natural gas

Book Review: Just the Fracks, Ma’am The Truth about Hydrofracking and the Next Great American Boom

Just the Fracks coverThis book, by engineer and environmentalist Greg Kozera, debunks some of the myths about hydrofracking.

Kozera pulls no punches in this book. In the introduction he takes on the Movie “Gasland” which featured someone lighting the methane from his water faucet, an act design to scare people. However, methane has been known to be in the water of that area long before there was fracking. In fact, Salt Springs State Park, PA, is there because of the phenomenon, known for 200 years before fracking began.

“Since 1947, more than one million wells have been fracked with few incidents. Hydrofracking has added millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas to our energy reserves. It has allowed us to heat our homes and run our cars. Over 90 percent of
the wells in the United States require fracking to be productive.”

Kozera gives detailed discussions of the five biggest myths, and four others, that are hobbling honest debate in the United States:

Myth #1: Fracking is a drilling technique.
Actually, it’s a method to improve oil and gas production from a well after it’s drilled. From there, the well is evaluated and the geology is reviewed. Production from the well – if there’s any – is monitored with an electric evaluation log that’s run on most vertical wells and is used to help decide if and how a well should be fracked. After the evaluation is complete, then and only then is the decision made to frack a well and how it should be done.

Myth #2: Fracking is new.
Fracking is nothing new; in 1947, the oil and gas industry discovered the method as a way of improving production in the country’s oil wells. In fact, more than 90 percent of the wells drilled in the United States have required fracking for gas and oil.

Kozera says, “Without fracturing, we would have no significant domestic oil industry and we’d have to rely on imports for nearly 100 percent for our fuel and transportation.

Myth #3: Fracking is explosive.
The original way that wells were stimulated, going back into the 1800s, involved a process known as “shooting,” wherein explosives were lowered into the well and set off, causing an explosion down the hole that would create a small cavern. Shooting was dangerous, involving a horse-drawn wagon filled with nitroglycerin, which can be very unstable. Hydraulic fracturing replaced shooting because it is safer and far more effective. Fracking is not explosive.

Myth #4: Fracking causes earthquakes.
According to the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. averages more than 1.3 million earthquakes exceeding a magnitude of 2.0 annually based on data gathered from 1900 to 1999. Remember, fracking didn’t begin until 1947. Earthquakes are very common and have occurred within Earth’s crust for as long as there has been a crust.

Myth #5: Fracking contaminates groundwater.
This is a major concern of the public – and understandably so. Clean drinking water is critical to life. However, if fracking contaminates drinking water, it would have done so long before now.

Myth #6: Fracking Is Unregulated.
Fracking is heavily regulated, especially at a state level. We are hearing a lot of demands that fracking needs to be regulated at a federal level by the EPA. State regulators have a far bigger reason to have strong and sensible regulations because they live in the state they regulate. Their families must breathe the air and drink the water.

We simply cannot frack up thousands of feet through solid rock. We know that rock is porous and fracturing fluids leak off into the rock and naturally induced fractures. As fluid leaks off, however, the fracture eventually quits growing in height and length, and ultimately does not reach our water sources.

And my favorite, Myth #7: You can trust the EPA and its science.
“…in recent years it appears the EPA is more concerned about politics than science.” Kozera has much more to say about the EPA.

Myth #8: Fracking causes breast cancer, baldness, homosexuality, stress etc.

Myth #9: We don’t need to frack. Wind and solar power will take care of us.

Chapter Three is a good, detailed explanation of fracking in layman’s terms. “The shale reservoirs we have today have a lot of natural gas trapped in them, but they also have very low porosity and permeability. Fracking is the highway we use to release the natural gas in the shale.” Fracking cracks the rock to provide that highway by pumping a fluid, under pressure into the rock. Typically the fluid is a mixture of water, a foam made from water and nitrogen, and nitrogen gas. Sand is added to keep the cracks open. Chemicals like soap are used to help place the sand by reducing friction. Fracking fluids and produced natural gas are kept separate from groundwater by both distance and by steel pipe and cement.

Besides “just the facts” Kozera puts a personal touch to his narrative derived from his 35-year career in the oil and gas industry and his concern for the environment (he has a master’s degree in environmental engineering). The book is written in plain, non-technical language. It is a quick read that at 103 pages can be completed in one sitting, and is well worth the time.

“The main focus of this book was the truth about hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but the real subject was our future. What will our future look like? That depends on us and how we see it right now.”

The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books.


Petroleum and Natural Gas Potential of the Paradox Basin of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico

The Paradox Basin is located in the four-corners area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The U.S. Geological Survey has just completed a study assessing the potential for oil and gas discovery.  They conclude that the area has potential for “560 million barrels of undiscovered oil, 12,701 billion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas, and 490 million barrels of undiscovered  natural gas liquids…”  Read the report here (2.6 Mb).

There is also potential for oil and gas in the Holbrook Basin farther south in Arizona.  This has yet not been assessed. The Holbrook Basin does, however, contain a large resource of potash (potassium ore) that is being developed.  See: Arizona may become a major producer of potash.


The cost of energy conservation

One would normally expect that if we use less of a commodity we would pay less.  But in the perverse world of government mandated energy policy, conservation costs us more.

A case in point: As a result of Arizona’s effort to boost renewable energy use and energy efficiency, we are using less natural gas.  That puts Southwest Gas in an bind.  They contend that with lower usage, they are unable to recover fixed costs to provide service.  Southwest Gas and other utilities are therefore urging the Arizona Corporation Commission to allow the utilities to impose a surcharge to gas customers, that is, allow the utilities to “decouple” charges from actual usage.  That policy will, of course, cost ratepayers more.  Not a good incentive for conservation.

We are already paying the cost of renewable energy mandates for electricity.  The Arizona Corporation Commission, in its benighted wisdom, requires electric utilities to produce an increasing percentage of electricity from much more expensive renewable sources due to fear of the phantom menace of global warming.

Tucson Electric Power Company notes that in 2011 it collected an extra $36 million from ratepayers to pay for renewable energy installations (mainly solar), and that in 2012 it expects to collect an extra $44 million in ratepayer money for these projects.

The Arizona Corporation Commission is not serving the public with these policies.  It is mandating that we produce electricity from more expensive and less reliable sources.  To put that in perspective the Energy Information Administration calculated the costs of electricity generation in dollars per megawatthour as follows:

Conventional coal power: $100.40; Natural gas: $83.10; Nuclear: $119.00; Onshore wind power: $149.30; Offshore wind power: $191.10; Thermal solar power: $256.60, Photo-voltaic solar power: $396.10. Note also, that the availability, i.e., the ability to produce electricity on demand, according to EIA, is 85% for coal, 87% for natural gas, 90% for nuclear, but only 34%-39% for wind, and 21%-31% for solar.

I urge the state legislature to take the power of issuing mandates away from the Commission and repeal the renewable energy standards.  That way utilities will be free to seek more efficient and cost effect ways of providing electricity.

See also:

Solar energy cannot economically compete in electricity generation

Hydraulic fracturing, natural gas, shale oil and environmental concerns

As drilling technology improves, we are able to access new sources of natural gas and oil in shale formations. The U.S. has abundant resources of oil and natural gas in shale deposits. According to the U.S. Geological Survey the U.S. holds more than half of the world’s oil shale resources. The largest known deposits of oil shale are located in a 16,000-square mile area in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The USGS’s most recent estimates (April, 2009) show the region may hold more than 1.5 trillion barrels of oil – six times Saudi Arabia’s proven resources, and enough to provide the United States with energy for the next 200 years. For a map of U.S. shale oil and natural gas deposits see here.


But there are environmental concerns. Most of those concerns are about possible contamination of groundwater from the drilling fluids. The Department of Energy has announced “Breakthrough Water Cleaning Technology Could Lessen Environmental Impacts from Shale Production.”

A private company, ABSMaterial, developed its Osorb® technology, which uses swelling silica material to remove impurities from the flow back water and produced water from hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells. Tests show that the silica removes “more than 99 percent of oil and grease, more than 90 percent of dissolved BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), and significant amounts of production chemicals.” Testing has shown that total petroleum hydrocarbon levels in the water were slashed from 227 milligrams per liter to 0.1 milligrams per liter. The silica material “a hybrid organic-inorganic nano-engineered structure, is a breakthrough in hydrocarbon removal technology that rapidly swells up to eight times its dried volume upon exposure to non-polar liquids. The swelling process is completely reversible—with no loss in swelling behavior even after repeated use—when absorbed species are evaporated by heating the material.”

Still, some media hypes anti-energy propaganda. Typical is the headline from an April 10 story in the Arizona Daily Star which read: “Water wells show contamination near gas-drilling sites.”

The story mentions “potentially dangerous concentrations of methane gas in water from wells near drilling sites in northeastern Pennsylvania…” Methane is non-toxic but can produce a fire hazard if concentrated. The Star story says that researchers from Duke University did not find any trace of chemicals used in the hydro-fracturing process.

Upon further reading we find, “The authors admit they have no baseline data at all, which makes it impossible to characterize the state of those water wells prior to recent development.” So we don’t know if nearby drilling caused “contamination” or if the presence of methane there is a natural phenomenon. The headline does not match the story.

The Arizona Daily Star has so far not mentioned the water cleaning technology. Does the Star practice content bias?

Update from a reader:

The chemist who first discovered Osorb and its unique properties, Dr. Paul Edmiston, grew up in Tucson. He is an a graduate of Salpointe High School, went to college at Pepperdine in California and returned to the U of A for his PhD.  He is now at College of Wooster in Ohio, He and his partner, Steve Spoonamore, are the founders of ABSMaterials.


Book Review: Energy, Convenient Solutions by Howard Johnson

Howard Johnson, a chemical engineer, provides a comprehensive review of energy systems. He looks at the totality of energy sources, from animal dung to nuclear fusion, and examines the production, transmission, and use of energy, and the pros and cons of each.

The book is about ideas and solutions to our energy problems. “Any solution or group of solutions will be based on total energy systems. The systems involved include power-grid stations, transmission lines, fuel procurement and manufacture, waste disposal, local power generators, vehicles and vehicle power systems, transportation and distribution systems for fuels, and maintenance and repair facilities.”

Johnson laments that we don’t develop more of our own domestic resources. “America has a virtual sea of oil within its borders and around its shores. Thanks to what I believe to be misdirected effort to influence elected officials by some overzealous environmentalists, the most accessible of our known oil fields are off limits to American oil companies.” At the same time, he proposes to transition away from our use of fossil fuels for transportation and electrical power. This reduction in fossil fuel use is not because of any concern over carbon dioxide emissions, rather, Johnson resents our having to give our dollars to unfriendly or despotic foreign countries. He has a section devoted to the global warming issue.

To transition away from fossil fuels, Johnson advocates more use of biofuels, made from non-food sources, and use of geothermal energy. He explains each in detail.

Johnson has a chapter on politics and expresses some well-placed cynicism. “The reality of politics and political ideologies means that many politicians and bureaucrats, who know virtually nothing about energy, energy systems, and the economics of energy, will be making many of the decisions on what systems we use, the vehicles we drive, and how we create and pay for the new infrastructure.”

All in all, this book is a good primer for anyone wanting to learn about energy systems, their potentials and problems.

The book is published by Senesis Word Publishing and is available from Amazon.

Book Review: The Energy Gap by Doug Hoffman and Allen Simmons

The Energy Gap is a tour de force review of our energy resources, their potentials, pitfalls, environmental consequences, economics, and politics. The sub-title is “How to solve the world energy crisis, preserve the environment & save civilization.” Well not quite, but it is a start.

After three introductory chapters, the book devotes chapters, in turn, to coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, and green energy sources such as hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, and tidal wave power. There are three chapters on nuclear energy including an explanation of the various types of nuclear reactors and the problems of waste disposal. Additional chapters are devoted to transportation, the energy grid, conservation & efficiency, and the politics of energy.

For each form of energy the authors delve into the history of formation, discovery, development, use, and reserves. The book contains over 200 illustrations, and five appendices. It is written in layman’s terms.

The authors promote nuclear energy and suggest that it should gradually replace coal as the major fuel for electrical generation. Although the U.S. has the highest installed wind generating capacity of any nation, about 25,000 MW, the authors say that wind and solar are not likely to become a significant resource because of the very high cost relative to fossil fuels, and because both wind and solar are intermittent and cannot be counted on to provide a steady peak generation capacity. They do promote these alternative types of energy production in niche markets which might have special advantage.

The authors are somewhat naive about mineral economics and worry that we will run out of fossil fuels before we fully develop alternatives. But “the harsh reality is that, other than hydroelectric power, most renewable technologies are not able to compete economically with fossil fuels.”

They present an energy plan which includes:

Use of renewable energy only where it makes sense.

Shift automobile and light truck production to hybrids and electric. This would increase need for electricity by about 15%. (The only reason for this shift is the author’s unsupported belief that we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I think this is impractical and people will not buy electric cars until battery technology makes it possible to go 500 miles between charges.)

Accelerate construction of new nuclear generating stations and add reactors to existing plants.

Make buildings more energy efficient.

Expand exploration for oil and natural gas which “will be needed until new nuclear plants can come on-line and our vehicle fleet is switched to electricity.”

The authors specifically say we should avoid biofuels because they cause more environmental damage than fossil fuels. They warn against “clean coal” because the infrastructure costs are too high and the possible hazardous effects of storage are too uncertain. (See my article “Clean Coal”: Boon or Boondoggle for background.

They also warn against methane clathrates because they think frozen deposits of natural gas are too risky to exploit.

While I disagree with some of their proposals, I recommend the book just for its extensive review of energy resources. The book is very up to date on energy technology and even discusses the Gulf oil spill.

The book is available at The authors also maintain a very interesting website: The Resilient Earth.

For another take on the energy problem see A Free Market Energy Vision from MasterResource.