The video and music were created by New York University’s Studio 20 in collaboration with ProPublica, which has been investigating and reporting on the effects of hydraulic fracturing for the past three years.
My view is that fracking can be safe, if done correctly, but there is a significant temptation for lightly capitalized companies to take short cuts that result in harm to the hosting communities. The heavy truck traffic associated with the drilling, fracking and waste water removal often damages rural roads. Improperly finished wells can have casing leaks. Waste water can be spilled into local streams and rivers. Waste water that is dumped into treatment plants that were not designed to handle it can pass through with less successful treatment than expected.
Despite the fact that geology rarely follows state boundaries and that water and air resources never do, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 put fracking regulation into the hands of the states, some of which were ill equipped to deal with the responsibility. In areas of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, there might be experienced and sufficient regulators for the oil and gas industry, but that is certainly not true in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.
Taking short cuts and reducing regulatory burdens always reduces the initial costs. That cost reduction allows fly by night drillers to make a lot of money quickly, even if they sell their gas at a relatively low price. Those drillers may not be in business anymore once the real cost of their activity starts showing up; it is difficult to obtain compensation from a company that is out of business.
My view is that the apparent abundance of natural gas is a well promoted myth that was purposely designed as part of a price war against new nuclear energy plants. Just last night, I saw and ExxonMobil commercial touting hydraulic fracturing and claiming that it could provide us “fuel for 100 years”. (That is not true, by the way. The optimistic inventory as of the end of 2010 as determined by the Potential Gas Committee is approximately 2100 trillion cubic feet. At our current rate of consumption – 23 trillion cubic feet per year – the very last puff will be gone in 91 years. If we use more, it will last less time.)
So far, the sales job is working because many utility executives cannot look more than a few months into the future or a few months into the past for lessons learned. A number of nuclear plant projects that were announced in the heady days of late 2005 and early 2006 have been delayed or put on hold because of the current availability of “cheap natural gas”. I was heartened, however to read the following quote from Jim Rogers at Duke Energy.
The timing of new nuclear plants could also depend on the availability of natural gas, currently a cheaper option due to new supplies recovered from shale rock, he said.
“The shale issue — the question is, is it real or is it a mirage?” Rogers said.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” used to drill natural gas out of the rock is controversial, with “unanswered questions” about its impact on water supplies.
“We need to get the answers to those” questions, he said.
I have waited in vain for people like John Rowe of Exelon or Mayo Shattuck of Constellation Energy to publicly ask that same question about the long term availability of “cheap natural gas”. Then I remember just how much their merchant generating companies with large nuclear fleets benefit financially when the price of gas goes up, thus driving up the settled price of electricity on the wholesale market. Those guys want others to believe that the shale bubble is real so that they can take bigger profits to the bank when the excess supply dries up.
The above Greenwire post explains how the oil and gas industry spokespeople often seek to baffle people with ‘BS’. The wells are drilled for the express purpose of fracking. Without that technique of “completion” drilling into tight gas formations is worthless.
It is playing word games to then claim that the fracking is safe, but the drilling evolution sometimes has problems.