Appalachian Basin

Inexperienced Geologist’s “Fracking” Fantasies Obscure Facts

Scott Cline
PhD, Petroleum Engineering

Where do purveyors of misinformation like Schoharie Valley Watch and Sustainable Otsego continue dredge up such outrageous shale gas development poseurs to front as experts? First it was the Cooperstown NIMBY duo of James “Chip on his Shoulder” Northrup and Lou Allstadt, both of whom previously worked in the oil and gas industry but were no “experts.” Turns out neither had technical expertise and were simply administrators. Both were previously soundly debunked by many in the industry and by me in both letters and in the news as well as in in this piece. Now according to a January 24, 2012, WMAC Albany report by Dave Lucas entitled “Geologists Link Fracking, Aquifers, Earthquakes”. Apparently it just keeps getting worse.

Now enter Paul Rubin, a “geologist” with the environmental consulting firm HydroQuest and a retired “geologist” Art Palmer who directed a water resources program at SUNY Oneonta. Both are quoted from a recent anti-shale gas rally in Albany as pontificating on technical issues of gas well construction, pathways of contaminants to the surface, fracture stimulation and natural gas induced earthquakes.  Any oil and gas technical experience to validate such claims? I didn’t think so. They are probably regurgitating something they read on the Internet or postulated based on a weak understanding of technology.  If you don’t know what you are talking about please sit in the audience and learn rather than standing on news podiums spouting misinformation, confusing the public and embarrassing yourselves!

The truth is that the long-term history of natural gas production, drilling over a million wells and the science behind it, shows that very few accidents have occurred. It also shows the public has far more to fear from road salting, septic systems, pharmaceuticals and household chemicals dumped down drains than it does from cumulative effects of oil and gas operations.

Neither the shale fracture stimulation itself, nor the production of the produced natural gas and water back to the surface through a properly constructed wellbore poses any risk of fluid migration to sources of drinking water…EVER.  The water in rock thousands of feet deep where the fracture stimulation occurs is disconnected from our lakes, rivers and shallow aquifers.  Hydraulic fracturing cannot break through these thousands of feet of rock all the way up to reach shallow aquifers. Once the well is depleted of energy it is plugged with cement and presents no danger to the groundwater forever.  Even in the impossible scenario of  cracks developing that would have to be miraculously interconnected for a mile, or more, to the surface there would be no energy left to provide a gradient for flow after depletion.

Hydraulic fracturing is simply the very short lived few-hour per stage application of hydraulic pressure on the reservoir that creates temporary fractures only a few hundred feet in vertical height buried over a mile below the surface. Pressure is then immediately released and the wellbore becomes a pressure sink with any available gas and fluids moving to that pressure sink and up to the surface through the wellbore that has triple, or often quadruple, redundant layers of steel casing and cement plus tubing that protect the shallow groundwater sources.

Contrary to the “geologists” fiction, neither hydraulic fracturing nor gas migration has ever caused earthquakes. The energy used in fracture stimulation is of short duration andcontains less energy than a hammer dropped to the ground. Small earthquakes have been suspected in a few isolated instances with industrial waste injection wells in general but not from hydraulic well fracturing which is a completely different technology.   As the authors might be surprised to know, no waste injection wells are proposed in NY.

In reality shale gas exploration boils down to a temporary traffic nuisance that can be solved by working with local communities to minimize short term inconveniences and making sure that the water that returns to the surface  is properly stored, transported and either recycled or treated.

The long-term benefits of shale gas development in terms of reduced carbon emissions, economic stimulus and national security far outweigh these temporary and manageable short-term nuisances.

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