Appalachian Basin

Karen Moreau Discusses Natural Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing

The Southern Tier Tea Party met recently and Karen Moreau, Executive Director of the New York State Petroleum Council, delivered yet another excellent educational presentation. Members of the Tea Party, local land owner coalitions, and interested citizens filled almost every seat in the Vestal Public Library’s conference room to participate in the discussion.

Similar to her presentation at this past February’s Vestal Coalition meeting, Karen started the night off by first introducing herself, her ties to the area, and some of the events throughout her professional career that have brought her to work for the American Petroleum Institute.

Karen also spoke, as a lifetime New York resident, about how the state got its reputation for being so notoriously unfriendly to business. She accredited this primarily to the exorbitantly high property taxes, excessive costs of regulation, and, most importantly, the high costs of energy. She noted, for example, how it is actually cheaper for large scale apple orchards to ship their apples to Michigan for winter storage than it is for them to keep them in New York because of the high cost of electricity.

Karen also spoke, from her first-hand experience, on the real impacts of hydraulic fracturing. It is nothing new, she said, with more than one million oil and gas wells around the country fractured since the early 1960s and 14,000 active natural gas wells in New York alone.

Karen also highlighted how the process of natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing is a temporary development, as compared to other methods of energy extraction and generation such as mining, solar, and wind. After the two to three months of actual construction and operation it takes to clear, drill, and hydraulically fracture the well, you have a developed energy source which could be actively producing for the next 20 to 30 years.

What you’re left with after that brief period is a small cleared plot of land with a few feet of exposed well-head, that in most cases is located off of a rural access road — as opposed to a strip mine, or fields of 300 foot high wind turbines or acres upon acres of solar panels.

solar

She also stated that horizontal hydraulic fracturing decreases surface impact by roughly 90 percent, as one single well pad can have six to ten active wells, harvesting all the gas within a mile or more radius of the pad.  The Simple Truth About Natural Gas: Through horizontal drilling,

Karen did note the effect of the increased truck traffic on Pennsylvania’s roads, mentioning that, in the past several years since the drilling began there, hundreds of millions of dollars have been put into the Commonwealth’s roads and highways. These were not just repairs, she noted, but in many cases the gas companies were investing ahead in Pennsylvania’s roadways, vastly improving them over what they were before. This helps ensure they are safe for both their drivers and the public, and that they are durable enough to last for many years to come. (For a couple of examples on the industry’s investments in local roads, click here and here.)

She also mentioned that, in Pennsylvania, local first responders and volunteer fire crews have worked with the natural gas companies to develop comprehensive plans for emergency response should there be an issue at one of their well sites or facilities. Again, this reflects a commitment to safety within the industry that is always worth mentioning, even if the news coverage of industry activity doesn’t always mention it.

Another important topic she addressed was how the actual process of well development and high volume hydraulic fracturing works. The initial well bore is drilled through the water aquifer several hundred feet down, and it involves no hydraulic fracturing fluids, as hydraulic fracturing does not occur until after the drilling equipment has left the site. Once through the aquifer, the first layer of steel pipe and cement casing is set. Karen described the layering of the steel and cement as similar to a Russian nesting doll, with at least four layers of steel and cement within each other to ensure the well is securely encased. (A scene toward the end of Truthland [25:26] shows just how strong those layers of protection truly are.)

State law mandates that gas cannot be developed at any depth shallower than 2,500 feet below the surface.  However, the majority of the wells are being drilled to a depth usually of approximately one mile, or more than twice the mandated minimum. It’s at this depth, Karen says, when the well has developed into the horizontal stage, that the hydraulic fracturing process actually occurs.

The horizontal leg of the well bore is perforated with pin prick sized holes, which are first cleaned with a very dilute acid to ensure they are not clogged. Then the fracturing fluid, consisting of 99 percent water and sand is pumped into the well under pressure, works through the perforated pipe, and fractures the shale. The sand in the solution is referred to as the “proppant” because it is what is used to prop and keep open the fissures in the shale, which allows the gas to freely flow back to the surface.

The other one percent (or less) of the solution consists of the additives, fully disclosed in the same manner as what’s in a can of Coke, that make the sand adhesive enough to stick in the fissures of the rock. They also include biocides (to stop bacteria buildup and to prevent corrosion) and friction reducers, which allow the fluid to move more easily through the well during the fracturing process.

Concerns relating to flowback fluid have also been addressed, Karen said, as development sites now used a “closed loop” system ensuring the fluid returning to the surface travels directly into a pipe on the surface and either to on-site treatment facilities, or into trucks to be transported to the appropriate recycling center so the fluid can be used again on the next job.

In addition to these safety measures, Karen also discussed the benefits of natural gas development. She mentioned how active gas wells pay property taxes, and a single well can generate about $200,000 in tax revenue.  She also noted how, in several cases already in Pennsylvania, some well-sites are located on municipal properties, so they also pay royalties in addition to the property tax. For the first time, she said, New York has the opportunity for energy development and an energy economy that would bring in all sorts of money to the private and public sectors. It’s happening in New York already, as seen in Windsor where a natural gas compressor station helped to bring school taxes down six percent.

Check out this presentation on the Ad Valorem Tax for more details.

Karen also had some time to field several questions from the audience. One person in particular asked her what the average person could do to help convince Governor Cuomo to approve shale development in our state. Karen responded that it was very important to keep calling and writing, as it does make an impact.

Overall, Karen gave an excellent presentation, and all those in attendance were able to walk away with some new and useful information about natural gas and hydraulic fracturing.  The only thing better would have been having Governor Cuomo there to hear it, especially given his statements that he wished there was more education being offered on the subject.

 

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