Some critics like to say too little is known about the practice of hydraulic fracturing for society to permit its use. The truth is that most government officials at the federal and state levels know quite a bit about the track record of fracking for oil and natural gas because the practice has been used safely for decades. Many government officials have come to encourage its application because of its proven economic and environmental benefits.
Still, our industry understands the value in adding to the expanding store of knowledge on hydraulic fracturing. For that reason, I want to draw readers’ attention to two recent items about hydraulic fracturing that have initially flown under the radar but deserve wider notice.
The first is a study by researchers at Philadelphia’s Drexel University looking into air-quality issues surrounding oil and natural gas development in the area where natural gas is produced from the Marcellus Shale. The team used mobile air monitors to measure emissions from wells, compressor stations, and processing facilities at 14 Marcellus gas sites.
They compared emissions of methane and particulate matter from natural gas development with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions derived from using natural gas for electricity generation instead of coal and found a net benefit to the environment from natural gas
The data offered by Drexel is further evidence that the misinformation campaign over so-called “fugitive emissions” is based in little but the fevered imagination of anti-fracking activists.
And, I’ll note, industry has made strides in each of the last several years to reduce emissions in every part of the natural gas production chain.
At about the same time as the Drexel study, industry consultant John Veil offered an interesting look at produced water volumes and management practices from U.S. wells in 2012, several years into the shale revolution.
“Comparing 2007 to 2012,” Veil writes, “U.S. oil production increased by 29 percent, and the gas production increased by 22 percent. However, the water production increased by less than 1 percent.” In other words, as oil and gas production surged, wastewater production volumes did not change.
Why is this significant?
Because managing produced water from shale energy production is one of the bigger challenges facing operators when drilling and fracking wells. A reduction in the amount of wastewater that requires managing – either through treatment or disposal – reflects the increasing efficiencies industry is bringing to America’s shale regions.
It offers even more reason to be confident about our industry’s ability to produce oil and gas safely while reducing our environmental footprint.
Neither of these studies is particularly earth-shattering. But both help increase the public’s understanding of the practices that have helped to transform the American economy over the last decade.