Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hydrofracking for Natural Gas in Pennsylvania

What is Hydrofracking? (from
Slick water hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking, is a new development in natural gas extraction. The process was created by Halliburton Inc. (well known for its work in Iraq and elsewhere), Schlumberger Inc., and Messina Inc. This process makes mining for natural gas in dense shale more economically possible, where before it was not.

Hydrofracking for Natural Gas - Worth the Risk? (
Russia and the Middle East have, by far, the largest proved reserves of natural gas on the planet. But the Marcellus Shale Play, a mile-deep, rock-bound reservoir stretching through New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, is the closest approximation this country has. Experts have described it as "the most drilled but least explored" natural-gas basin in America. They say it could yield 400 trillion gallons of natural gas--20 times the current national annual output.

Gas company geologists have known about Marcellus for years. (The name of the shale formation comes from the town of Marcellus, New York, where some of the rock is visible.) But it wasn't until the oil-price spikes in 2008 that the economics of drilling it began to make sense. Since then, U.S. supplies of both oil and natural gas have increased and prices have dropped sharply, but the momentum to tap into new energy sources continues. Although drilling for gas deep below the surface of the earth is expensive, the Marcellus Play could produce riches for industry and landowners, as well as billions of dollars in tax revenues for states. Pete Grannis, New York State's environmental commissioner, calls the furor set off by Marcellus a "modern day gold rush."

However, to get at the Marcellus gas, drilling companies have to employ a controversial boring technique called hydrofracking that involves mixing water with a cocktail of sand and toxic chemicals and then injecting that at high pressure into shale more than a mile underground in order to fracture the rock and release the gas.

This process, known as hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, has been utilized before in several states. But environmentalists claim that it causes everything from earthquakes to above-ground explosions, that it can irredeemably pollute groundwater, and that it drains streams of the water that in many places is a resource as precious as the gas it's helping to recover.
While the industry disputes that hydrofracking is the cause of such mayhem, nobody disputes that setting up wells is an intensive industrial procedure, and that the drilling process itself uses and pollutes huge amounts of water. A single well requires between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water. About 40 percent of what's injected into the wells is pumped back out, and it comes out dirty and salty and needs to be treated before it is discharged back into public waterways. Pennsylvania already has reported incidences of unacceptably salty water from hydrofrack wells being discharged into rivers.

That is why the Marcellus Shale wars have been fully engaged, as the irresistible search for energy resources and riches collides with arguments over environmental disaster. The battle pits neighbor against neighbor, full-time residents against weekend homeowners, elected officials against elected officials and states against localities (some Upstate New York localities have enacted moratoria on drilling, something the natural-gas industry claims they don't actually have the authority to do). Although the fracas over Marcellus Shale is regional, it serves as a cautionary tale for any place that encounters an unexpected energy boom.

Blowout in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania ->(

The leak happened at a Marcellus drilling operation on McGeorge Road in Moshannon State Forest. A one-mile radius of the forest was evacuated Friday morning after the well ruptured near the Punxsutawney Hunting Club....Spadoni said unexpectedly high gas pressure in the new well prevented crews from initially containing the leak.

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is the process of blasting millions of gallons of water deep underground to break up the shale and release the gas. Most of the frack water stays underground, but what comes up must be treated or disposed of in approved facilities.

Another onshore blow-out; one million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid spewed into the air (by Amy Mall 6-4-2010)

Recently I blogged about onshore oil and gas wells that were improperly constructed and caused drinking water contamination and air pollution. I mentioned an article that said that "many of today's wells are at risk."

Today a natural gas well blew out in a Pennsylvania state forest during a hydraulic fracturing operation. . Officials have estimated that one million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid, including chemical additives, plus an undetermined amount of wet natural gas, has blown out of the well. Wet natural gas can contain highly flammable hydrocarbons, like propane and butane, and hazardous substances, such as hydrogen sulfide. These are separated out before natural gas makes its way to your stove or furnace.

Campers and others in the forest were evacuated. While no one wants this kind of toxic explosion in a state forest, imagine if it were near a school or hospital? In this case, the Federal Aviation Administration even had to issue flight restrictions. These hazardous substances will be carried by the air and will settle on land and vegetation. It will be very important to know what chemicals were being used in this hydraulic fracturing operation. Will the company doing the hydraulic fracturing disclose this information to the public?

Investigation of PA Fracking Accident Cites Untrained Personnel
The EOG well was one of four located on the same drilling pad at a hunting club in Lawrence Township, near Moshannon State Forest. No one was injured in the Pennsylvania blowout, but 35,000 gallons of drilling fluids were released before it was contained the following afternoon.

EOG and its contractor, C.C. Forbes LLC, were banned from conducting well completion for 40 days after the accident. They have since been fined a total of $400,000.

EOG and C.C. Forbes are now permitted to resume well completion. EOG Resources has been ordered to take nine corrective actions; C.C. Forbes ordered to take six corrective actions.

In light of the investigation’s findings, Hanger said his agency has written each company drilling into the Marcellus Shale to ensure they understand proper well construction and emergency notification procedures.

There are about 1,500 Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania currently and industry officials predict an additional 35,000 to 50,000 by 2030. The Marcellus Shale region is a formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland.

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