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The Blessed Technology of Fracking . . .

last week SWEI wrote:

This discussion would be more appropriate in a separate thread.  Want to start one?

so I just offhandedly replied, so you want to take this out in the hall.

and that happened just when i was rushing off because a pilot was out (in a couple years, no one will remember what a pilot was anyway) and I looked quickly for where we ought to do that.  Some forums have an 'other stuff' spot. Cause what you think about fracking is at best tangentially related to heating help --- well, maybe not I think it helps heating -- but before getting to the meat of the matter, I'm thinking it might be administratively sensible for Dan to add a subforum called "The Hall" for this kind of stuff.

on the other hand, you can find anything on a wall, so if it is just a question of clarifying the topic and avoiding getting too deep into the values segment of the cost benefit discusssions that sometimes arise in making judgments about efficiencies we ought to seek to obtain, trust the title of this thread will keep the rhetorically wary at bay.

i probably need not say much more than the title to get things going. SWEI figured there has to be something wrong because the companies don't want to disclose what they put in their fracking fluid -- that is one of the main 'exceptions' to industrial disclosures they have maintained. 

As it turns out, this is a little more like Coke not wanting to disclose their secret formula. Not because its full of poison -- i suppose some who think of sugar as the root of all evil might disagree --  but because its their trade secret.

One of the misconceptions is that fracking is what is new about recent gas drilling.  SWEI correctly recognizes that fracking has been with us for a century or more.  the real recent innovation is directional drilling. The deposits that yield gas (and liquids including propane esp. in the western reaches of the marcellus and overlapping shales kind of ohio side) are relatively narrow in height and drilling them requires not only drilling down and turning horizontal for more exposure but actually following this 200 or 300 foot thick band of yield through its own up and down undulations.

not only is fracking not new to water wells, it has been long used in the oil and gas exploration industry. and the old adage about oil and water not mixing comes into play.  so while the vast majority of the fluid used is water, the idea of relative miniscule fraction of additives at play is to use stuff that is soapy or oily, i.e. slippery, since the physical openings created by fracking are marginal, and you are trying to aid the fugagcious hyrdocarbons that won't mix with water to move throw this complex to the well.

so while companies preciously guard their experiential knowledge about the best mix for return, one of the obvious widely used additives to this fracking emulsion is diesel. putting oil into oil bearing rock a mile below the water table where you are fighting to frack the actual deposit of a couple hundred feet.

so we're suddenly producing gas as if we were russia or saudi arabia and they get a couple people on camera who have methane in their groundwater.  that's also been going on for years, before we started taking oil and gas out of the ground we knew it was there because it seeped to the surface on its own or came up from shallow wells.

and then when we needed steel in world war II they went around pulling all the casings out of the ground on oil wells and we were expecting. 

so they go nuts casing this wells now.  and i'm not saying you could never have a problem or that they don't bear regular monitoring and occasional remediation.  but with this kind of revolution, if it really was being carried on in wanton fashion as some imagine, you would have literally thousands of refugees from fracking -- i don't mean thousands of opponents, its easy enough to scare folks about this -- see the new york state ban.  kind of strikes me like all those products that say "known by the state of california to cause cancer". 

I'm open to evidence based concerns about better practices that should be adopted but in general, there is nothing i like seeing better than an oil well and our technology keeps getting better, safer and lower footprint so, to me, it is the blessed technology of fracking, which additionally to driving the peak oil crazies nuts, has given us a new breathing room in the geopolitical sphere, just when it is becoming evident that neither professed bellicosity nor amicability (and ridiculous nobel prizes for 'peaceful aspirations') can secure hydrocarbon energy from unstable sources that have been its font.

best regards for a sunday.

hope that was naughty enough to get you going.  got to go kitesurfing. one of my last days of the year.



  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    In the eyes of the beholder

    The amount of water it takes to frack oil and gas wells seems enormous and i wonder if that water ends polluted beyond any normal use. The US and especially the western US has been in the grips of a drought for a while now so water is getting harder to come by. I know the level of the Ogallala aquifer has dropped precipitously since WWII because of agriculture needs.

    If you add the requirements of fracking to the needs of agriculture I think we are in trouble. It's nice to get fuel for a low price but if it starts to interfere with food production it may not be so nice. I would like to see drilling companies post long term bonds to back up their claims. If it really is benign the cost would not be much, if it isn't benign it would become apparent very quickly. Big business only has a 90 day horizon, they need to be closely watched so they don't do something that might put us in danger in the long term.

    I think we will see wars fought over water rights before this century is over, it's not likely to affect you and me but the kids will pay the price if we engage in short sighted use of our water.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • heatman101
    heatman101 Member Posts: 19
    I sit right in the middle....


    North central PA has been a hotbed for a few years has cooled off quite a bit recently as the glut of gas has knocked the price to the point where it is not making money for the companies here and the storage facilities are full.

    Yes, there have been blowouts, cracks in rocks, and even old well sites that have not been marked. Water contamination, also, but very few, and the drilling companies have been quick to respond. Over all though, this has been good for the area. Farmers now farmer with money instead of for money. People building and improving now that they have cash flow, small counties, Boros and such getting a bit of an influx of dollars for improvements, roads rebuilt by drilling companies to accommodate the massive amount of traffic.

    As far as the water situation....there have been massive storage facilities built to hold the water for fracking, and recycling that water. Even have some friends that work at a plant that strictly treats and recycles frack water.

    Am I worried about what is used in the fracking water??? No, not even a little...there are DEP crawling all over the place and my friends that work in the industry and know what is used are not glowing in the dark or getting sick. Plus they do know what is going in there and know it is safe. Does the water contain heavy metals when it comes back out??? Yes...any water that goes deep in the ground will absorb some heavy metals....but not enough to be dangerous. Some water wells in this area have high levels....many water wells also have gas coming out of the water also....even have built a homemade separator of a well that has so much gas coming out that the water gurgles in the pipe as it comes out of the well...

    Not sure if this adds much to the conversation, other then relating my experience and 2 cents...

    I am also, very interested in hearing what others think here.
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 6,975

    First off, there is a cocktail of nasty stuff that is injected into the ground during fracking. I have spoken with people that work at fracking facilities, there is lots of acid involved.

    The easy answer is, the operators do not need to disclose the "secret  formula", they just need to add a tracer chemical so that when the water supply is destroyed, they pay to fix it. I will believe the "fracking is safe" rhetoric when they take accountability.

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • Tim McElwain
    Tim McElwain Member Posts: 4,480
    As one who grew up in

    South Western PA (part of the Marcelus Shale area) I have seen some interesting things come out of the ground in my many years growing up there, 1939 until 1957. It was not unusual for water from wells to have oil in the water, methane in the water (we used to light the water with kitchen matches), a lot of this back then probably had a lot to do with coal mining. They used to have six inch pipes coming up out of the ground burning off the methane 24 hours a day as it was dangerous to the miners. There was a lengthy discussion in my high school science classes concerning water back in those day and some of the brighter kids in my class actually did some science projects concerning water quality. Most of what I remember was that the water was okay to drink and at one time was reported to have natural fluorides which would prevent tooth decay (not sure about that one).

    I personally used to drink water from an underground spring everyday on the way to and from school and we used to swim in a burning spring pond that from time to time a well placed match would light the surface of the water.

    It becomes more and more apparent to me as I grow older that man will do what man will do, some will protest and perhaps be wrong some will protest and are perhaps right. The good book teaches us that after the thousand year reign of Jesus Christ here on earth God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth, I wonder if we will have corrupted it so badly that it will have to replaced. I should live so long.
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,304

    and a thousand Amens! 

    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    edited October 2013
    cocktails anyone . . .


    . . . me thinks you doth protest a bit too much.  you might have been writing that comment while others were posting but generally speaking the testimony here is that the industry has been responsive, and indeed has its spawned its own sub-industry for treating this fluid at the surface and recycling it.

    and, as per usual, while it would be more effective to say that and stop there, i have a novel to go with it.  skim if it draws you in or onto the next comment.  tests will be multiple choice so you don't really need to concentrate on the material.

     If it seems irrational to ask an industry that is being responsible to be responsible, it would be rational in light of history to say ' i'd like to make sure the industry doesn't get lazy in these improved practices', but they are actually doing a halfway decent job.

    As to acid, much groundwater is acid, i.e. hard rock water. so our 40 foot deep well can give soda a runoff in a ph test.  now that is only in the 3 to 4 range and industrial acids can have several orders of magnitude more acidity, but the volume of water involved pales in comparison to the brines already in this strata.

     I'm not suggesting you'd want to drink fracking fluid, but the attention to casing wells in the near surface strata has prevented any widespread groundwater contamination in near surface water accessed for drinking and the deep underground injections are just that, contained by the earth itself in strata that has long geologically separated the oil and brines of long buried oceans from surface waters.

    Now i know that i (and some others testifying here) just got through explaining that the oil patch has long seen seeps that bring methane and oil to the surface, Ergo, if these were the deposits being fracked it would follow that we would get ubiquitous returns of fracking fluid producing surface contamination and polluting drinking water aquifers as well. But these new recoveries are from deep tight shale, different resevoirs than what contributes to these surface phenomenon separated geologically from the near surface stratas that would be of concern.

    While early traditional exploration has been a part of the surface effects this was related to a lesser standard of concern for such effects -- not least because they paralleled natural seeps, but our industrial ethos has evolved.

    it isn't perfect, nor is that a fair expectation.  it is better, and, as folks from the present day oil patch have testified, industrial companies are responsive when something does happen.  certainly that evolution has been partly catalyzed by those wanting them held accountable and shining a light on past practices, but their own bottom line, insurance arrangements and the like, the internal industrial and commercial incentives, have played a role as well.

    While it doesn't

    explain the entirety of the historic surface effects related to the drilling industry, it is a crowning irony to saddle

    an industry with blame for contamination that resulted when it was viewed as a patriotic necessity to pull existing casings from the ground.

    If anything I tend to think we have overdone the regulatory end (as can be sometimes seen in my thoughts about regulation of our own hvac industry, but i digress . . . ) and the case of horizontal drilling in shale maybe represents a positive retreat to a better medium, where our competing interests in access to energy and unblemished environment have gotten better balanced before the regulatory behemoth took notice.

    I only wish i could think it was a conscious shift away from a precautionary principle that thinks only of the most remotely conceivable harm  to come from any industrial undertaking and ignores the obvious signals about fulfilling society's needs. The crowning irony of all this is that the new energy revolution in the states has been the saving of the Obama administration, despite their hostility. If you took the exploration, production and sale of marcellus gas and wet gas and bakken oil out of the equation, where is our anemic growth. non-existent.

     Now some might suggest that the administration is implicitly supportive of domestic natural gas with their war on coal and you can make out a case for that. but when you add up the opposition to the keystone pipeline, the CO2 phobia, the war on coal, and the bizarre subsidies to 'renewable' energy even as Europe pulls back from the brink of collapsing its economy with that kind of nonsense, it is hard to suggest that a tangential favoritism to gas generation is anything but an accidental midstation on the road to a dim future.

    What got me talking about fracking in the first place is my conception that pushing more and more of our electric generation onto gas fired plants will ultimately reignite the competition between heating consumers and industrial consumers. This policy predated the horizontal drilling boom and I saw it as the perfect irony that we push industry out of coal into natural gas making natural gas expensive so homeowners start putting in coal stoves.  I literally observed this phenomenon dozens of times. My instinct is that it is harder to create clean burning dispersed local combustion units for coal than for natural gas (and propane for non-piped neighborhoods)  -- not to mention the efficiencies of distribution.

    Now, i'm not debunking our technological capabilities and pellet stoves have proven a great advance in turning a waste stream into an energy stream and they have become convenient automated and clean. i suppose it is possible you could add automated ash removal capabilities and if you had pulverized coal maybe residential consumption would be sensible, but current state of technology favors burning coal in industrial circumstances where stack controls are state of the art and burning natural gas in dispersed residential use where cost effective efficient units shine.

    With the drop in gas prices that competition between residential and indusrial use has eased, but as also testified to here, gas exploration has waned because of the glut. In a decade it will be game on again.  And decommissioning coal plants and blocking coal fired replacements is going to prove to have been really stupid in my opinion.

    But that isn't maybe the worst overkill in industrial regulation. For all the complaining about energy prices, have you bought any copper lately. Overregulation in the mining industry is far more legion than even the oil industry. Because oil at least translates more directly to consumer use.  Copper, for most, is an intermediary product paid for indirectly when you hire a plumber -- well not so much any more --  or an electrician.

    The ridculous fight against the crown butte 'gold' mine outside yellowstone was really an effort to stop a copper mine. 

  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 6,975
    Politcal rant....

    So sorry, I thought you wanted to talk about fracking.

    Good luck with the rant.

    Tracer chemicals and a little accountability is all I need.

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    edited October 2013
    tracer chemistry

    I did say you could leave all the rest after the first paragraph that suggested those living with this industry thing it has behaved reasonably.

     I concede I focused on your first invocation of acid moreso than your tracer proposition.

    I guess that if I wasn't used to kneejerk opposition to fracking that presumes the technique to be regularly fraught with hydraulic invasion of surface strata with a horrible cocktail of chemicals i might have recognized a certain implicit acceptance that says, how about some tracer chemistry. i read acid cocktail first and that does get me going.

    you don't indicate what it is you really think is dangerous about this mix beyond saying there is a lot of acid involved.  if you want to test for increased ph levels in relevant strata, knock yourself silly. The concern about acid you expressed would go to a more pervasive character of the fluid rather than the trace contents which I have heard others attack and so have spent more time studying. Again, i'm not aware of any widespread contamination resulting from this character of fracking fluids than the trace chemistry.

    Since some folks would like nothing better than to find these industries guilty of spreading pollution and they consider any chemical outside normal backgrounds (maybe not even with the proviso) in vicinity of this oil development as evidence of a trace to that acitvity.  So the general standard already is actually for industry to have to explain anything that didn't used to be there.  that would include acid, oils, etc. So I did respond to your post based on your sense of precaution or implication that the industry has been conducted in a risky manner.  With all the people waiting to pounce, I don't buy that.

    That of course is a separate question as to whether there might be a magic bullet tracer that could be a useful as the canary in the coal mine or in settling arguments about historic vs. contemporary contamination.  maybe it is a

    technology you have researched and i'm open to hearing about. I didn't mean to come off as hostile to that suggestion.

    As far as the politics goes, I think it is interesting that things have tended more my way on policy in this arena, kind of by default rather than design -- New York being the exception that proves the rule.  It snuck up on everyone including the industry itself that was busy trying to build import facilities for liquified natural gas less than a decade ago.

    I make no apologies for my thinking on other subjects which i see as related.  but i didn't mean to not give consideration to a reasonable suggestion.

  • Tim McElwain
    Tim McElwain Member Posts: 4,480
    Brian, I

    am sure you are a very intelligent and articulate person based on your posting here. It would help folks like myself it you would "dumb it down" so we can figure out what you are really saying. I as a teacher in an adult forum have to very careful that my vocabulary is able to speak to my entire audience, please help us less intellectual folks to understand your discussion.
  • bill_105
    bill_105 Member Posts: 429
    Agreed, Tim

    Towards the end I was expecting the sign off of a certain news show, you know, Fair-Balanced:)!
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    fair and blarney

    I realize that it reads like ive got some hardon for this administration, which just happens to be the latest font of anti-energy mentality.  this has been going on since nixon who signed the crazy stuff that got this anti-industrial policy established.

     when i was growing up, an envrionmentalist was somebody who pulled old tires out of the river.  now an environmentalist is someone who collects money to lobby government to pull tires out of the river and assess administrative penalty against tire makers.

    I've no abiding faith in companies, tire companies or gas exploration companies, doing the right thing, but they have more incentive to do so than government.  they can go out of business if they screw it up.

  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 15,017
    but generally

    the big oil, Wall Street, auto manufacturers, drug manufacturers, tobacco, coal, companies don't go out of business when they screw up. The taxpayer, and the consumers bail them out :)

    And the taxpayer often subsidizes them all along the way.

    Both government and large corporations need to be watched, they have given us many reasons to mistrust them. I believe they will continue to do so :)
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514

    Equals another superfund cleanup on us.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,425

    brevity works better.
    Retired and loving it.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,425

    brevity works better.
    Retired and loving it.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,514
    Nothing new here

    Just a advance in technology.

    For how many years did oil companies throw away gasoline because it was to volatile, and they did not know what else to do with it.

    If you look at history we actually have come a long way in our means in protecting the environment compared to many a decades if not centuries ago.
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    edited October 2013
    shorthand makes up for short . . . [fill in the blank]


    i actually try not to speak in tongues very often, but i may take for granted some knowledge or context that makes this greek.but  i tend to write out things like domestic hot water in threads and stuff like that.  although i respect that the industry has accepted abbreviations, i'm not actually trying to leave people behind.

    I went back after these comments and reread what i wrote.  now i tend to think i'm a little more openly anti-government anti-regulatory pro energy exploration minset than most folks here so i was expecting disagreement. but i wondered if i was really ranting about politics as much as zman thought.  i'm open to that kind of criticism because i a fair amount of time thinking about policy -  which is the root of politics after all.

    but it seems i mostly asked -- at length for sure -- if fracking is such a big problem can you show me something more than a couple people lighting their faucets which has been going on for a century before this 'controversial' drilling started.

    I really appreciated your comments which offered the context of the long history of gas coming to the surface in pennsylvania -- and not all naturally.  man will shape his environment. you can take biblical direction for that as you make some allusion to, and while i don't view it as authoritative I think it is a source of values teaching to be considered.

    and zman isn't far off where the industry standard may be headed insofar as tracer chemistry.  i hadn't followed that part of the debate, but the industry participants have actually been working with the DOE on testing using these markers and there may be more widespread adoption -- the test to date showing no contamination

    one test site does not an industry vindicate, but you'll notice in the story that the sierra club was only too ready to ignore the science when it didn't jibe with their outlook. they were quick to say that one safe well doesn't prove anything because they "know the process is inherently unsafe"

    this is the kind of drivel that gets me going and if zman is more openminded i regret my skepticism of his acid lead.  but it is one thing to say that a testing a single site doesn't prove the process is inherently safe.  i agree with that statement.  but these results essentially falsify the sierra club's claim that the practice inherently unsafe, esp. in the context of this (concedely more industry friendly) report, ,which points out that there have been 50,000 horizontal fracked wells drilled in the last decade. the most they have to show for it is a disputed report over a handful of drinking wells in wyoming.

    i don't mean to be sanguine or not recognize outlier effects and the effects of some fracks have traveled considerably further than the expected several hundred feet but on balance with 50,000 wells drilled to insist that you "know" the practice is inherently unsafe sure seems to me like all the things i use that say on them "known by the state of california to cause cancer". 

  • bld999
    bld999 Member Posts: 47
    Alternative to water

    There is an alberta co:

    That uses gelled propane as the hydro fluid. Once the grit is pushed into the fissures, the gel then gassifies and is extracted with the ng payload. It was developed in the 40's iirc.

    In popular parlance the term "fracking" seems to signify anything objectionable having to do with petro drilling, so even if the aquifer problems were put to bed, I think it would still be a four letter word.
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    with you on too big to fail

    hot rod, but this drilling is not done by companies that are going to get either the bank of america or general motors treatment.

     i can remember when everybody was screaming about big oil companies wanting to drill in the Alsakan National Wildlife Refuge. The big oil companies could have cared less. finding and producing vast new stores of oil only meant that what they already owned or optioned would be worth less.  I used to meet in a basement flat of 3 small rooms near the senate office buildings with the entire lobbying team trying to promote exploration in those hinterlands.  there were a couple geologists paid by the state of alaska, the president of the teamsters in alaska (the teamsters figuring was opposite from the oil companies, most of their members turn a key every morning, not to get to work, but to get working), and a gaggle of inupiats who used to share whale meat when they came in (an acquired taste. i can assure the whales are safe from me if not the swordfish  -- well i think it was the preservation prepation . . . but i digress).

    we didn't win that.  got close a couple times. same kind of arguments.  directional drilling made it easy to easy to explore 15 or 20 square miles from a single 100 acre pad. they moved the rigs in on ice roads while everything was frozen.  but everyone claimed the world was gonna end.

    there weren't no fat cats in that effort, just folks who would have been swinging wrenches in double digit negative temperatures. love those friggin tv shows. ah well. maybe some day. a guy can dream, can't he.

  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    soul of wit

    so dan, did you see my recommendation for "the hall"
  • bill_105
    bill_105 Member Posts: 429
    edited October 2013
    To frack or not to frack?

    That is the question... I don't know the answer but I wish I was at F

    enway to see the sox win:)

    Now the conspiracy threory has it that the Sox will intentionally lose to force a game 7 as to force an increase in hot dog and beer sales. Well I'm on board for all of it;)

    Happy fracking and Halloween!
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 818
    getting priorities straight

    last night i drove to massachusetts, got a used munchkin from a munchkin fanatic and then got home in time to watch the last half of the game.

    it's not all about fracking.

    glad to see you got your priorities straight too.

  • Roland_18
    Roland_18 Member Posts: 147

     I don't have 100% confidence in any industry as large as energy exploration/production. After all, they are trying to produce an affordable product with the greatest profit margin. I don't think that we should endanger our water resources for the sake of being a net exporter of natural gas.

     The Oil Industry has been guilty of some monumental failures, with the inevitable round of finger pointing after the fact. Entire fishing industries have been all but wiped out due to spills in our oceans and waterways. Once the pollution happens, there is no going back.

     If the world is awash in natural gas, where is the incentive to become more energy efficient?
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