Hey, Can We at Least Get the Language Right on Natural Gas?
Whatever may be the merits of developing the natural gas resources of New York State, we can all agree that understanding the process and nomenclature provides the best starting point for all discussions.
The process of oil and gas development proceeds through the following stages:
- Acquisition of development rights;
- Seismic testing to determine the location of the oil or gas;
- Obtaining all necessary permits;
- Well site preparation and access road construction;
- Actual drilling of the well bore;
- Completing the well, usually by one of various methods of fracturing the rock and installing necessary valves, meters, and other equipment necessary to prepare the gas for insertion into a transmission line;
- Acquisition of pipeline rights of way and construction of a gathering line, which carries the gas to the point of insertion in the transmission line;
- Marketing and selling the produced gas;
- Paying royalties and working interest holders their agreed share;
- Plugging and abandoning the well; and
- Performing well site and access road restoration.
In New York, generally, the entity managing the well operations and owning the development rights is called the operator. The operator obtains the permit and is responsible for all the operations from the acquisition of development rights to plugging, abandonment and site restoration. These tasks may be performed by the operator as a single company through its employees; or any or all aspects of each stage may be performed by a subcontractor. Stages which are typically but not always sub-contracted out are the development acquisition rights (leasing and landmen), seismic testing, drilling, completion (fracturing the rock, etc), pipeline construction, and plugging, abandonment and site restoration.
The ‘completion process’ is highly complex, relying on advanced computer technology and highly specialized engineering, and is, therefore, handled almost entirely by subcontractors, the largest of which are Baker Hughes, Schlumberger, and Halliburton. Operators are not ‘frackers’ (slang for hydraulic fracturing companies). Landowners are not ‘frackers.’ Baker Hughes, Schlumberger, and Halliburton are the ‘frackers.’ The completion stage is only one of many equally essential stages in the development of the natural gas.
Hydraulic fracturing is not limited to a single medium, such as water. Liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide and liquid propane have also been used to complete wells. Each medium carries with it its own characteristics and impacts. To lump all fracturing media with water is a serious error in nomenclature and can lead to a misunderstanding of the entire process of development of natural gas in New York.
In the debate about oil and gas development in New York State, advocates have from time to time become sloppy in their use of specific terms. In an arena already charged with emotion, politics and ideology, an accurate and reasoned discussion of the issues can only occur if we all use the same terminology.
Additionally, we all will continue to be neighbors during this debate, and hopefully, long afterwards. Living together in a politically and ideologically diverse world is not a cake walk. As a consequence, perhaps we should all drop the tone of rhetoric an octave or two, stop demonizing each other, treat opposing views as that of a loyal opposition, and work toward solutions and compromise.