Friday, October 28, 2011

Natural gas: Should fracking stop? Point/Counterpoint Howarth & Ingraffea

Posted by: Mark Lawrence Tags:
September 21, 2011

The following is an excerpt from a point/counterpoint article by Prof. Robert Howarth (EEB) and Prof. Tony Ingraffea (CEE) in Nature (the international weekly journal of science):

Prof. Bob Howarth
Point: Yes, it’s too high risk

“Natural gas from shale is widely promoted as clean compared with oil and coal, a ‘win–win’ fuel that can lessen emissions while still supplying abundant fossil energy over coming decades until a switch to renewable energy sources is made. But shale gas isn’t clean, and shouldn’t be used as a bridge fuel.

Shale rock formations can contain vast amounts of natural gas (which is mostly methane). Until quite recently, most of this gas was not economically obtainable, because shale is far less permeable than the rock formations exploited for conventional gas. Over the past decade or so, two new technologies have combined to allow extraction of shale gas: ‘high-volume, slick-water hydraulic fracturing’ (also known as ‘fracking’), in which high-pressure water with additives is used to increase fissures in the rock; and precision drilling of wells that can follow the contour of a shale layer closely for 3 kilometres or more at depths of more than 2 kilometres (see ‘Fracking for fuel’). Industry first experimented with these two technologies in Texas about 15 years ago. Significant shale-gas production in other states, including Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana, began only in 2007–09. Outside North America, only a handful of shale-gas wells have been drilled.

Prof. Tony Ingraffea
Industry sources claim that they have used fracking to produce more than 1 million oil and natural gas wells since the late 1940s. However, less than 2% of the well fractures since the 1940s have used the high-volume technology necessary to get gas from shale, almost all of these in the past ten years. This approach is far bigger and riskier than the conventional fracking of earlier years. An average of 20 million litres of water are forced under pressure into each well, combined with large volumes of sand or other materials to help keep the fissures open, and 200,000 litres of acids, biocides, scale inhibitors, friction reducers and surfactants. The fracking of a conventional well uses at most 1–2% of the volume of water used to extract shale gas…”
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Counterpoint: No, it’s too valuable

by Terry Engelder (Pennsylvania State University – Department of Geosciences)
“Fracking is crucial to global economic stability; the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks…”

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Prof. Howarth was also quoted in an Aug. 31 story
 in AOL Energy, "Down To The Numbers On
Natural Gas And Climate Change"

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