, it is a lot easier for methane and other hydrocarbons to migrate to the water table. Third, the surface casing of these wells "do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation." This goes along with the shallowness of these wells. Finally, there is no baseline information to compare the results from this study to what would have been before hydraulic fracturing occurred.

Overall, these downfalls related to hydraulic fracturing are easy to fix. Simply drill deeper wells to avoid the effects hydraulic fracturing had here.

Currently the EPA is working on getting the water and soil in Pavilion cleaned up. It is difficult to get the funding because there is still no proof of the exact source of these compounds.

I realize this post is long. There is merely too much to say and too little room to say it. If there is any questions about anything that I said, feel free to ask.

-Aubrey Bagley

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

As I completed my first semester as an aspiring Petroleum Engineer, I remember still have some confusion as to what the whole process of drilling and completing a well by means of hydraulic fracturing even looked like.  In this industry, it is interesting to think about that Petroleum Engineers are the only engineers that do not actually get to see any of their work.  Every that is put into place is done subsurface, and though may be interpreted through microseismic three dimensional modeling, the process is still something that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

There was a video that I saw the summer after my first year of study and it made more sense than the whole two semesters combined.  This goes to show that it is very easy for anyone to not understand the oil and gas, exploration and production technology. What tends to happen though in some instances, is that some make outlandish claims without much technical support that really put a negative connotation on the industry as in this California based article.  The emphasis of fraccing fluid contamination and link to greenhouse gas is a little unjust, by them insinuating that this takes place every time a well is hydraulically fractured.

For those who have not had much exposure to the drilling, casing, cementing, perforation, and hydraulic fracturing process this is a very beneficial video to gain a great understanding of what actually takes place and how unlikely any type of contamination is with the measures that companies are now taking.

Is this any different than what you thought before? How so?


Saturday, October 20, 2012

What was Going on in Pavillion, Wyoming?

Could you imagine living in a small town where you know something is wrong with your water supply, but unsure to the reason why and how serious of a problem it is?  This is what happened in a town named Pavillion, Wyoming where the individuals of the town had to fight long and hard to get noticed for a case study to be done on the water supply. 

Individuals sent in complaints once they realized the water supply had some foul qualities and this sparked an investigation into the quality of the water headed up by the EPA Region 8.  John Hanger, a nationally recognized expert on environment and energy, review the report given by the EPA and claims that the report implies a direct connection to contamination from hydraulic fraccing and natural gas extraction.  The contamination was so great that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, advised all of the individuals with contaminated water to use other sources of water for cooking and drinking and when an individual is showering to make sure the room is ventilated. 

Shortly after the report was released by the EPA, EnCana Natural Gas began to come out with statements defending their projects.  EnCana was the only natural gas company with extracting projects in Pavillion and claimed that the EPA reports has no evidence that the contamination came from hydraulic fraccing and that the report is only implying the accusation.  EnCana also pointed out that the findings released by the EPA were not reviewed by qualified third party individuals which are important to determining the true cause of the contamination. 

Even though the findings cannot prove that the hydraulic fraccing is the source of the contamination, the EPA is working with EnCana to make sure all of the individuals living in Pavillion, Wyoming have a clean water supply.  Today the town of Pavillion is being considered for the National Priorities List which is a list of waste sites eligible for clean up financed by the federal Superfund program.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Future of Fracturing

Ahh.... it is election season. Who doesn't love following the 'extremely well-informed' political status updates and debates on Facebook and getting to watch all of the lovely political ads on TV? All sarcasm aside, there are a lot of campaigns revolving around the oil and gas industry, and no matter what your stance is, it is important to become informed on the issues that will be on your local ballot!

As Bill mentioned in his blog post on September 24th, there are a lot of concerns about oil and gas operations in residential areas in Longmont, Colorado. Longmont is a part of Boulder County, which has two oil and gas issues on the ballot. One, question 2A, concerns gas utility service franchise and the other, question 300, is about hydraulic fracturing. As Bill discussed, Longmont is voting on prohibiting hydraulic fracturing within city limits. Main Street Longmont, a group fighting this question, by calling it an "unreasonable job killer." There is a lot of scrutiny over the funding of this group, where the oil and gas industry has already donated $447,500. This group also has a link posted on its website to a Denver Post Editorial that discusses how a draft of Colorado's new hydraulic fracturing rules and regulations is headed in the right and "enlightened" direction. My guess is that this is to show that the restrictions in Longmont are not necessary, and that progress is being made on the state level. The article also states that "Those who would like to stop fracking altogether of course won't be placated." Is this really the case though? If question 300 is passed, no hydraulic fracturing will be allowed in the city of Longmont.

We put together a video of our opinion on this topic. We realize that the oil and gas industry is full of some real characters, but believe that they mean well and wouldn't purposefully endanger the community. Safety is a high priority in the industry and the importance of it isn't lost on anyone.

If you guys have any questions about hydraulic fracturing, feel free to comment on the blog or check out these great Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission resources: Hydraulic Fracturing Presentation and Information on Hydraulic Fracturing.

-Fraccing With Two C's Bloggers

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

OPEC in Hollywood?

I can picture it now: big-headed oil tycoons conspiring to steal from the public and ruin their livelihood. There have been numerous movies produced that have tried to negatively portray the oil and gas industry, Matt Damon and John Krasinski's movie, Promised Land is no different. The movie, expected to be in theaters this December, will tell the story of a town being targeted and exploited by the oil and gas industry.

The movie most likely spurs from a case in Dimock, PA where residents claimed that hydraulic fracturing contaminated a few house's well water back in 2009. According to this Huffington Post news article Cabot, a company working in the area, was accused of contaminating drinking water with high levels of methane, some chemicals, and heavy metals through the hydraulic fracturing of wells. Cabot denies these claims, but made a settlement with many homeowners with water wells in the contaminated aquifer. This year, the water was determined to be safe to drink again. 

So what is so concerning with this anti-fracturing movie, if it seems to be based on a true story? The movie is partially funded by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies). OPEC (which includes countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia and has effectively been able to control oil and gas prices) is supporting a movement to stop hydraulic fracturing in the United States by instilling fear in the public. Why? It isn't because they are concerned about America's drinking water; they want to ensure America remains dependent on oil imports from OPEC. Without hydraulic fracturing, a large majority of oil and gas reserves in America would be uneconomic for companies to produce and oil dependence would increase. 

Water contamination is one of the major concerns when considering drilling and completing wells in residential areas. CGS (Colorado Geological Survey) has created a tool for concerned Colorado residents. This tool, on their website, allows you to obtain the approximate distance between fresh water aquifers and the Niobrara (the formation oil and gas companies stimulate with hydraulic fracturing) near your home. The tool allows you to determine an area of interest (say the city you live in) and it tells you the average thickness of the Pierre Shale formation in that area. The website discusses how the Pierre Shale is the rock formation that separates the Niobrara and the deepest fresh water aquifers. For the city of Longmont, the tool reports a Pierre Shale thickness of 6,700 feet.

With over 1,100 "likes" on facebook already and big stars like Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Promised Land is likely to have a much larger audience than some of the past movies against the oil and gas industry (like Gasland). Hopefully tools like the one provided by CGS will help ease the minds of Colorado residents, even if OPEC and Hollywood are determined to associate fear with fracturing.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Solution to Pollution is Dilution Part II

I realize after reviewing my previous post title "The Solution to Pollution is Dilution," I may have raised more questions than I answered. This purpose of this post now is to clear up some of the confusing statements I made and attempt to go into more detail on the Air Sampling Report I referred to. However, before I go into the details, here is what I am trying to say in one short statement: it has yet to be proven that hydraulic fracturing is the cause of a majority of air pollution.

I started off the previous post with a metaphor about perfume in a bathroom. Once perfume is sprayed too much, the smell will not go away and related this to air pollution. The reason for using this metaphor is because we need to realize that all of this pollution we are causing may not seem like a big deal right now, but fifty or a hundred years down the road, it will be a huge deal if we don't start trying to prevent and take care it.

In order to be able to be proactive, we need to understand what are the major sources of air pollution. The Northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Short-Term Ambient Air Sampling Report is a report that helps us get more facts on these sources. The conclusions of this report show that the natural gas emissions from some well sites and compressor stations was greater than those found during fraccing operations.

Okay, so what does this actually mean? This means that yes, hydraulic fractionation is a source of natural gas emissions in air pollution; however, it is not the sole source, nor is it a major source according to this report. Fraccing is only a tiny step in the process of producing natural gas. The drilling of a well can be done in two weeks including hydraulic fractionation while the life of a well can last over 30 years. Knowing that these well sites can last this long and compressor stations last even longer, puts into perspective the effects of the natural gas emissions from fraccing operations.

If fraccing only lasts a few days and produces less emissions than the well sites and compressor stations that last a few decades, should we focus so much on the fraccing operations or rather the integrity of the well sites and compressor stations? My opinion is that we should focus more on the well sites and compressor stations. We should do what we can to create new technology and standards that help the industry reduce its emissions where reduction will actually show a major difference. From these results, eliminating hydraulic fractionation will not make much of a dent in natural gas emissions causing air pollution.

This is the point I was trying to make in my previous post and hope that I was able to communicate it more effectively the second time around. I welcome and encourage discussion and any questions you may have regarding this post.

-Aubrey Bagley

Monday, October 8, 2012

Contamination has been proven, but the source has not

As shown in case studies, text or media pieces, such as "Gasland", there is proven evidence of finding methane contamination in residential drinking water.  Yes, this is unfortunate and scares many who do not like the idea of consuming hydrocarbons when trying to enjoy water from their nearby water aquifer or home faucet.

But should all the blame belong to the newly, widely utilized practice of Hydraulic Fracturing? As the case study by Richard J. Davis mentions, this contamination of methane into these water sources are likely to be caused by many other issues.  He states that in Pennsylvania "184,000 wells were drilled before records were taken and there are another 8,000 orphaned wells that are still in need of P&A (plug and abandonment) ." This large number of wells that have been in regions of stated water contamination, were constructed when many of the current standards of operations were not in place.  This means that sources of infiltration are likely to be from casing leakage or just purely seepage from nearby propagating natural cracks in formations that were not recognized due to lack of seismic data.  Hydraulic fracturing which has been implemented for primarily only the last decade, has been proceeded with under operations of strict attention to detail through state of the art technology and with much data being recorded via seismic observation collections.

It is unfortunate that the Hydraulic Fracturing industry has such a negative connotation surrounding it but service companies such as Halliburton are working very hard and expending large magnitudes of money to make sure that future contamination does not take place, and that older, poorly constructed wells are remedied to negate this problem.

What should the industry do additionally to satisfy those who object to the practice? Stop drilling, fraccing and commit to a dependence on foreign resources?


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fracture Length and Aperture

How big are hydraulic fractures? Generally, companies don't know the exact length and aperture (width) of fractures, but can estimate these properties based on the expected rock strength and the force applied by the high pressures. A lot of people are concerned with the lack of accuracy of these calculations concerns many people, especially within the concern of water contamination. Some people wonder how petroleum companies can be certain that they are not contaminating ground water when they don't even know how extensive the fractures are.

Recently, a study was performed by C.E. Renshaw and J.C. Park to better understand how mechanical interactions of formations effect fracture size. From my understanding of the paper, hydraulic fracturing is very difficult to model because of the complexity of the variables. The fracture size depends on the type of rock that is being fractured, the number of fractures being produced, the pressure causing the fracture, as well mechanical interaction. Overall, the study warns that common estimates of fracture propagation lengths may not always be good approximations and that universal scaling laws are not are not always applicable.

Generally, hydraulic fracturing is performed in many stages, to ensure that the entire producing interval receives stimulation. It was determined through this study by Renshaw and Park that the growth rate exponent (a variable in a correlation proposed in the study) is larger when just single fractures are produced than when multiple fractures are made. This is important information for the industry, because it supports that completing a well in multiple stages will allow for the best stimulation and ultimately better production. It was also determined that when multiple fractures interact, the impact can be both positive and negative. This can have a positive interaction that will increase the lengths and apertures or decrease the lengths and apertures in a negative interaction. 

The uncertainty and amount of estimation required in this study is much like many other aspects of the oil and gas industry. Since the majority of the work is done below the Earth's surface, measurements and calculations are rarely more than an educated estimate. With increasing regulations of hydraulic fracturing, will new technology soon be required to trace and measure the extent of hydraulic fractures?


Stressing Earthquakes

Most everyone has heard about the San Andreas Fault, but have you heard about any of the earthquakes, minor and major, that occur in the surrounding area?  Ever wondered what is making the earthquakes happen and whether these reasons are natural or human made from activities such as drilling and hydraulic fraccing?  Earthquakes catch people’s attention whether it is from the fascination of wondering what one feels like or whether it’s from personal experience being in one.

Jeanne L. Hardebeck and Egill Hauksson wrote a report on the reasons earthquakes occur near faults from repeated strain related fracturing and crack sealing that causes fluids to be trapped within low permeability barriers in the rock.  The fluids trapped within a zone in the rock create high fluid pressure that cannot be released from the low permeability barriers.  The high fluid pressures cause the major stresses in the rock to rotate and change angles which can eventually increase the fault and/ or cause an earthquake from localized strain accumulation.

The Angle Change of Major Stresses According to Distance from the Fault

Testing has been done both in the field and in the lab to come to the conclusion that the high fluid pressures with strain accumulation and change in stress angles can cause the fault.  So how is this relating to the petroleum industry and hydraulic fraccing?  There have been elevated fluid pressures found near the San Andreas Fault during a drilling project close to the site.  The report shows no evidence of clear blame on the drilling sites, but people will assume this is true based on that statement. 

Drilling and hydraulic fraccing without regulations can cause major faults and earthquakes to occur, but many regulations are in place with more being added as technology improves.  One regulation that protects people in the surrounding area is that drilling cannot occur within a certain distance of any residence with the distance being different based on the size of the drilling project.  For hydraulic fraccing the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has a regulation that makes all projects stay at least two kilometers away from any town site and 500 meters from an environmentally sensitive site.  With these regulations, along with increasing technology, hydraulic fraccing is a safe process that should not propose any problems with earthquakes to any residence.  

- Adam

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Solution to Pollution is Dilution

Ever heard the phrase "the solution to pollution is dilution?" Many of us can think back to a time where we may have thought that phrase to be true; however, in reality, dilution is by no means the solution. Think about this: you're in the bathroom while someone sprays perfume, immediately that smell may overwhelm you, but in a few minutes, it is diluted and is no longer a bother. This is fine except for when someone comes in every few minutes and sprays more perfume. Eventually, the entire bathroom will smell of perfume and dilution will no longer be an option. If we consider this example and relate it to the possibility of air pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing or "fraccing", it would be obvious that we need to do something about it.

However, this is only one side of the story. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did a report titled Northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Short-Term Ambient Air Sampling Report on the effects of drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and surrounding states and what air pollution has been shown as a result . In this study, the air was sampled using two different techniques around a drilling site during fraccing operations as well at a few compressor stations and other well sites.

The results from this report showed that the natural gas emissions at the drilling site during fraccing operations was less than those found at the compressor stations or other well sites. Because of these results, one can see that fraccing may not be the main cause to natural gas emissions. Rather, this could be blamed on other operations during production of the natural gas.

So instead of worrying so much about the air pollution caused by fraccing, we should be focusing on the pollution from other operations. This poses the question of is it worth the pollution to produce this natural gas, should we choose to shut down this operation or figure out ways to eliminate it? To answer this question, it is important to think about what we use natural gas for and the effects it would cause if we did not have it any longer.

As one of the authors of this blog, I would say the answer should not be to shut down natural gas operations, rather think of ways we can prevent these emissions even more than we already are. We need to start focusing on the industry as a whole rather than only being interested in one aspect of the industry.We need more engineers and other people to help create more efficient ways to capture or prevent this natural gas from escaping so that we can more efficiently and effectively produce natural gas from conventional ways as well as fraccing.

-Aubrey Bagley

Monday, September 24, 2012


So what is the happy medium that is going to make both the Petroleum industry and the environmentalists satisfied?  This might be one of the most difficult questions to ask when looking into this topic.  The environmentalists are always going to think unfavorabley about any type of manipulation to the natural landscapes and the Petroleum industry is always going to want to explore and produce from land that has been undiscovered prior.

An interesting article from the Denver Postabout a city called Longmont in the northern Colorado region goes into detail about new restrictions being placed on drilling companies who are interested in expanding west of the major high way I-25.  On the oposite side of I-25 from Longmont, 1000's of wells have been drilled in the LaSalle/ Greely, with a target of either the Niobrara or Denvers Julesburg formation which are primarily natural gas producing zones. Longmont is a beautiful area that backs up to the Rocky Mountain foothills.  The restrictions are almost arbitrary to what type of scenario is at hand and this makes it difficult for both sides to get what they want. The ruling is going to be on terms of "appropriateness".Are the operation companies going to be able to produce from these areas or no? Who deserves to get their way?  Who should decide this?  

The world cannot simply stop producing oil and natural gas, over 6000 different products are made from hydrocarbon based constituents. This includes things as important as heart valves to save peoples lives. Oil and gas companies should not be able to go drill any land that they chose though, so how does this get resolved?


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Serious is Water Contamination?

Out of all the times you have heard news about fraccing how often have you heard about water contamination, accidents, and overall poor performances?  Now how many times have you heard about successful fraccing jobs with no consequences?  As a civil engineering student I have not had much exposure to fraccing, but when I do hear about it that usually means there has been an accident and my guess is that your experiences are the same unless you are part of the industry. 

Warning: Video may contain content not suitable for children.

Water contamination tends to be one of the most focused topics for consequences coming out of fraccing projects.  There is a possibility that the fraccing could lead to a change of color and odor in the water due to the new contaminants, but a more common risk is leaking methane gas directly into the water supply.  The methane gas does not affect the water’s color, taste, or odor making it hard to detect, but leaves the water susceptible to being able to ignite on fire.  Currently there are no regulations on drinking water concerning the amount of methane because scientists have been unable to predict how much of a health hazard it can be in the drinking water.  Knowing about this risk could make any person who is on the fence about their opinion of fraccing go against it, but before making a decision you should also know about some of the positives and regulations overseeing fraccing jobs.

Natural gas is much cleaner to burn than coal making it better environmentally as an energy resource.  Also the increase in acquiring the natural gas will create jobs and reduce energy prices because the United States would have the chance to become more energy independent.  With rising energy prices across the country along with high unemployment rates this could be a golden opportunity if the right approach is taken.  Many of the studies looking for water contamination from fraccing are inconclusive because there is never any baseline data of the groundwater to compare to which has allowed there to be zero confirmed cases of contamination by fraccing in the groundwater.  The few cases that have been able to prove there is contamination in the water have found that the contamination came from poor wastewater disposal and performance of the well casing.  This is why many of the large companies in the fraccing industry make sure to take every step in the process slowly to make sure the fraccing job is done right.  As far as regulations go, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is assessing each fraccing job on a case by case basis to determine the environmental effects.  In all of the recent cases the EPA has not seen a reason to challenge any of the fraccing jobs that were assessed.  Any fraccing site within 500 meters of an environmentally sensitive area or two kilometers of a town, coastline, or major water storage area will be assessed diligently by the EPA.  The EPA knows fraccing is a possible threat to the environment and they are doing everything they can to make sure the fraccing industry is being careful when fraccing to avoid any contamination in the groundwater as much as possible.

Hopefully this has an impact showing that the industry is making an effort to practice safe fraccing, but if anyone is still on the fence or wants more information I encourage them to do research on their own, look at the links connected to each post on the blog, and continue to follow the blog throughout the semester.

-Adam Bent

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Challenge of Communication

As a senior in Petroleum Engineering, I get confused when people don't understand the importance of hydraulic fracturing in today's energy environment. As a student, this is a topic that is a part of my everyday life, so I occasionally forget that some peoples’ lives don’t involve terms like ‘reservoir stimulation’ and ‘hydraulic fracture proppant’. This seems to be a problem that is prevalent in the industry as well; thankfully, it is slowly being addressed. The industry has also worked together to make information more readily available to the public, through websites such as (created by Chesapeake Energy) and posting informational videos on their websites and YouTube.

This is a commercial created by Chevron to promote the development of the Marcellus Shale and the economic impact of the projects in the area:

Although this video does little to ease the minds of those concerned of the possible downside of hydraulic fracture stimulation, it is a step in the right direction for the industry.

This makes me review how I have performed in communicating the importance of fracturing to those around me. I was very surprised and disappointed in myself when my roommate of three years said that fracturing is “something about putting poison in the earth and killing people through their water.” Luckily, this gave me the opportunity to assure him that “there have been no confirmed incidents of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing” and that the majority of the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing is water. There are trace amounts of chemicals used and more and more companies are moving towards “green fracturing” already to eliminate any of these concerns (Chesapeake calls their movement the Green Frac Program). 

Not only does the industry need to improve communication to the public about the process and importance of hydraulic fracturing, so do all of those that are a part of the industry, me included. We need to work together and get the message out there that the current energy market is dependent upon fracturing. America’s desire to move towards energy independence and cleaner energy relies on the extraction of natural gas in the United States. This is not an economic process without the assistance of hydraulic fracturing, which stimulates a reservoir and improves the production of natural gas in tight, shale formations. Convincing America that hydraulic fracture stimulation is environmentally safe and economically vital is perhaps the biggest challenge the oil and gas industry will ever face. 

-Kelsi Waite

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Separating Facts From Fiction

According to the American Time Use Survey Summary taken by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that on average, a person 15 years or older spends about 2.8 hrs a day watching the television. Watching television is generally where many people will get all of their information on what is going on in the world that day. One of the major topics in the news regarding the oil & gas industry is about hydraulic fracturing of shale. Much of what you see in the media will be skewed one way or another depending on who is creating the piece. Because of this, the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study on the effects hydraulic fracturing has to clear up a few of the statements reporters have made.

They titled this study Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development. A team of interdisciplinary experts studied shale formations from New York and Pennsylvania down to west Texas. Three critical areas were studied including: environmental and health effects, public perceptions, and state and federal regulations. 

First looking at the environmental and health effects, there are concerns about hydraulic fracturing contaminating ground water as well as methane gas seeping into aquifers. According to this study, researchers found that the groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing is not unique to hydraulic fracturing and occurs in other conventional oil and gas operations. Along with that, methane that was found in water wells most likely did not occur from hydraulic fracturing, rather, it was there before any drilling had taken place. 

Secondly, after looking at the public perceptions from the media coverage, it showed that in newspapers, online journals, the television and other sources about two thirds of all the media regarding hydraulic fracturing is negative. Not only was most of it negative, but only about one in four containing scientific evidence supporting their claims. 

Lastly, many of the state oil and gas regulations were written much before the discovery of shale gas and do not contain many particular regulations regarding it. There are only a few states that have revised the regulations to regulate certain areas of hydraulic fracturing including but not limited to: disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, proper casing of wells to prevent aquifer contamination, as well as management of waste water. The report also stated that rather than making more regulations on hydraulic fracturing, the regulations should be focused towards spill prevention. There is a greater health and environmental risk that can occur on a surface spill rather than subsurface during the actual hydraulic fracturing. 

This should be able to give another view to what the media will feed the public the majority of the time and help show that it is important to look beyond what is said on the television and to dig deep into the cold hard facts to help eliminate the fiction.

-Aubrey Bagley

Monday, September 10, 2012

Public Perception

Provided is a link from the Marcellus Earth First movement which is based out of the Eastern region of the US.  This group has banned together to fight against the exploration and production industry because they feel that the environment is at great risk with this activity going on.  The mishap that took place this 2012 summer, actually took place at a location that was being drilled on by a company called EQT Corporation.  One of the first key words to take from this segment is that it was a DRILLING site.  Already this movement has some what discredited themselves by not even knowing the correct operation that was taking place at this site.  In the video mention of disrupting a frac job is incorrect because really the Pioneer 70 rig was there to drill, not to do the proceeding action of completing the well by means of fraccing.  The other detail which is fortunate for EQT but less fortunate for the movement is that the rig was actually in a maintenance phase meaning no work, or drilling ahead was not even disrupted.  

This points out an essential issue that brings about a lot of the controversies against the oil and gas industry, and that point is that people are simply ill-informed or just not educated enough on the process.  A lot of out-landish remarks are often made about either the drilling process or the completions phase without even having proper knowledge on what is taking place.  It is very clear that once the land is moved in on by a drilling company that it does not look as it did prior to this operation and that some inhabitants of the land are temporarily removed, but many efforts are made once the well is complete to return the land to original quality if not better.

The even more unfortunate part of this movement is that the individuals were putting their own lives at risk by hanging themselves from poorly supported systems up in the trees and one man even attached himself to a line and bike lock by the neck.  Protesting has gone on since the beginning of time but when violence or dangerous measures are taken to get a point across, the integrity of the movement is greatly compromised. On the topic of integrity though, it is true that not all companies throughout history have operated with the safest or most diligent standards so with that being said, the producers of this blog do not think that these protesters have no right to be upset. Fortunately though, state wide regulations are constantly being improved upon to make sure that the exploration and production industry are being held accountable for their actions.  So lets leave it to the majority voters and government to implement limitations or higher standards to operate by and not try to make a statement by hanging oneself in a tree or doing other things to put lives at risk.

-Bill Mercer