FRACKING? What is it? (1)

The US oil production has in recent time surged to a 20 year high and the US will soon be exporting shale or ‘fracked’ gas to United Kingdom and possibly other parts of the world. This will definitely lower the price of oil all over the world. What this means to countries like Nigeria whose major oil demand comes from the US is that they will be left with no option than to sell at a give away price. What is fracking? How do we get a ‘fracked’ gas? What are the benefits? what are the economic implications? what are likely environmental impacts? what are the likely implications on oil producing countries like Nigeria? Does the economic gains of fracking outweighs its environmental impacts?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays that were once unreachable with conventional technologies. Recent advancements in drilling technology have led to new man-made hydraulic fractures in shale plays that were once not available for exploration. In fact, three dimensional imaging helps scientists determine the precise locations for drilling.

Horizontal drilling (along with traditional vertical drilling) allows for the injection of highly pressurized fracking fluids into the shale area. This creates new channels within the rock from which natural gas is extracted at higher than traditional rates. This drilling process can take up to a month, while the drilling teams delve more than a mile into the Earth’s surface. After which, the well is cased with cement to ensure groundwater protection, and the shale is hydraulically fractured with water and other fracking fluids.

What is hydraulic fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of drilling for natural gas and oil underneath the ground. Water mixed with other components is pumped into the ground to create cracks (also referred to as fissures or fractures) to release the gas into wells that have been built for collection.

Groundwater protection remains a main goal and paramount to the success of and well operation. Both the well’s design, the casing, and the inherent risk associated with the hydraulic fracturing process itself all factor into new shale gas well development. Over the years, this technology has been used safely and successfully in over one million wells. Regulators together with operators have mitigated many of environmental risks. Shale gas, or natural gas, producers most often will leave a small wellhead behind on the property along with several storage tanks, and a metering system to measure shale gas production.

What is oil fracking?

Oil fracking is the development of an oil field through a process similar to that of fracking for natural gas. The sole difference here, however, stands in the type of fuel being developed. Wells can produce oil only, natural gas only, or both oil and natural gas.

What is fracking water?

Fracking water makes up around 90% of the fracturing fluid used on a daily basis at drilling sites around the United States. All fluids, including fracking water, is recovered and recycled in a closed process. Often this water is reprocessed, however when the fracking water is removed from the system it is disposed of according to federal, state, and local laws.

What is fracking for natural gas?

Fracking for natural gas, as opposed to oil fracking, taps into vast resources around the United States. These resources, or shale plays, are ancient oceans that have formed into very hard shale deposits. Fracking for natural gas, through recently engineered, and quite advanced technical capabilities, has allowed for the domestic energy industry to  estimate shale play holdings in the order of 750 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas.

Is Fracking a threat to drinking water?

The fracking debate started with suspicions regarding fracking and drinking water safety. The answer is unknown; however, there have been no traces of fracking process contaminating fresh water sources when done properly. A new study done by the Department of Energy, may be the first to provide some of the first solid answers to the controversial question.

Richard Hammack, a spokesman for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh United States, said that southwestern Pennsylvania is giving researchers access to commercial drilling sites. Hammack believes this is the first time research has been conducted on a commercial gas well. The scientists are testing the migration of drilling fluids from Marcellus Shale rock formations, which are located 8,100 feet under the ground. The test will indicate whether the drilling fluids move upwards or sideways.

P. Lee Ferguson, a Duke University civil and environmental engineering professor said, “Conceptually, it sounds like a really great idea… I have wondered about this since I started thinking about fracking. Which compounds are mobile and which aren’t?” However, Ferguson cautioned, that a single test might not answer the question thoroughly because you must take location and practices into considerations.

“The complicating factor is some of the compounds don’t act in the same way underground,” he said of fracking fluids, as well as the fact that there are substantial differences in geology throughout the Marcellus region.

Environmentalist claim that fracking fluids pollute fresh water sources; however, the industry and many government officials indicate that simply isn’t the case when fracking is done properly. A few incidents of polluted water have occurred when best practices are not followed and faulty wells are in place.

It is unlikely that fracking will contaminate our fresh water sources; however, best practices should always be met.

Economic impacts

Hydraulic fracturing has been seen as one of the key methods of extracting unconventional oil and gas resources. According to the International Energy Agency, the remaining technically recoverable resources of shale gas are estimated to amount to 208 trillion cubic metres (208,000 km3), tight gas to 76 trillion cubic metres (76,000 km3), and coalbed methane to 47 trillion cubic metres (47,000 km3). As a rule, formations of these resources have lower permeability than conventional gas formations. Therefore, depending on the geological characteristics of the formation, specific technologies (such as hydraulic fracturing) are required. Although there are also other methods to extract these resources, such as conventional drilling or horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing is one of the key methods making their extraction economically viable. The multi-stage fracturing technique has facilitated the development of shale gas and light tight oil production in the United States and is believed to do so in the other countries with unconventional hydrocarbon resources.

The National Petroleum Council estimates that hydraulic fracturing will eventually account for nearly 70% of natural gas development in North America. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling apply the latest technologies and make it commercially viable to recover shale gas and oil. In the United States, 45% of domestic natural gas production and 17% of oil production would be lost within 5 years without usage of hydraulic fracturing.

A number of studies related to the economy and fracking, demonstrates a direct benefit to economies from fracking activities in the form of personnel, support, ancillary businesses, analysis and monitoring. Typically the funding source of the study is a focal point of controversy. Most studies are either funded by mining companies or funded by environmental groups, which can at times lead to at least the appearance of unreliable studies.  A study was performed by Deller & Schreiber in 2012, looking at the relationship between non-oil and gas mining and community economic growth. The study concluded that there is an impact on income growth; however, researchers found that mining does not lead to an increase in population or employment. The actual financial impact of non-oil and gas mining on the economy is dependent on many variables and is difficult to identify definitively.

Environmental Impact of Fracking

Environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing includes the potential contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, noise pollution, the potential migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, the potential mishandling of waste, and the health effects of these, like cancer.Many cases of suspected groundwater contamination have been documented. The EPA has noted that “Ground water contamination with constituents such as those found at Pavillion is typically infeasible or too expensive to remediate or restore (GAO 1989). A review of a University of Texas Austin study led by Charles G. Groat, reported no direct evidence that fracking’s actual injection phase resulted in contamination of ground water.] In the study “fracking” was defined as referring only to the injection of fluid under pressure and excluded the impact of equipment failure, spills, the nature of the fluids, preparations prior to injection, and events following the injection, such as disposal of wastewater. The review suggests that problems occur due to leaks in its fluid or waste storage apparatus which it does not consider part of fracking. The review also says that gaps remain in understanding fracking.[7][8] Because hydraulic fracturing was invented in the United States, and therefore has a longer history there, most of the studies of the environmental impact have been conducted there.

What are the implications of fracked gas on major oil producing countries like Nigeria?

coming soon, do watch out.



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