We’re highlighting some of the sidebars featured in our 2015 Outlook here on the blog. The following is a discussion on the elements of responsible natural gas production. To access the full Outlook study please click here.
The arrival of new and abundant natural gas supplies has changed the nation’s energy picture. It also has brought new attention to gas production methods. Fracking – an abbreviation for hydraulic fracturing – is now a common term in our country’s energy debate.
In fact, hydraulic fracturing isn’t new: oil and gas developers have been using it for more than 60 years. Hydraulic fracturing uses water, sand and small amounts of chemicals to break open solid rock, releasing trapped fuels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), more than 2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured to date and about 95 percent of new wells drilled today are fractured.
So, why are we only hearing about it now?
In the last 10 years, engineers learned how to combine hydraulic fracturing with another time-tested construction practice: horizontal drilling. Conventional drilling uses fracturing along the length of a vertical well. Now it’s possible to send fracturing equipment horizontally along a shale deposit, releasing natural gas in larger volumes than ever before.
The combination of these technologies has helped the U.S. become the world’s largest natural gas producer.
As with any industrial process, gas producers experienced a learning curve in terms of environmental protection. But as the industry and regulators have learned more about these processes, drillers are continually improving their operations. Some areas of interest are:
Water use. Increasingly, gas producers are recycling the water they use to fracture rock. Some are starting with non-potable water, and the industry is studying ways to eliminate water entirely from the fracturing process.
Groundwater. Groundwater protection is one of the highest priorities of drilling engineers. Without proper well casings, drilling fluids and natural gas can leak into the groundwater. That’s why the American Petroleum Institute has established detailed standards for well casings, and state regulators closely inspect well construction. It’s important to note that hydraulic fracturing itself has not been associated with groundwater contamination.
Disposal. The industry and regulators have established practices to prevent spills from water emerging from wells and to protect municipal water treatment facilities.
Methane. The industry has been working hard to reduce methane emissions from gas production. A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that total methane emissions from gas production are 38 percent lower than they were in 2005 – although gas production grew by 26 percent during that time.
Earthquakes. Increased gas production has been associated with new earthquake activity. Scientists have determined that injection wells used to dispose of water from drilling sites have caused earthquakes in some locations. Most of these earthquakes are so mild they can’t be felt on the earth’s surface.
The technology exists to help well developers avoid earthquakes. Additionally, the industry already has backed new regulations in gas-producing states to reduce earthquake potential, and a new working group through the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council is now focusing on this evolving issue.
The rapid growth of gas production has spurred regulators and academics to learn more about the environmental impact of gas development. NWGA looks forward to emerging information and continued cooperation between the natural gas industry and state and federal regulators.
Sources: FracFocus, Energy In Depth, U.S. Department of Energy
Released annually, the Gas Outlook provides a detailed 10-year overview of expected natural gas demand, supply availability, infrastructure development and prices in the Northwest. The Outlook represents a consensus view of the regional natural gas market developed by industry participants that directly serve natural gas consumers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.
To access the full 2015 Outlook study along with a recording of our recent webinar with NWGA Executive Director, Dan Kirschner, please click here.