Geoscientists call for honest dialogue on fracking

TULSA, Okla. — Better industry oversight, an honest dialogue with the public about controversial drilling methods and a clearer explanation from companies about how clean, natural gas can be extracted from wells drilled hundreds of feet underground is desperately needed from energy companies, two geoscientists said.

The two spoke as part of a panel on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial process that uses water, sand and other additives to free natural gas underground.

Critics worry about water and other environmental contamination and point to hundreds of earthquakes that have hit Oklahoma since fracking was introduced. But supporters say those fears are overblown.

One prominent proponent, billionaire energy magnate T. Boone Pickens, recently boasted that out of the 800,000 wells that have been fracked in the Southwest, he didn’t know of a single lawsuit or complaint that arose from the process — even offering that he had fracked “over 3,000 wells” himself.

Tuesday’s moderated discussion at the University of Tulsa featured scientists David Hughes and Terry Engelder. Hughes is president of Global Sustainability Research, Inc. and has studied energy resources for nearly 40 years. Engelder is a professor of geosciences at Penn State University and has previously served on the staffs of the U.S. Geological Survey, Texaco and Columbia University.

The two were expected to debate as part of the fourth-annual Chesapeake Energy Lecture presented by the TU College of Law and the National Energy Policy Institute. But they ended up agreeing on most points.

Engelder, who has been named to Foreign Policy magazine’s 2011 list of “Top Global Thinkers,” said energy companies have gone on the offensive, forming America’s Natural Gas Alliance, to take their message directly to the public.

“They came out with a new ad … and the first sentence had the word ‘risk’ in it,” he told The Associated Press following this speech. “And it starts out something to the effect that everything we do is risk, and this includes the gas industry.

“That’s a step in the right direction in terms of how the industry interacts with the public, and I think it is a very important step in terms of industry behavior that they are no longer shying away from that term ‘risk,’” he said.

Engelder’s counterpart, David Hughes, who has researched, published and lectured over the past 10 years on global energy and sustainability issues across the world, said there’s no question about the risk to the environment but fracking makes economic sense and is “the right thing to do.”

“It has to be done right,” he said. “There is a risk, and we have to understand the risks. I will say the industry is capable of finding the leaks and fixing them.”

5 Comments

  1. Nawar

    The solution for fraccing pollution is waterless fraccing; Gasfrac has done over a 1000 fracs with gelled propane; you don’t need any water; you don’t produce any waste fluids (no need for injection wells); no need to flare (no CO2 emissions); truck traffic is cut to a trickle from 900+ trips per well for water fraccing to 30 with propane fracs; and on top of that the process increases oil and gas production; it is a win for the industry, a win for the community and a win for the environment.

    #1
  2. Robert F.

    Instead we get paid off congress members from both sides of the aisle trying to hamstring investigations.

    #2
  3. Ivy Leagr

    Nawar maybe you should draw your own opinions instead of reading a GasFrac press release and regurgitating it here. Granted the idea of LPG fracs is interesting, but it doesn’t come without risks and problems. But let’s look at your comment piece by piece…first thing I guess is what sort of “proprietary chemicals” is Gas Frac using that are pollution free? Secondly, it’s great that they have used LPG fracs on over 1,000 wells, however all wells are not alike and it is highly unlikely that this technology is a “silver bullet” for every well needing to be fracked. Just because you aren’t using water in the frac does not mean you will not produce waste fluid. Reservoir water will be produced with the oil/gas and need to be hauled off for treatment, injection, disposal, etc. Your no need to flare comment makes no sense period. Not all fracs use CO2. However, the presence of CO2 during the frac makes very little difference in the presence of flaring. The flares you see are more than likely flaring flowed back produced gas. I think that about covers it.

    #3
  4. Peter Roach

    Nawar, if true this seems to be an ideal solution !
    However, how do the costs compare to the hydraulic with water process ?

    #4
  5. Ivy Leagr

    It is a good solution to certain areas Peter…but the cost is prohibitive. In the instance that an operator can provide their own LPG, it makes the job a little more economically feasible. However if the operator is forced to purchase LPG from a retail distributor the costs skyrocket. Granted they get some of the LPG back on the back end, but there will still be a differential price absorbed by the operator. Its a good idea, but unfortunately it’s just not there yet until costs come down.

    #5