60 Minutes Takes a Look at Critical 60 Year Old Energy Technology
“It’s an American energy renaissance”
“Shale Gas Drilling: Pros & Cons,” was the title that CBS’s Lesley Stahl went with in her 60 Minutes segment last night on natural gas development in America from shale rock formations that have been around for hundreds of millions of years. Thanks to advancements in horizontal drilling technologies coupled with the 60 year old energy stimulation process called hydraulic fracturing, natural gas is not longer “the ugly stepchild of our national energy debate.”
In a Wilkes Barre Times-Leader story today, under the headline “TV report focuses on gas drilling,” Energy In Depth weighs-in on last night’s CBS segment:
Chris Tucker, of EnergyInDepth.org, an organization that promotes the benefits of natural gas drilling, said the segment was “fairly balanced,” although the show didn’t get everything right.
“I think they did a great job of telling the story of real people, everyday people, all across the country whose lives have changed for the better thanks to the development of this clean, American resource,” Tucker said.
“They didn’t quite get it right when they attempted to venture into the regulatory history of hydraulic fracturing. The reality is that fracturing technology is among the most thoroughly regulated procedures that takes place at the wellsite, which is a big reason why it’s been able to compile such a solid record of safety and performance over the past 60 years of commercial use.”
Here are key experts from the CBS segment:
On America’s Abundance
- What is increasingly evident is that shale gas is overwhelmingly abundant right here in the U.S.A. “In the last few years, we’ve discovered the equivalent of two Saudi Arabias of oil in the form of natural gas in the United States. Not one, but two,” Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, told “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. “Wait, we have twice as much natural gas in this country, is that what you’re saying, than they have oil in Saudi Arabia?” Stahl asked. “I’m trying to very clearly say exactly that,” he replied.
On the Economic Promise
- Some 10,000 wells will be drilled in northwest Louisiana, in some of the poorest communities in the country, where impoverished farmers are becoming overnight millionaires as they lease their land for drilling. “I never dreamed of money like this,” C.B. Leatherwood told Stahl. ” Leatherwood, a retired oil field worker, got a bundle to drill under his farm: $434,000. His cousin, Mike Smith, also profited: he was paid nearly $2 million.
- They actually call them “shaleionaires,” and they don’t mind putting up with the noisy, smelly drilling when the wells are built because they get a cut of the profits, which could last for years and add up to millions more. Last year, shale drilling generated almost $6 billion in Louisiana in new household earnings. As the rest of the nation plunged into a recession, the region added over 57,000 local jobs, and the Cadillac dealership in town is hopping.
On Hydraulic Fracturing
- The other technology is hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” where millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, are pumped down the well at enormous pressure. “We break the rock. We fracture the rock. And that stimulates the ability of the gas to flow into the well bore, where we can flow it to the surface and sell it,” Duginski explained to Stahl.
- “But fresh water aquifers are only from the surface to about one thousand feet below the surface of the earth, okay? We are fracking wells at depths of 7, 8, 10, 12 thousand feet. Okay? So there is almost two miles of rock between where we are active and where fresh water is drawn from,” McClendon said.
However, there’s some outstanding facts that didn’t make it into last night’s segment. For instance, Sierra Club’s Michael Brune claims that natural gas production is “under-regulated,” and that “the first thing that the industry should do is disclose what chemicals are being used in fracking.” “The 2005 energy bill completely exempted the natural gas industry and fracking technology from any regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It’s an outrage,” continues Mr. Brune.
But here are several critical facts that CBS viewers, and Mr. Brune, should be aware of:
- FACT: Hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated by the federal government or the EPA or under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This technology, however, is ably and tightly regulated by individual energy-producing states. Far from being “pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees.
- FACT: Natural gas development is regulated under the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law.
- FACT: Fluids used in the fracturing process – made up of more than 99.5 percent water and sand – are readily available to the public. Pursuant to federal law, these fluids must be available at every wellsite nationwide. Additionally, state regulators list these additives online, including Pennsylvania’s Dept. of Environmental Protection. Further, a host of energy companies and service providers have disclosed these additives (see Halliburton, Range Resources, Chief Oil & Gas, just to name a few).