‘Fracking’ shale and US ‘peak gas’

Around 1970 the production of natural gas in the US reached its peak and has been slowly declining since then. The degree to which the US economy has grown to depend on natural gas and growing fears of becoming dependent on insecure supplies on the international LPG market has seen a stealthy growth in unconventional technologies to maintain indigenous supplies. The greatest growth has been in winning the useful fuel from ‘tight’ organic-rich shales that are usually regarded as source rocks for conventional petroleum rather than resources in their own right (Kerr, R.A.. 2010. Natural gas from shale bursts onto the scene. Science, 328, p. 1624-1626). The technology relies on drilling methods developed in the oil industry that allow several holes from a single platform to bend to pass at low angles through thin, gently dipping strata. That allows far larger volumes to be tapped than through a single, vertical well. Oil shales are not yet targeted for liquid petroleum because of the cost, but as Richard Kerr, a news writer for Science, reveals they are supplying an increasing proportion of US gas demand: from 1% to 20% since 2000. Being less of a source of carbon dioxide than coal or oil that might seem to be a ‘good thing’ all round, but there are worrying and little known problems with the technology.

To get the gas out demands that the permeability of shale is artificially increased by jacking open joints and fractures using very high-pressure fluids that carry sand to wedge them open when production begins open: this is ‘fracking’ in driller-speak. Not only gas starts to move, but also water locked into the shale for millions of years and often highly toxic. Drillers hope that all the fluids will follow the holes, but that is by no means guaranteed and some may make their way into aquifers and up to the surface. The fluids used in fracking are deliberately full of chemicals that help open up cracks and even biocides that keep them from being clogged by bacterial films: around 15 million litres used per well. Although aimed to be recycled these noxious fluids can escape, sometimes in massive blowouts. Uncontrolled gas and formation water escapes can cause explosions and kill of forested areas by disrupting tree-root biota.

One thought on “‘Fracking’ shale and US ‘peak gas’

  1. The ACT in Frac

    The author does a good job of explaining the basics of fracing to untrained citizenry. Unfortunately, he/she omits key details about the “fracing” process resulting in a heavily biased article. Highlighting only negative potential occurrences plays on reader’s emotions without supporting factual data. The oil and gas industry is one of the most tightly regulated and overseen in the United States. Listening to the news over just the past year, the FOOD you eat, from eggs to baby formula, poses an exponentially higher risk to individuals, and likely-hood of occurring.
    I will not belabor the technical aspects of why the author is misrepresenting the fracing process, but leave you these questions to ponder.
    &lowest;Companies and their employees have a vested interest in preserving our resources, land, water and recreational areas because WE ourselves are directly impacted by any “diaster”. If the so-called greedy companies participate in activities detrimental to our industry, they could go out of business and millions of people would be out of jobs. So, why would we? Where is the payoff?
    &lowest;Are you willing to pay over $5 a gallon for gasoline, give up your SUV, magnum truck, boat, snowmobile to conserve? Not to mention heating oil/gas and electricity produced by coal.
    &lowest;Are you ready to pay for increased food costs because it is more lucrative for farmers to grow corn for ethanol than to feed cattle (meat and dairy) and other livestock? It will cost farmers more to produce vegetables, grains, etc. because their energy costs have risen.
    &lowest;Are you willing to stop using cosmetics, plastic containers, flashlights, or any of the products produced with petroleum products – like a refrigerator?
    &lowest;Are you willing to accept lower availability and the rise in the cost of health care because new medical technology relies on products manufactured with petroleum for research, development and production of drugs and medical machines?
    I could continue, but the bottom line is EVERYONE is responsible to exploit, use, conserve and be good stewards of our natural resources and our planet.


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