Mar 9 2011

Voices from the Shale — Part 1

Journey to the Barnett Shale

Icon of Hydrofracing Horizontal Gas Wells:

Future of Shale Gas Industry in Northeast

Is Staring Back from Texas – Choose Wisely!

by Mike Benard

Shale gas industrial complex in DISH, Texas.  The Northeast has no idea of what is coming in its direction.

Shale gas industrial complex in DISH, Texas. The Northeast has no idea of what is coming in its direction. (Click to enlarge image.)

Mayor Calvin Tillman and ONE of the shale gas industrial complexes in DISH, Texas.  This complex contains multiple fraced gas wells by multiple companies, compressor stations and more.

Mayor Calvin Tillman and ONE of the shale gas industrial complexes in DISH, Texas. This complex contains multiple fraced gas wells by multiple companies, compressor stations and more. (Click to enlarge image.)

Calvin Tillman (right), Mayor of DISH, Texas, gives Mike Benard (left) a tour of the hydraulic fracturing 'natural' gas operations in the community.

Calvin Tillman (right), Mayor of DISH, Texas, gives Mike Benard (left) a tour of the hydraulic fracturing operations in the community. (Click to enlarge image.)

Our experience with the natural gas industry and government regulators began as a contact sport.
My wife and I are former gas leaseholders in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, who have had the dual experience of receiving royalties from gas wells drilled into the Oriskany formation (2003-2007), then fighting an eminent domain battle with Spectra Energy, a pipeline and storage company from Houston (2007-2009).

Recently, we spent three days in the Texas Barnett Shale, which is the icon of gas-rich shale “plays.”  What happens here is the benchmark for selling the benefits of exploiting gas-rich shale formations in other states, like the Marcellus in the Northeast.

As our experience was unfolding in Pennsylvania, the Marcellus Shale was emerging into public view.  The first hydraulically fractured well in Pennsylvania was drilled by Range Resources; and gas production from that well began in 2005.

Shale Gas “Gold Rush”

While our gas leasing experience is not based on a “Marcellus Shale play,” Spectra Energy is in Pennsylvania precisely because of the much touted “gold rush” for shale gas extraction from the Marcellus formation.

This gas-rich shale runs primarily through Pennsylvania, New York, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, western Maryland and western Virginia.

Different shale formations run under much of the lower 48 states.  Depending on the source, you can count about 30 shale basins on a map of the U.S.  Among the most active are the Barnett (Texas), Haynesville (Louisiana & East Texas) and Marcellus (Appalachian Basin in Northeast).1

Sometimes referred to as “unconventional gas,” shale formations are much more accessible now because of two technology developments:  horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The natural gas industry often says that hydraulic fracturing has been used for roughly 60 years without notable environmental incidents such as water contamination.

However, the modern version of hydraulic fracturing using horizontal drilling techniques only goes back to the late 1990s.  It is known as slick water, high-volume, hydraulic fracturing from long horizontal or lateral drilling paths.  And it started in the Barnett.2

Adverse Effects

Despite industry denials, hydraulic fracturing is controversial because of increasing concern in many states, including Texas, regarding:

  • Pressure on fresh water supplies – Estimates vary but 2-8 million gallons of chemical-laced water are required to drill and fracture each well.3
  • Waste water – Drilling & fracturing produces large volumes of contaminated waste water above and below ground.  From the 2-8 million gallons of water used to “frac” a well, one-third or more returns to the surface even more contaminated (toxic fracing chemicals, metals, suspended solids, oil and grease).  While such water can be recycled for future frac jobs, it cannot be made drinkable again.  And then there is the question about the remaining two-thirds of contaminated water that does not return to the surface.4
  • Air & water contamination – Independent air monitoring tests in places like DISH, Texas, confirm the “presence of multiple Recognized and Suspected Carcinogens in fugitive air emissions….”  From Pennsylvania to Texas, there are increasing complaints and lawsuits about gas drilling operations that pollute fresh ground water and drinking water wells; the discharge of drilling mud (an “industrial waste”) onto the ground or into the water; improper and/or insufficient cement well casings which allow natural gas to migrate into homes and water wells.5
  • Depressed property values6 – This is an emerging issue in several states that is likely to catch some communities by surprise.  For example, the Ruggiero family property value in Decatur, Texas, was officially judged by the county appraisal review board to have plummeted 70% one year after drilling rigs showed up on their property.  In addition, there are reports of banks reluctant to grant mortgages on homes with such drilling rigs on or near properties.

If the Barnett Shale is a benchmark, what can the public, property owners and elected officials expect as the gas industry exports its practices and behavior from Texas to places like Pennsylvania and New York.

Only Upside – No Downside?

In fact, the gas industry and its proponents promise untold benefits from a shale gas boom – a new world that is breathtaking in scope.  There are only upsides, no downsides, according to the industry.

In places like Pennsylvania and New York, the Marcellus shale is touted as the “new Saudi Arabia,” the “new steel,” the new Oz.

During our three days in the Forth Worth Barnett Shale area, we visited with Calvin Tillman, Mayor of DISH, Texas, and Property Owner Tim Ruggiero of Decatur, Texas.

Our takeaway:  If the Barnett Shale is the future for northeast states with gas-rich shale formations – we are headed for deep tapioca. Learn why in Part 2 of “Voices from the Shale.”

Links & Resources

1 Map – U.S. Shale Gas Playshttp://www.energyindustryphotos.com/shale_gas_map_shale_basins.htm

2, 3 Barnett Shale Information – Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) website – the RRC is charged with regulating the oil and gas industry in Texas: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/barnettshale/index.php

See especially the page dealing with “Water Use in the Barnett Shale.” In the fourth paragraph under the subhead Hydraulic Fracturing, it says (emphasis added): “In 1997, the first slick water frac (or light sand frac) was performed and found to be very successful in stimulating the Barnett Shale.  Slick water fracing of a vertical well completion can use over 1.2 million gallons (28,000 barrels) of water, while the fracturing of a horizontal well completion can use over 3.5 million gallons (over 83,000 barrels) of water.  In addition, the wells may be re-fractured multiple times after producing for several years.”

Page link: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/barnettshale/wateruse_barnettshale.php

4 Wastewater issues -

Beware ‘Boom Town’ Sales Pitch for Marcellus Shale Drilling, Pitt Prof Warns: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=563

EXCERPT:  The Pitt Prof noted that hydraulic fracturing fluid is more than water and sand, as some suggest.  It includes a mix of chemicals in a gel form and these chemicals include toxins like endocrine disruptors.

In addition, he said, “When you hydro frac rock – or inject this water-sand-chemical mix into the shale in order to push out the gas – you are also picking up heavy metals and other harmful elements from the shale formation itself.”

So the production water that is injected into the shale to push out the gas contains toxic chemicals.  And the flowback water which returns to the surface now contains heavy metals on top of that.

“No adequate disposal or treatment exists for water used in the hydraulic fracturing process to extract natural gas from shale formations like the Marcellus,” Volz said.  “And we are talking about millions of gallons of water.”

5 Air & Water Contamination Issues – Refer to the following news reports and posts on Spectra Energy Watch:

Lawsuit Alleges Gas Drilling Poisoned FamilyKDFW, Fox 4 Dallas-Fort Worth, by Peter Daut, March 8, 2011: http://www.myfoxdfw.com/dpp/news/030811-Lawsuit-Alleges-Gas-Drilling-Poisoned-Family

Test Your Water! http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=959

EXCERPT:  Because even Terry Engelder, the geosciences prof at Penn State who is a long-time proponent of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, acknowledges that it is “very important for the public to thoroughly test their water, particularly if they know that production of gas from the Marcellus is going to be in the area.”

Test even if the nearest well is going to be two or three miles away from your property, according to Engelder.

Dimock PA! http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=832

White Hat’ Gas Guys http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=742

Pitt Video http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=603

Scroll down to subhead, “Gas Industry ‘Protector’ Admits 5 ‘Challenges’ – All Environmental.”  See also footnote number 2 under Links & Resources at the bottom of the post for pdf file of a transcript of Governor Rendell’s very candid remarks.

Mayor Calvin Tillman http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=577

Scroll down to subhead, “DISH & Shale Gas Experience” and continue reading to the end of the post.

6 Depressed Property Values – Refer to Drilling Can Dig Into Land ValueDenton Record-Chronicle (Texas) by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, September 18, 2010 – A sobering account from a shale gas state of what can happen to the value of your home and property one year after the drill rigs move onto your land:  http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dws/drc/localnews/stories/DRC_DrillValues_0918.1046e9a00.html

Hancock & The Marcellus Shale – 40-page booklet from Columbia University’s Urban Design Program, published in the Spring of 2009.  Easy-to-read, illustrated report on what to expect.  It is available as a downloadable pdf file: http://www.osiny.org/custom/HancockAndTheMarcellusShale.pdf

It begins with a sobering assessment (emphasis added):  “Today, extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale … does not even receive the same level of review required by [the village of] Hancock [NY] for a single residential dwelling plan where local, State and Federal criteria must be met regarding well, septic and adjacent wetland.” ["Preface" - p. 1 of print document; p. 5 of pdf file]

NOTE: This post — Voices from the Shale, Part 1 — originally appeared on Accountability Central at this link: http://www.accountability-central.com/nc/single-view-default/article/voices-from-the-shale-part-1/

Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.  As its website states:  ”The mission of Governance & Accountability Institute includes providing resources and counsel to leaders to build trust…do the right thing…for the right reasons…in the best possible ways.  To help people do their best in specific areas that are of concern today to employees, investors, regulators, journalists, social and civic advocates, business partners, and other stakeholders.

One Response

  1. wayne Says:

    wonderful!!! great job, to all

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