(Updated blog from November 4, 2019)
In the past, oil and gas reservoirs were tapped with vertical wells, kind of like a straw in a milkshake glass. However, in the late-1940’s a technique known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” was developed. That 70-year-old process has evolved, or devolved, depending on which side of the environmental fence you stand.
Over the past 20 years fracking has become high volume, slick water, hydraulic fracturing (HVSWHF) on unconventional wells (drilled down vertically, then horizontally) which extracts a relatively small portion of the oil and gas that’s present there, since it is held so tightly by the shale layer. The well completion process and subsequent production period, depends on massive amounts of diesel trucking and contaminates huge volumes of water.
Image: A common site around shale gas wells are fleets of diesel-powered, tri-axle tanker trucks.
Most of the frac sand used in Marcellus and Utica shale hydraulic fracturing originates in the upper-midwest of the United States. The strip mining, transportation and handling of this sand creates additional health, safety and environmental risks. With newer shale wells extending horizontally up to 4-miles, there are an increased number of “frac stages” that call for even higher volumes of frac sand, or “proppant.” An increased use of proppant has been shown to increase production from some Marcellus shale wells.
Unconventional shale wells are drilled vertically, and then horizontally, in an “L” -shaped fashion, often extending several miles beneath the surface. It’s been found that spacing new “child” well laterals too close to existing well laterals, can reduce output from the older “parent” wells, creating additional production declines.
Excavation of Marcellus Shale well pads has ‘known no limits’ when it comes to ruining the natural landscape, by removing trees (increasing forest fragmentation, invasive weeds, and run-off) and using cut and fill techniques that create steep, ugly slopes. Widespread cases of water contamination from shale gas production have been documented by Public Herald.
It requires huge volumes of water, strip-mined frac sand, and a host of chemical cocktails, with many that are hidden behind “proprietary” labels that don’t reveal their true “chemical DNA” with CAS numbers. Fracked wells ‘flowback’ huge volumes of toxic liquids laced with those frac chemicals, as well as extremely salty brine carrying heavy metals and radioactive elements from the deep like Radium 226, with a half life of 1,600 years.
Municipal landfills across western Pennsylvania, designed to only hold garbage, have been accepting huge volumes of this radioactive drilling waste. The leachate from these landfills has been reaching streams and rivers. Ra226 is water-soluble!
Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill fined for excessive contaminated runoffDon Hopey – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – February 18, 2020
The Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill will pay a $24,000 fine for violations involving the improper disposal of shale gas drilling waste and contaminated liquids in 2019, according to terms of a state Department of Environmental Protection consent order announced Tuesday. DEP records show the landfill, which also goes by the name Tervita-Rostraver Township Sanitary Landfill, began accepting drilling waste cuttings — soil and rock and chemicals produced by the drilling process — in 2010. In 2017 it took in 119,716 tons of that waste, amounting to about 40% of its total waste stream.
“Take me home country roads” to this lovely home in northern West Virginia, another part of the Marcellus Shale landscape where 21st century fracking has wreaked havoc. Would you want your water well situated below fracking and these sorts of plastic-lined pits that have been proven to leak toxic liquids?
Even worse than the rock-bottom natural gas prices that are once again the bane of ‘circle the wagons’ gas producers, are the rapid production declines of these ‘stingy’ shale wells. It’s kind of like hitting the lottery and blowing most of the money within 3 years, instead of production lasting several decades, as was often promised to anyone who would listen. How could drillers ever predict these wells would produce for “30 to 50 years” when Marcellus Shale fracking was only 5 years old back in 2009?
Must watch video: Shale promises or Shale Spin?
To supply the Pennsylvania ethane needed to maintain global pipeline export quotas, and keep just one new cracker plant (currently under construction north of Pittsburgh) operating for the next 50 years, will likely require the 90,000 new wells predicted in some forecasts, for the shale regions in and around Pennsylvania.
Video: Instead of Marcellus Shale wells lasting 30 to 50 years, as ‘spun’ by industry ‘spin doctors’ when hoping to procure gas leases, shale wells have experienced huge production declines, mostly in the first few years.
Image: Construction of the Shell Cracker Plant northwest of Pittsburgh in Monaca, Pennsylvania, was reported to be 70-percent completed in September 2020. PTTGCA has also completed the early stages of site preparation and permitting to construct a cracker plant further down the Ohio River in Belmont County, Ohio, while not yet fully committing to its final construction. Recent newspaper reports also indicate a third company, ExxonMobil, has been surveilling the SW Pennsylvania region for potential construction of a cracker plant along the Monongahela River. It seems doubtful there’s enough ethane to supply one cracker plant for 50-years, let alone three of them! Pittsburgh ditched its old smoky city image, but could the hazy city be the next moniker?
Image: Looking at the Pittsburgh skyline from the north on Sep. 23, 2020. That’s not fog.
With these rapid production declines, this drilling treadmill could once again sweep over portions of Pennsylvania like a fossil fuel plague, while still being sold under the banner of energy independence, instead of increased profits from exports. Exports that are likely to raise the cost of this homegrown shale gas. Pension and investment funds have begun saying ‘NO’ to funding the fracking due to poor investment results, and increased pressure from shareholders to save our planet from climate change.
Chart: A 2012 analysis of 193 Marcellus Shale wells in SW Pennsylvania, using Pa DEP production data, clearly shows the rapid production declines of these ‘stingy’ shale wells. Many investors have already ‘run for cover’ due to poor financial fundamentals, or because of fracking’s significant contributions to climate change, sometimes both.