Natural Gas -- Not so Clean
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News
1. Natural Gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
2. Today 90 percent of the natural gas wells in the United States use hydraulic fracturing.
3. There has been no federal oversight of the industry since 2005 and state regulators
barely monitor the wells.
4. Natural Gas production, processing, storage, transmission, and distribution is
the single largest cause of methane release into the atmosphere.
5. Short term, the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is far worse than the
footprint of fuel oil or coal.
6. Water use - 1-9 million gallons to complete a frack.
7. Although the fracking fluid 'cocktail' of chemicals has been held as proprietary,
there are now demands on industry to reveal their chemical blends.
8. Drilling-waste pits. From 10 percent to 70 percent of the water sent down the well
during hydrofracking returns to the surface, and with it drilling chemicals, very high
levels of mineral salts and often, naturally occurring radioactive material.
9. Water Contamination -- methane contamination is widespread near shale gas drill sites.
10. Air Pollution -- Western Wyoming now has more polluted air than LA.
11. Spills/Accidents -- self regulated by industry.
12. Not a Local Issue. Rivers do not stop at the state line.
Hydraulic Fracturing has opened up gas reserves held in layers of shale.
1. Methane. Natural gas consists primarily of methane. The methane we use as fuel was buried organic material that high heat and pressure converted into petroleum, than into gas. Before natural gas can be used as fuel, it must be processed to remove all compounds other than methane. The by-products (up to 20%) of that processing include ethane, propane, butanes, pentanes and higher molecular weight hydrocarbons, elemental sulfur, carbon dioxide, and sometimes helium, nitrogen and mercury.
2. 90 percent. Today there are more than 500,000 active natural-gas wells in the United States. And as the 'easy' gas has been extracted long ago, now 90 percent of wells use hydrofracking to get more gas flowing. Halliburton was the first to develop hydraulic fracturing for commercial use, and their recent technological 'advances' have made the process profitable for extracting previously inaccessible gas.
3. No federal oversight. A simple few sentences added to the 2005 Energy Act, indirectly inserted by VP Dick Cheney, known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” exempted hydraulic fracturing operations by oil, gas, or geothermal companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Superfund Act of 1980. Meaning industry does not have to disclose any of the names of the thousands, if not millions of gallons of chemicals they pump into the earth each day. Exempted from federal EPA control, hydraulic fracture monitoring is now in the hands of the different state agencies. A bill named the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, that would close the loophole and allow the EPA to again regulate fracturing, has gone no where. Possibly due to the fact that in the past few years, the oil titans ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron have been buying up the industry and putting lots of money into the hands of Washington lobbyists.
4. Methane = Greenhouse Gas. According to the EPA, Natural Gas production, processing, storage, transmission, and distribution is by far the single largest cause of methane release into the atmosphere. A new peer-reviewed paper finds "that 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured—as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids—and during drill out following the fracturing." Source. Remember, methane is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Methane is a key player in climate change, and thought to be responsible for a third of all climate warming between the 1750s and today. Source
“Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations” 1
Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas (with low and high estimates of fugitive methane emissions) [with other energy sources]. Estimates include direct emissions of CO2 during combustion (blue bars), indirect emissions of CO2 necessary to develop and use the energy source (red bars), and fugitive emissions of methane, converted to equivalent value of CO2 (pink bars). Fugitive emissions= leaks and other unintended or irregular releases of gases, mostly from industrial activities.
5. CO2. In 2004, natural gas produced about 5.3 billion tons a year of CO2 emissions, while coal and oil produced 10.6 and 10.2 billion tons respectively. But by the year 2030, natural gas is expected to be the source of 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year. Source Because the gas industry isn’t currently required to report their emissions, we do not have accurate emmision figures from 2005 to date. Although natural gas burns more efficiently than coal or oil, its methane release counters that efficiency.
6. A lot of Water. The average horizontal gas well uses 6 million gallons of water to activate a well, usually in about a week. That water comes out of local water supplies and is trucked in, in hundreds, if not thousands of truckloads. Yet, some wells may need to be hydrofractured several times over their life of five to twenty odd years. The fresh water is mixed with a variety of chemicals and under high pressure forced through the wellbore casing down into the shale. This 'fracks' (fractures) the rock which then allows the trapped gas to escape. Sand is also forced down into the shale to keep the fractures open. 10% to 70% of the chemical infused water returns back up the well. Typically a six million gallon forcing will result in 1 to 4 million gallons of water returning to the surface as waste water. Currently the industry is attempting to recycle more of the wastewater and reuse it, but this leads to even higher radiation and toxins and inner problems with the well.
7. Fracking Fluid. Recently the 14 leading oil and gas service companies have revealed (by House Committee on Energy and Commerce request) that between them they have used 780 million gallons of 750 chemicals and other components between the years 2005-2009. 14 of those chemicals are known or possible carcinogens. Source. Chemicals which have been used in the fracking fluid include kerosene, benzene, toluene, xylene, acrylonitrile and formaldehyde. During the life of a well, other chemical substances may also be used, such as acids to clean the perforations in the pipe, biocides, scale and corrosion inhibitors. Source.
8. Drilling-Waste Pits. What comes back up? From 10 percent to 70 percent of the water and chemical mix sent down the well during hydrofracking returns to the surface along with high levels of salts and radioactive material which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. The amount of radioactivity in the wastewater has sometimes been hundreds to thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water. Total dissolved solids, may include minerals from buried seabeds that can make the wastewater five times as salty as seawater. There is also present the drilling chemicals, such as benzene, propane and butane. The wastewater is then stored in unfenced, open air pits next to the drilling site. Out West, the wastewater is pumped into deep underground storage wells. In the East, where this is not an easy option, as much as half of the wastewater has been taken to public sewage treatment plants that often do not have the capacity to filter out the toxins, salt and radioactivity that the wastewater contains. Much of the wastewater has been unaccounted for and witnesses say used on dirt roads to keep dust down or as de-icers. Much partially and unprocessed wastewater has entered our rivers and watersheds and is affecting local ecosystems.
9. Water Contamination. It is not understood how this is happening. Theories are: as the shale is fractured under high pressure (some have said 15,000psi), other layers of rock are also fractured, especially if on a fault line, allowing the gas to migrate upward through unexpected pathways. Or, possibly the cement, glue and casings the drillers use to line the well, are breaking apart under the extreme pressure they are exposed to. Or, the gas is coming up along the side of well bore. Or, possibly the mini-earthquakes that fracking produces are exciting other nearby gas pockets to seep. Whatever the theory, the fact is that methane contamination is widespread near shale gas drill sites. A new study by Duke University showed water samples taken closest to active gas wells, had on average 17 times the levels of methane as compared to wells further from the drill site. Although methane is not regulated in drinking water, according to the Department of the Interior those high levels are deemed dangerous and demand “hazard mitigation” action. Source. According to the study, numerous hydrocarbons, as well as ethane, another component of natural gas, were found in 81 percent of water wells near active gas drilling. Last year the EPA found fracking fluid chemicals in 11 residential drinking water wells in Pavillion, Wyoming where numerous drills are currently active. Source.
10. Air Pollution. As 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes at the well site, (source) this puts a lot of methane in the air surrounding hydrofracking wells. When those vapors are exposed to sunlight the result is ground level ozone. In sparsely populated and heavily drilled Sublette County, in western Wyoming, ozone levels have exceeded those in L.A. and other major cities. In rural Utah's Uintah Basin in the first three months of 2011, ozone levels spiked above federal limits 26 times. Watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses are common. Source. Western Wyoming also failed to meet federal standards for air quality for the first time in its history due to benzene and toluene in the atmosphere in 2009. As the natural gas comes up the well, so too its neighbors benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX), oft times these byproducts are flared, anotherwords released into the atmosphere. 'In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling found a 25 percent asthma rate for young children in 2010, more than three times the state rate of about 7 percent.' Source.
11. Spills/Accidents. Due to lack of regulation and oversight the gas companies are pretty much left to report and clean up their accidents as they see fit. To list just a few of the spills: Chesapeake Blowout in Leroy, Bradford County where fluids flowed into Towanda Creek, the Talisman Energy “well control incident” and spill in Tioga State Forest and the Cabot Oil and Gas spill of 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid near Dimmock, PA which involved a compound produced by Halliburton that is a "potential carcinogen" used in hydraulic fracturing. A large fish kill occured in the area as a result. Source. Not to mention the recent gas main explosions that have taken numerous lives.
12. Not a Local Issue. Groundwater and rivers do not pay attention to state boundary lines. Downstream encompasses many different states. And much of this drilling is being done on farmland. The crops that are grown next to these wells most certainly cross state lines as well. And Pennsylvania gas drillers have been known to truck their wastewater out of state, mostly to New York and West Virginia. Source.
13. Who owns these companies? As the easy, conventional gas ran out and hydrofracking technology improved, the larger oil and gas companies have been getting more and more involved in the business. Even if smaller gas companies sign the leases, they most often sell those land interests to larger corporations. Exoon-Mobil, Shell and Chevron are currently moving into the business in a big way.
The problem is almost all wastewater treatment plants are incapable of filtering out the toxins and radioactivity contained in fracking wastewater.
The hydrofracking gold mine is happening too fast and too recklessly. Our drinking water, clean air and climate are in jeopardy.
President Obama recently asked the DOE to form a panel of academic and environmental experts to find steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of hydrofracking. The Environmental Protection Agency is also currently researching fracking procedures, but results are not due until late 2012. An earlier EPA study in 2004 was accused of whitewashing the industry and was dismissed by experts as superficial and politically motivated.
The cause of earthquakes, bird deaths and fish kills?
Over 800 earthquakes in 6 months in Fayetteville, the most powerful -- 4.7 on the Richter scale. Drilling map shows producing gas wells. The blue dots indicate where dead birds, dead fish and earthquakes have been reported. Geologists have posited^ a connection between earthquakes and the re-injection of fracking wastewater. Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has enacted a moratorium on deep well injection within the fault zone. Read more here: proamlib.blogspot.com & huffingtonpost.com
PBS in a joint effort with ProPublica, the non-profit investigative journalist organization. Need to Know sent correspondent John Larson to Wyoming, where some residents say fracking is contaminating their water and risking their health.
James (Chip) Northrup, former gas/oil industry planning manager discusses some of the major problems of using high-volume slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) gas drilling method. For full 27 minute interview go to vimeo.com
From the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey's website:
"As the Nation's concerns over water resources and the environment increase, the importance of considering ground water and surface water as a single resource has become increasingly evident. Issues related to water supply, water quality, and degradation of aquatic environments are reported on frequently. The interaction of ground water and surface water has been shown to be a significant concern in many of these issues. For example, contaminated aquifers that discharge to streams can result in long-term contamination of surface water; conversely, streams can be a major source of contamination to aquifers. Surface water commonly is hydraulically connected to ground water, but the interactions are difficult to observe and measure and commonly have been ignored in water-management considerations and policies. Many natural processes and human activities affect the interactions of ground water and surface water." pubs.usgs.gov
1. “Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations” published 2011 in Climatic Change. Lead author Cornell University professor Robert W. Howarth www.springerlink.com -- www.eeb.cornell.edu
2. Duke University -- "Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing"
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- www.propublica.org
List of Wells by State:
New York State Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on hydrofracking. A 90-day public comment period runs through December 12th. www.dec.ny.gov
ProPublica has ongoing, excellent coverage of this issue --
New York Times: Ian Urbani's "Drilling Down"- series page
NYT Part 1: Regulation Lax as Gas Wells Tainted Water Hits Rivers
NYT Part 2: Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process
NYT Part 3: Pressure Limits Efforts to Police Drilling for Gas
NYT Part 4: E.P.A. Steps Up Scrutiny of Pollution in Pennsylvania Rivers
NYTimes "The Halliburton Loophole"
NYT Graphic: A look at the process and hazards of hydraulic fracturing
Wall Street Journal "Toxins found in Gas Drilling Fluids"
GasLand Trailer & Movie Link
Split Estate Trailer
Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) is Penn State's education and research initiative on unconventional gas plays. www.marcellus.psu.edu