Shale development could be the answer to nagging questions in the U.S.

Greg Kozera, President, Virginia Oil & Gas Association Published:

What if we could break OPEC’s control over world oil prices? What if it were in our power to bring our brave soldiers home from the Middle East because we no longer need to protect the Mideast oil supply? What if we could clean up the environment without government regulations? What if we could create thousands of good paying jobs? And, what if we could help our poor without using tax dollars?

It is indeed a rare point in history when we, as a nation, can do something that will create such a large positive global impact. The development of the Marcellus shale, the Utica and other shale fields could do just that.

Suddenly we have a 200-year supply of natural gas, when just a few years ago some predicted our supplies were running out. The Marcellus shale that runs from New York to Virginia is now the second largest natural gas field on the entire planet and it is right here in the USA. Other new shale gas reservoirs here in the USA are not far behind. What does this mean for Ohioans? First it means stable, economically priced and dependable natural gas for homes and businesses. In 2011, average homeowners saw a $1,000 per year decrease in their gas bill. This is quite a stimulus package and it didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. It also helps our poor, who pay a larger percentage of income for basic needs Additionally, it means dependable natural gas supplies since the source of the natural gas is now close to the end users and major residential, commercial and industrial markets.

If we begin to use natural gas to power our vehicles it can mean more jobs for Ohioans and lower fuel costs. Currently the natural gas equivalent of a gallon of gasoline is $1.99 per gallon in the Pittsburgh and Baltimore areas. In Oklahoma it is $1.35 per gallon. This is a lot cheaper than $3.49 per gallon of gasoline.

In 1947, the oil and gas industry discovered hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—as a way to improve the production of this country’s oil wells. Fracturing is a way of making the wellbore, the path through which the hydrocarbons flow, larger. Instead of the natural gas having just a 4-inch or 5-inch pipe to flow into, we create an underground crack or fracture that extends several hundred feet from the well. The oil and gas flows into the crack. It is easier for oil and gas to move through a crack or fracture than through unfractured rock. Fracturing is a little like building a multi-lane highway. If a lot of cars are trying to leave a city on a two-lane road it takes a long time. If we build a four- six- or eight-lane highway, more cars can move faster.

The shale reservoirs we have today have a lot of natural gas trapped in them, but they also have very low porosity and permeability. Fracturing is the highway we use to release the natural gas in the shale. Hydraulic fracturing has become as common and as necessary as drilling. There is not a “new drilling process called fracking,” as many, including reporters for the New York Times, have written. These are separate processes. For many years, more than 90 percent of the wells drilled in the United States have required fracturing to produce natural gas or oil. Without fracturing we have no significant domestic oil industry and must rely on imports for almost 100 percent of our fuel for transportation. If this ever happens, you will think $4 gasoline is cheap.

The new technology that has changed everything is the ability to drill wells horizontally and then hydraulically fracture them multiple times. This has only become feasible in the last decade and it is the reason we are now able to unlock the gas in our shale reservoirs. This process is like constructing a 12-lane highway (the horizontal well) into a city with four-lane highways (the fractures) running into the highway. Fracturing a horizontal well is no different than fracturing a vertical well. The only difference is that there is only one wellhead at the surface. Some horizontal wells can have as many as 15 or 20 separate fractures. This is the equivalent of drilling 15 or 20 vertical wells but with less surface disturbance and far less environmental impact.

There are a number of popular myths about hydraulic fracturing. It does NOT cause earthquakes. The great eastern earthquake of 2011 was centered in Virginia and over 250 miles from the nearest well. We have had MILLIONS of earthquakes in this country since 1900. Now suddenly fracturing causes earthquakes. I don’t think so. In the case of shale wells, the fracturing takes place at depths of up to 10,000 feet below the surface. It simply CANNOT contaminate groundwater. I have never seen water run up hill. A water molecule at 5,000 feet or even 2,000 feet would rather move downward or sideways than fight solid rock and GRAVITY to move upward. There are four steel and cemented pipes between the fracturing fluids, natural gas and our groundwater. I have more concern about my neighbor’s uncemented, unregulated water well next to his pig pen, that is in the same water aquifer that I get my water from.

The use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing together has produced so much natural gas that the price of the commodity has fallen significantly in a period where most other commodities, including such basic items as milk, have increased. Greater use of natural gas due to increased supply and lower price — especially as a fuel for power generation — has reduced our CO2 emissions to 1992 levels, without government intervention.

To break OPEC’s control of world oil prices we need to use natural gas for transportation. We can start with fleets and large vehicles like buses and trash trucks. If this became a national priority we could make the transition from gasoline to natural gas in three to five years. We are currently sending $1 billion U.S. dollars every day to buy oil. How many jobs could we create by keeping this money here?

We are Americans. All things are possible. We just need to make the decision and get busy.

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