shale oil

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.

Potential targets for shale-oil and shale-gas exploration in Arizona

In a previous post, “Shale oil potential of Arizona,” I reported on the Arizona Geological Survey’s assessment of the Mancos Shale in the four-corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.  But there is more resource potential in Arizona. The Arizona Geological Survey now has a new report assessing the potential resources of other formations in Arizona for shale oil and shale gas.  The report citation is:

Rauzi, S.L. and Spencer, J.E., 2013, Potential targets for shale-oil and shale-gas exploration in Arizona. Arizona Geological Survey Open File Report, OFR-13-09 v. 1, 9 p.

It may be downloaded for free (2Mb).

AZGS describes the report as follows:

“The recent development of horizontal drilling techniques and application of hydraulic fracturing to horizontal wells has dramatically increased oil and gas production in the U.S., notably in areas with extensive organic-rich shale and calcareous shale deposits. Shale formations that contain hydrocarbons without sufficient porosity and permeability to yield economic amounts of oil and gas with conventional drilling techniques are being reconsidered in light of these technological advances. In this report we identify 10 rock formations in Arizona that consist dominantly of shale or phyllite (very low grade metamorphic shale) that represent potential areas of interest for shale-oil and shale-gas exploration. Many of these units are weakly metamorphosed, and are perhaps too thermally mature to contain recoverable oil or gas in known exposures. However, lateral equivalents of these units may be less metamorphosed and so contain recoverable hydrocarbons. These equivalents could be present but concealed, especially in structurally complex areas in southeastern Arizona.”

The map below shows the areas of interest in Arizona.  Some background: “Over the past decade, oil and gas production in Arizona was largely confined to the Dineh-bi-Keyah and Black Rock fields on the Navajo Reservation.  New exploration and production technologies could change that by bringing organic-rich shale deposits into play. In 2012, Arizona oil production totaled 51,949 barrels from 21 producing wells in 2012, up from 36,925 barrels from 9 wells in 2011. The Dineh-bi-Keyah produced 49,972 barrels of oil. Gas production totaled 116.6 million cubic feet from 4 producing gas wells, down from 168 million cubic feet from 5 wells in 2011.”


Will we eventually see drilling rigs near Tucson?

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.


Gasoline Prices and the Obama Energy Policy

When President Obama took office, the national average gasoline price was $1.83 per gallon according to the Energy Information Administration. As of this writing, the national average gasoline price is $3.39 per gallon. There are many factors that determine the price of gasoline, not the least of which is turmoil in the Middle East. The price depends on supply and demand and upon the expectations of supply and demand.

I don’t know if the Obama administration is simply clueless on energy, or if there is a determined ideological effort to cripple fossil fuel supplies in order to promote renewable energy, but the effect of administration policy is to discourage and hinder domestic production of fossil fuels.

In September, 2008, soon to be Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Wall Street Journal, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” Gas prices in Europe averaged about $8 a gallon at the time.

Contrary to administration rhetoric that the U.S. should become more energy independent, administration policy seems to be directed to do all it can to stifle domestic production.

Following the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico, the administration imposed a drilling moratorium. That moratorium was lifted last October, but in fact still remains in force. The Interior Department has approved just one drilling application although more than 100 are pending. A federal judge ordered that the de facto moratorium be lifted but the administration has ignored that order. In fact, in early February, the federal judge held the Interior Department in contemp of court for dismissively ignoring his ruling to cease the drilling moratorium which the judge had previously struck down as “arbitrary and capricious.” Ironically, the de facto moratorium of Gulf drilling will deprive the federal government of $1.35 billion in royalties this year.

According to the Heritage Foundation, “Obama also reversed an earlier decision by his administration to open access to coastal waters for exploration, instead placing a seven-year ban on drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and Eastern Gulf of Mexico as part of the government’s 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf Program.”

 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. But Obama’s Interior Department is reversing Bush-era policy by delaying leases saying they need to take a “fresh look” at the situation.



The EPA has added costly new regulations to refineries over concern with global warming. The EPA is also denying approval of the Keystone pipeline which would increase the amount of oil the U.S. receives from Canada by over a million barrels per day.

If all this were not enough, the Interior Department has instituted a new “wild lands” policy that will bypass Congress in establishment of wilderness areas which will further delay and restrict access to our mineral resources.

The next time you fill your car with gasoline, don’t blame the oil companies for the high prices, the fault lies squarely with Obama’s energy policy.