Green Fracking: New Ways for Cleaner Energy?

Posted on June 04, 2014
Posted By: Wayne M. Kovach
 

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a highly controversial subject. Those in favor of it would argue that its gains, namely cleaner and cheaper energy (as opposed to coal), certainly outweigh the risks. Those opposed would argue that more investments in fossil fuel sources only hurt our environment more and push back advancements in renewable energy technology. While that debate will likely continue, the hope for some middle ground lies with "green fracking."

National Geographic recently posted an article which not only acknowledges that fracking is a large component of the world's energy future, but has the opportunity to be green, too. Is there such a thing?

The report mentions GasFrac, a Canadian energy company, as being a pioneer in the development of cleaner fracking technologies. GasFrac employs a gel-based medium for well injection, which is created with propane and a few other common chemicals that are already present in our water treatment facilities. "We're actually using hydrocarbons to produce hydrocarbons. It's a cycle that's more sustainable," stated Chief Executive James Hill. The propane is a hydrocarbon that's naturally occurring underground.

One of the biggest concerns held by groups against fracking is the large consumption of water used on a single well. As stated on ExploreShale.org, each drill site will use between three and five million gallons of water per fracking project, on average. GasFrac's method is water-free, and other companies are working on ways to lessen the amount of water consumed in the process.

With the increasing number of wells opening in various parts of the country (see image below), it's important that companies implement strategies which will mitigate any harmful effects of fracking. That idea is catching on, even with groups opposed to this technology. Ben Ratner of the Environmental Defense Fund states,

Natural gas is a potential energy bounty for the country, and development is probably inevitable. That's why we're investing our energy into doing everything, from science to policy to working with companies, to maximize the potential climate advantage that gas has over coal, and minimize the risk to public health and the environment. We think natural gas can be an exit ramp from coal, but we have to do it right.

In addition to the gel-based solution used by GasFrac, there are other ways that companies are helping to transform fracking into a greener process. The use of recycled underground graywater or brine lessens the need to tap into fresh supplies. Additionally, fracking companies are starting to use natural gas powered trucks instead of bringing in dirtier and pricier diesel equipment. Halliburton and GE have pioneered new technologies to cleanse and distill, and then reuse treated wastewater. The location and correction of methane leaks inside gas wells also help to limit harmful emissions as a fracking byproduct.

Obviously, there are costs involved for any aspect in making the fracking process cleaner. It's uncertain how companies will want to utilize a greener way of getting natural gas from the earth. As the National Geographic article points out, the relatively low cost of fresh water gives companies little incentive to look for alternative water sources.

Fracking is here to stay, and it is paramount that the industry continues to develop greener practices that will allow it to thrive and limit environmental damage. Whether or not you work in the industry or live near a fracking site, newer technologies can only help the process become cleaner and safer. Relying on, or increasing the production of, oil and coal cannot be sustained long-term.

Image Courtesy of SmartPlanet

 Companies could easily sit back, accept the status quo, and do nothing to improve this industry unless mandated by governing bodies. The fact that some who are already heavily involved in this industry see a need for improvement, and are acting on it, should be commended. Fracking is a viable part of our energy future. Accidents are bound to happen, as with any segment of the energy industry. The sooner we make them all as efficient and safe as possible, the better off we'll all be.

 

 
 
Authored By:
Wayne has worked as the SEO Specialist for NRG Business – Demand Response since 2012. Holding degrees in Printing and Graphic Design, he spent the previous 14 years at a yellow page publishing company. Wayne's writing interests include coal, natural gas, oil, and new products. In his free time, he enjoys hockey, Canadian music, Scotch, and spending every second he can get with his 4 year old son.
 

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Comments

June, 08 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I am involved in Writing a new energy VERY ELEMENTARY economics textbook. My intermediate textbook will be available soon, according to GOOGLE, but I wonder if I don't expect too much from readers.

There are a few things about shale gas that worry me, and should worry everybody else. Mainly this business about depreciation. In fact it worries me so much that I am reluctant to mention some of the Estimates of depreciation, because if it is true that you can get a 50% depreciation after a year or two, then all the talk about fracking is just part of an elaborate scam.

Of course, as far as I am concerned, it is a mistake not to be grateful for small mercies. The important thing is not to be dumb enough to export what you get, regardless of how Little (or much) that is. By the way, if you bump into Secretary of Energy Moniz, please tell him to return to MIT as soon as possible, and sign up for an elementary course in energy economics. - or maybe he should wait until I am finished with my new (VERY ELEMENTARY) energy economics textbook.

June, 10 2014

Richard Goodwin, Ph. D., P.E. says

The state of the technology of Hydraulic fracturing or fracking shows that it can be properly applied to reduce environmental risks and damages. Both the ex-Mayor of New York City and the President of the Environmental Defense Fund agree that fracking can be conducted properly by approaching the technology using “data acquisition and management problem (solving)” techniques (1). Their approach should be integrated with the application of sound engineering principles. My white paper “Environmental Perspective Hydraulic Fracturing” (2) accepted by USEPA (4/5/14) for their Scientific Advisory Board [SAB] Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel [I have been involved with this SAB for over one year] demonstrates that cost-effective engineering applications have improved hydraulic fracturing performance.

Reduce Methane Emissions - By plugging leaks in compressors and pipes, producers can cut emissions of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, according to a report [March 2014] by the Environmental Defense Fund and ICF International Inc., a consultancy specializing in energy and the environment. The $2.2 billion cost would be offset over time by the sale of captured gas, the study estimates. At approximately $10MM per well, the industry can afford to spread $2.2B over the costs of new and existing wells. The industry is expected to invest trillions of $US over the next several years in unconventional oil and gas development.

Cement Well/Build Better Wells and Get Better Data - The USEPA has established a Scientific Advisory Board to Review Methodology and Technology mitigating effect of fracking on water quality. Also ASTM, API etc. have established standard setting committees for drilling [e.g. well cementing], fracking, production water options. During the next two years the efforts of experienced participants should change the way that fracking operations are implemented, managed and regulated. The SAB’s work will continue until 2015 – both existing and grass-roots drilling projects will be monitored.

Recycling Flowback water - Recycling frac waters would not only save operators money and secure ‘fast track’ permits, but reuse would avoid deep well injection – removing a high potential contributing factor to localized earthquakes. Such articles eliminate much of the uncertainties about hydraulic fracturing – creating a more reasonable tone to improve the process without creating fear of the unknown.

(1) Bloomberg, M.R. and Krupp, F.’ “The Right Way to Develop Shale Gas”; The Wall Street Journal; 4/30/14 (2) http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/D3AE85DC5A40EEC885257CB3004E03F8/$File/Public+comments+submitted+by+Goodwin,+Richard-4-4-14.pdf . Richard W. Goodwin West Palm Beach FL

June, 10 2014

Fred Linn says

There has already been enough of promises to do better, to change your ways, etc. etc. etc.

The problem is not that the public is "uneducated"(meaning indoctrinated and docile). The public is not as stupid as you think. And you are not nearly as smart as you think. We know double talk and slight of hand when we see it.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people, some of the time---but you can't fool ALL of the people ALL of the time."-------Abraham Lincoln

Ban hydro-fracking altogether and use propane fracking that is inherently safer and can be recycled and there is no need for "studies" that waste time, money and invite disaster.

June, 25 2014

Wayne M. Kovach says

Ferdinand, Richard, and Fred, thanks so much for your comments. It will be interesting to see if greener practices and tighter restrictions will allow fracking to become more mainstream and acceptable.

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