By Teresa Welsh |
While controversy over hydraulic fracturing is new, the practice itself is not. Since 1947, hydraulic fracturing has been used to extract more than 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion feet of natural gas from deep underground shale formations.
The recent combination of fracturing technology with directional drilling—meaning six to eight horizontal wells drilled from only one well pad—can produce the same volume as 16 vertical wells. This has decreased the surface impact of drilling operations while growing our domestic reserves substantially. In 2007, prior to the application of directional drilling, the U.S. natural gas resources that could be recovered with existing technology were estimated to be 1.5 quadrillion cubic feet. In 2008, after the breakthrough, the amount of domestic natural resources surged to 2.5 quadrillion feet. In other words, in just one year's time, we expanded our access to domestic natural gas by 66 percent.
The economic benefits of the shale gas boom have been similarly great. In 2008, after the innovation gave way to a surge in resources, the wellhead price of natural gas plummeted from nearly $8 per thousand cubic feet to $3.67 per thousand cubic feet. This increase in domestic production has kept prices low for American consumers—who get 24 percent of their electricity from natural gas—when not too long ago it was considered by some a foregone conclusion that the United States was running out of gas supplies. Additionally, the advent of shale gas has given rise to enormous economic opportunities in places like Pennsylvania, where development of the Marcellus Shale is projected to create more than 111,000 jobs in 2011 with $10 billion added to the state's economy.
But while shale gas has been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy, the use of hydraulic fracturing is under assault. Despite the fact that hydraulic fracturing has been employed for half a century at comparable depths of thousands of feet, opponents of natural gas insist that groundwater is now being contaminated. This claim, no matter how many times it is repeated, lacks substantive data to support its conclusions as both the national association of state groundwater agencies and the multistate governmental agency representing states' oil and gas interests have found no evidence of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluids. Additionally, to assuage concerns about the content of fracturing fluids and to increase transparency, the industry has chosen to voluntarily disclose what additives are used at each well site via the FracFocus database.
All told, these advances in technology mean we have a bright energy future. In 2010, the U.S. was the world's largest producer of natural gas, and the natural gas resources that we can recover with today's technology are enough to supply our needs at current rates of consumption for over 100 years. Future supplies of both oil and gas promise to be much larger if we do what the U.S. does best and continue the trajectory of innovation.
About Daniel Simmons Director of State Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research
Jon Olson Associate Professor in the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin
Chris Faulkner Founder, President, and CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas
Lee Fuller Vice President of Government Relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America