Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson: On Fracking with Trevor Rees-Jones

This week on Uncommon Knowledge, the controversial energy extraction technique known as fracking. Our guest is Trevor Rees-Jones, the Chairman of Chief Oil and Gas, with fracking explorations in operation across the country. We discuss what it is, and how it may make the U.S. and energy exporter for the first time in decades. Also, why your gas prices will (and in Jones’ opinion, should) go up. 

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  1. Danihel Tornator

    Perfect timing. I’m in a discussion with an engineering professor who is convinced that fracking is terrible for the environment. Where can I find information about how safe process is? (Preferably from a source that he will dismiss, saying that is tainted by the energy industry)

  2. The King Prawn

    Ah, the accent, sounds like home.

  3. Hang On

    Daniel Turner,

    There are basically three sources of environmental contamination: 1) groundwater, which was discussed; 2) disposal of fracking water; and 3) the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) leading to air pollution and environmental health problems.

    The groundwater contamination issue was covered well in this, with one exception. A possible source of contamination is from old abandoned wells which can serve as basically super highways for the methane into aquifers. Avner Vengosh and his group at Duke have done work on this in the Marcellus play. [e.g.,Osborn, Stephen G., Avner Vengosh, Nathaniel R. Warner, and Robert B. Jackson. 2011. Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 108, 20, 8172-8176. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1100682108]

     – continued

  4. Hang On

    Disposal of groundwater has been a problem, but is becoming less and less so. The spent water has huge concentrations of salts and can not be disposed of without treatment or reuse. There are treatment possibilities and reuse possibilities. Gregory and his group at Carnegie Mellon have pursued this again with the Marcellus play in mind (e.g., Gregory, Kelvin B., R. D. Vidic and D. A. Dzombak. 2011. Water Management Challenges Associated with the Production of Shale Gas by Hydraulic Fracturing.Elements. 7, 3: 181-186. doi: 10.2113/gselements.7.3.181)

    VOCs work has not advanced very far.

  5. Bereket Kelile

    This interview reminded me of an assignment I had in an economics course in which we evaluated the debate over whether oil production has any effect on gas prices. We found that it did and proved Rush was right (against the AP), as always.

  6. Herkybird
    Hang On: Disposal of groundwater has been a problem, but is becoming less and less so. The spent water has huge concentrations of salts and can not be disposed of without treatment or reuse. There are treatment possibilities and reuse possibilities.

    A Canadian company, Gasfrac, has developed an interesting process that uses gelled LPG as the fracking fluid in place of water.  The fluid  is itself hydrocarbon-based and  is 100% recoverable with no treatment needed. Further, a frack-job using this method, seems to give better flow rates, at least initially. 

  7. Edward Smith

    This was very informative.

    I also enjoyed how carefully Rees-Jones spoke.  How carefully he chose his words.  He is an example of how someone who is not the best of speakers can still effectively and clearly convey what they want to say.

    I would and will personally and enthusiastically recommend this UK segment both as a lucid explanation of what Fracking is and isn’t, and how to speak clearly and effectively even if you do not have a tongue of gold or even silver.

    John Wesley enjoined the Faithful to sing, and in part to overcome congregants’ fear of not being able to sing, the Shape Notes movement was born.

    Public Speaking needs a William Walker.

  8. Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    Great interview.  If we can get this country’s energy policy back in the sane category, we can right this listing ship.

  9. Limestone Cowboy

    Peter, a great interview. I really appreciated the caution with which  your guest described the risks. I think he has it just about right.

    I especially appreciate Trevor Rees-Jones’ emphasis that the state rather than the Federal government should regulate drilling. Geology is local, and the states have the requisite local experience.

    There are two one additional (small) risks which Mr. Rees-Jones may have overlooked.

    1. In some parts of the country, we’ve been drilling for over a hundred years. There are many old abandoned wells whose exact locations are unknown, and whose casing and  abandonment methods would not meet modern standards.  Eventually a modern horizontal well will frac through to one of these older wells, and create a path to aquifers.

    2. Local unrecognized  faults may create a migration path to shallower depths.  The Union Oil 1969 blowout in the Santa Barbara channel is believed to have been caused by a casing program which did not adequately seal off a permeable fault.

    Of course,  these points only reinforce the importance of

    • A regulatory regime drafted with the participation of those with  intimate knowledge of local geology and drilling history.

    • Casing programs designed for worst-case  local scenarios. 
  10. Hang On
    Herkybird

    Hang On: Disposal of groundwater has been a problem, but is becoming less and less so. The spent water has huge concentrations of salts and can not be disposed of without treatment or reuse. There are treatment possibilities and reuse possibilities.

    A Canadian company, Gasfrac, has developed an interesting process that uses gelled LPG as the fracking fluid in place of water.  The fluid  is itself hydrocarbon-based and  is 100% recoverable with no treatment needed. Further, a frack-job using this method, seems to give better flow rates, at least initially.  · 28 minutes ago

    Yes, am aware of this. The problem is the cost. Water is pretty cheap at least in most places. The quantities can be problematic (a couple million gallons for a well) in some areas though.

    There’s also another method using combination of CO2 and nitrogen mix injected into the wells. Nobody has done this commercially that I’m aware of.

    One of the benefits of using LPG and CO2-N2 is that these have much smaller sizes so they get better penetrability compared to sand and water allowing greater recovery of the gas.

  11. Hang On

    If you’re wondering where the natural gas is located, here a couple of maps from Dept. of Energy reports.

    US-map.jpg

    World-map.jpg

  12. Danihel Tornator

    Thanks Hang On! I’ll have to look at those documents. I have read some excellent articles on fracking on NRO, but I doubt that my friend would consider NRO an acceptable source.

  13. michael kelley

    I am all for fracking so long as it is done safely.

    The next step, however, gives me pause.

    The Marcellus Shale ends at the edge of the Wyoming Valley.  The Scranton, Wilkes-Barre area.  Beyond the edges of Marcellus lies the largest anthracite coal deposit in the world.  How long before the drillers and frackers and miners decide to go after this deposit?

    The mines were flooded in the late 50′s (the Knox Coal Disaster) and that is the excuse for the death of coal mining in the Wyoming Valley.

    The anthracite, however, remains.  Deep mining.

    Can y’all extract that and do you have intentions of doing so?  Because of the deep mining history, the Valley is probably one of the most geologically mapped corners of the Earth…..so you know it’s there.

    Will you go after it?

    P.S….. not expecting an answer