Monday, October 10, 2011

My Review of Drs Howarth, Ingraffea & Engelder debate pro's & con's of hydrofracking From Nature magazine

Note - Final Edits are not done !

As always I hope that the experts in this area would help to move this debate, but this article like many presentations let me down and I do not think provide much help to aid in bridging any divides or really educating the public or professionals.    The article has more spin and this is something that the scientist should not be engaged.  These pros and cons articles need to stop - We need Recommendations, Solutions, Best Practices, and Real Science- Lets stop the guessing.

My primary concerns with the article are as follows:

1. Natural Gas drilling is regulated, but the hydraulic fracturing process, as used in PA,  in most cases is not regulated by the EPA - UIC Program.   Reference -  I think the process should be regulated if it is used for shallow extraction from coal bearing formations or within the Upper Devonian.

Does this mean they are except from the Safe Drinking Water Act?  NO !    The 2005 Halliburton Loophole - Get the facts Yourself (From Congress of the United States). It is important to note that the process was never regulated - the 2005 decision actually started the first regulator over site of this process if diesel fuel was used.

2. The hydraulic fracturing is an old process, but I would agree that as it is used today - the overall process is relatively new.  What is also new and different are the chemicals that are used and that are not used.  There is a lot of spin and in response there are newer "greener chemicals and products being used", there is disclosure about the products and these have been listed within the permit documents.  There are no real secrets other than the staging process and mixture. The frac focus website is a very good start.   Where the article could have provided to the reader was what more is needed:

a. Better surface control on site - require all drilling sites to be lined and self-contained.

b. Require closed loop drilling.

c. Require more baseline testing and increase the radius of responsibility and time frame to be realistic.

d. How about some monitoring of the saline water aquifer - before and after the drilling process?  and How about real-time monitoring of the on-site surfacewater discharge from storm basins?  Not hard - sensors are cheap and can be reused.

e. The processed may not need to be EPA Regulated - but it would be good to have coordination with EPA and DEP and to provide protection of both the freshwater and saline water aquifers.

f. I agree there is a significant lack of studies, but how about studies without the spin.  Just the facts and only the facts.

g. Open pits, even lined,  for flowback water - should be banned - Only closed loop drilling should be permitted.  No on-site burial of wastes or materials - and if this is done - the deed of the property must disclosure the location of surface and subsurface features.

h. They did not even discuss a large concern - the cuttings going to the landfill.  In some cases a portion of the cutting may be suitable as a soil amendment - the limestone inter-beds would be an excellent soil amendment (alkalinity and low radiological) and we really could use on some of our abandon coal mine lands- Yes this will require some research and demonstration and monitoring- but filling up the landfills with this material is not a good idea.

i. How about some real insights into methane gas migration - there are still changes needed in how the casing is installed and cemented?

j. How about making sure we protect and seal the freshwater and saline water (saline water - I am assuming water with a Total Dissolved Solids of 10,000 mg/L or less).

3. I will not begin to discuss the "Carbon Foot Print"  - this may be important, but really?  If we are really concerned about the "Carbon Footprint" - we should stop using gasoline for cars, use massive transit, solar/wind/ and ground source and become more energy efficient.  We should promote reforestation, land-use change, encourage the use of biofuels like switchgrass and wood burners and get rid of the pavement and asphalt we do not need.  But - what do we do - We ban wood burners and change the stormwater management requirements to a point that we are pushing water through the shallow aquifer- Not good.

Take a look at : Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009, USEPA #430-R-11-005  _ Biggest greenhouse gas cited carbon dioxide - biggest sources of green house gases - generating electricity and what (transportation).

Increasing energy efficiency will hit all energy companies in the wallet - Immediately.

Please note: Methane emissions, which accounted for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2009, resulted primarily from natural gas systems, enteric fermentation in livestock, and decomposition of wastes in landfills - Guess what we can have a direct influence of at least two of these sources and indirectly we can turn down the thermostat and put on some socks.  How about we take some responsibility??

Also - A little told Fact - THE Biggest greenhouse gas is WATER Vapour- "Water Vapour is the Worlds MOST Significant Greenhouse Gas"- Source.  It accounts for 95% of Earth's greenhouse effect - Methane only 0.066 % and CO2 - 0.117 % of total.  Of man-made - CO2 is 99.438 %.  

Lets stop the spin and get to the facts and fix the problem - This is the problem with our government- and use-  we take sides and our side is Correct - Guess what - the Answer is always in the Middle.

 4. Contamination  - in PA it appears that the extent of the contamination is primarily related to spills and surface releases and in part some of the suggested contamination cases are basically a good guess or a presumption.  It is kind of interesting that both sides are ok with presumptions when it meets their goals, objectives, or opinions.  The other route of contamination has been methane gas migration.

How about changing state law to require all drilling sites to have containment systems and liners?  Can we agree on this?
How about requiring real-time monitoring of on-site monitoring wells or private wells during the drilling process?

Who is to blame?  All of us, but I am going to put the industry and scientists in the cross hair.  The consumer is always part of the problem

a. Industry - Why ?  Well they say a lot of stupid things - 

That information is proprietary and can not disclose, but it is disclosed in permits, at work sites, etc.  Finally - the industry set up the Frac Focus Website - why Pressure - they finally realized they made a mistake.

Methane is present in background levels from natural sources that include biogenic and thermogenic gas.  Some of the thermogenic gas has leaked up naturally over geologic time from the shale into the overlying sandstone units.  Because the formation is over pressurized - not all has leaked out only some, but adding more pressure and increasing porosity and permeability for a short period of time will NOT cause a short-term release of some gas or push other gases. Really - Does this make sense??  The more likely answer is there may be a increase in the pressure, but because of the low permeability of the overlying rock and time the gas will not move far.  If it does move, it is likely to move vertically and then horizontally along bedding contacts and contacts between formations and not directly up into the freshwater aquifer.  Good places to monitor- the deep wells along valley structures or wells that produce saline water and/or elevated levels of biogenic and themogenic methane gas.

Methane gas migration is a problem - we do not put enough strings of casing, we need to properly clean the borehole of mud and we need to make sure the cement harden and properly bonded.  Methane gas migration is a problem - it needs to end and it is a waste of a valuable resource.   Borings need to be fully cased and fully cemented, tested, and monitored.

b. Scientists and Universities - Why ? The Hands are out -Looking for funding - Maybe we should take some community interest and do some work.

We need to stop putting out our hands and sit down and have a conversation and get some ideas in the field.  We need to take a hard look at the data.  Not because it is funded, because we want to get the facts and help the communities make good decisions.

c. The Discussion - We need to have a discussion on consumption, energy efficiency, how to change us- since WE the People are the Main Problem and We need to start work on the Carbon Sequestering Issue and carbon neutral energy systems for the long-term.

Just my thoughts

Brian Oram, PG
Citizen of PA

My give back to the community

1. Private Well Owner Survey for the Marcellus Shale - Updating a Free Booklet
Survey - possibly a free radon in water test
Survey (pdf version) for Mailing
Booklet (free)

2. Citizens Groundwater Database and Help Reviewing Water Quality Data

3. Website dedicated to educating the Public

4. Private Well Owner Online Guide

All Free !

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