By Blu Putnam |
In asking the question of whether the use of hydraulic fracturing is "a good idea," the premise appears to be based on an assumption that the technology is "a new idea" as well.
But the truth is, fracturing technology has been deployed in the United States for nearly 65 years, not only as a way to optimize the production of oil and natural gas, but also to do the same for water wells and geothermal energy. EPA has even used it as a means of remediating Superfund sites. All told, more than 1.2 million oil and natural gas wells have undergone fracture stimulation since the technology was first introduced in Hugoton Field of Kansas in 1947--helping our country produce billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, generating millions of jobs and billions in annual revenues in the process.
But is hydraulic fracturing safe? A few clicks around the Internet might lead some to conclude it isn't. But contrary to what you may have read in the chat rooms, no less an authority than the EPA has publicly stated that fracturing does not pose a significant threat to groundwater, with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently reinforcing that point to a committee of the U.S. Senate. It's a finding that's been corroborated by the U.S. Departments of Energy and the Interior, by countless state regulators, and by the Ground Water Protection Council, which recently launched a new nationwide database with information on the materials used in the fracturing process available on a searchable, well-by-well basis.
The other charge that we often hear is that the hydraulic fracturing used today is dramatically different from the fracturing technology of yesterday; that the development of natural gas from shale is completely different from the development of energy from different strata.
On this, the critics have a point, to a point: Thanks to advances in horizontal drilling, today's technology allows us to produce many times the amount of energy we did in the past--but doing so by drilling many fewer wells. Just take a look at Pennsylvania: The number of wells drilled in 2010 was 30 percent less than the number in 2005. But even with this decrease in activity, Pennsylvania today is producing roughly 12 times the volume of natural gas per day that it did back then.
But the core mechanics of fracturing a natural gas well haven't changed much over the years: We're still talking about the deployment of water, sand, pressure, and small percentages of additives down a wellbore to enhance the flow of energy up it. Is the technology's continued use a good idea? I'd suggest that is, unless you happen to be someone who's living in the dark. Or would like to be.
About Lee Fuller Vice President of Government Relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America
Jon Olson Associate Professor in the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin
Daniel Simmons Director of State Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research
Chris Faulkner Founder, President, and CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas