Suggestions that fracking is unsafe are based on fear, not facts
Thursday, January 22, 2015
January 21, 2015
By Dr. Stephen A. Holditch
I began working on hydraulic fracturing of low permeability reservoirs in 1970 and have published more than 150 papers, most of which involve the subject of fracturing or low permeability reservoir development.
I ran a consulting company for over 20 years and we designed and supervised hundreds of fracture treatments. Many of those were Austin Chalk or Buda wells in Brazos County. We drilled dozens of wells in Brazos County, many under the city limits of Bryan and College Station, to include a few under the Texas A&M campus in the Bryan Woodbine Field.
In my 44 years of experience, research and developing oil and gas in Brazos County, I have not experienced any serious issues with the process of using hydraulic fracturing to develop oil and gas reservoirs.
Of course, some people do not like the noise, or truck traffic, or lighting involved with a drilling rig, but that is a temporary nuisance, as the rig will disappear in a few weeks or months. However, the resulting oil and gas production results in enormous benefits to the mineral owners and the taxing entities, such as the city, the county and the school districts.
Even more important, the development of shale resources in North America over the past 5 years has substantially increased the energy security of the United States, making us less reliant on foreign governments to supply us with oil.
In fact, the energy industry in the United States has been so successful that the price of oil has been reduced by more than 50 percent (from more than $100 per barrel to around $50 per barrel), and the price of gasoline has plummeted, which benefits everyone who likes to drive their automobiles for work and for pleasure.
It should also be understood that as the industry slows down and reduces the pace of development, supply and demand will rebalance and the price of oil will increase, but most experts believe it will take several years and may not reach $100 per barrel any time soon.
Now back to the issues that some groups and individuals want to talk about – water and air emissions, noise, and truck traffic. I served on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Subcommittee in 2011 where we conducted a six-month study on these issues for the U.S. Department of Energy. The report from this study can be foundhere.
The report concluded that shale gas resources can be safely developed, but that the energy companies must follow best practices to protect the environment and the public.
Since the report was published, it is clear that the companies developing shale reservoirs are aware of these issues and take the appropriate steps to protect communities and the environment. If they do not, they will soon be out of business.
Prudent operators also welcome regulations that are clear, beneficial to all parties, while not restricting the lessee or the lessor’s right to develop its minerals. It should be understood that hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled into low permeability reservoirs and millions of fracture treatments have been pumped in North America and there are no documented cases where hydraulic fracturing has caused problems with the fresh water aquifers.
The proposed ordinance being considered by the city of College Station is important -- to all parties.
Oil and gas operating companies are regulated by a plethora of federal, state and local laws, regulations and ordinances. The proposed ordinance by College Station is detailed and contains many issues that are already regulated by the federal government, such as the EPA or state agencies such as the Texas Railroad Commission. The proposed ordinance spells out in great detail how the oil and gas operator and the city staff should work together on virtually all issues.
It appears that the main issue that is being discussed in the College Station proposed ordinance is the setback from the oil and gas drilling site to the nearest building. The proposed ordinance has a 600-foot setback for most buildings, including homes, and 1,000 feet from buildings such as schools and hospitals. These distances are reasonable and should be approved by the City Council.
Some apparently want the distance to be increased to 1,500 feet for all structures. Such a distance would eliminate many possible drill sites within the city limits of College Station, which would prevent some private mineral owners from having their minerals produced and would eliminate tax revenue to the city, county and the school district.
The real effect of making the required offset 1,500 feet or more is to try to prevent oil and gas development altogether. Shutting down drilling and hydraulic fracturing is the tactic being used by many organizations who are just plain against hydrocarbon development.
All of the fear mongering about water pollution or air emission issues that have been in the news for the past few years have little or no merit. Every case history published about these perceived problems have been debunked with facts.
On Jan. 18, there was a commentary in the Washington Times titled ‘The myth of the methane menace.’ This is just one of many opinion pieces that debunk the arguments of those trying to shut down oil and gas development with faulty claims.
I encourage the College Station City Council to pass the proposed ordinance, as is, to allow for the responsible development of the oil and gas found under the city limits. The proposed ordinance is sufficient to ensure qualified companies will develop the minerals under the city limits, which will benefit all taxpayers.