Natural Gas and Energy Independance

Originally posted January 24, 2013 at

On Monday, Jeff Rubin of The Globe and Mail asked the question, “Is there water enough for U.S. to frack its way to energy independence?”

I can’t consider the water footprint of energy independence without considering the folly in the notion of “energy independence”. First, the US consumes far more oil per day than we produce (15 million barrel (MB) versus 6 MB, respectively). At our historical peak output in the 1970s, US daily oil production was <12 MB. New finds (i.e., including oil associated with “unconventional” production methods) amount to ~0.5MB/day with no robust sense of how long such production rates can be sustained.

Second, there is a disconnect between terms such as resources, reserves, and supply; actual supply is the only meaningful parameter and domestic supply is, as indicated in first point, woefully short of consumption. Moreover, there is incontrovertible historical evidence that GDP growth requires growth in oil consumption.

Third, there is a massive cost associated with transforming our economy and culture from liquid transportation fuel (read: oil-based) to anything else. Changing US oil infrastructure necessitates transforming a $100T (trillion) industry with a 150 year history. Despite whatever short-term run-ups in natural gas (NG) production that are occurring due to unconventional sources (read: shale), there is no realistic probability that our economy can shift from oil to NG. There are spot plans to shift some electricity generation from coal to NG based on combination of NG pricing and disincentives of government regulation (i.e., curb air pollution), but such shifts will not result in net difference to energy independence since we do not import coal.

Fourth, oil, NG, and coal dominate (~60-65%) our energy consumption mix with nuclear providing another 10-12%. There is no meaningful way I can envision in which something else (wind, solar, hydro, biofuel) displaces our traditional energy mix, let alone something like NG nudging oil from its pre-eminent hold.

There’s no question that water is intrinsically tied to our energy portfolio and as energy supplies become tighter, more pressure will be brought on water and other “environmental” resources. But I think it’s disingenuous to pit water/environment versus energy. The reality is interdependence.

James Shallenberger, P.G.
Senior Geologist/Ecologist

James is also the author of, “The Marcellus Shale: Balancing Energy and Environmental Resource Interests.”

Environmentally Friendly Marcellus Shale Drilling?

Originally posted March 23, 2011 at

Concerns over the negative effects to air, water, wildlife habitat, and land use are shaping one side of the public debate about U.S. domestic natural gas exploration and production – and Pennsylvania is at the cross roads of this subject. The Marcellus region is one of the country’s fastest-growing onshore gas production provinces.

While the number of wells is swelling, profits are falling; amid it all, the environment is being compromised. Regulations need to catch up with the gold rush to prevent further degradation to our precious land and water resources. There are a number of low-impact approaches to exploration and production to prevent natural resource damages including:

Use of Geographic Information System
Utilize(GIS) spatial mapping tools to minimize impacts.

Apply technologies that reduce waste
High volume fracking generates high volumes of wastewater that requires treatment when brought to the land surface. In-field and centralized processing plants enable re-use of gas field fluids.

Manage water resources sustainably
High volume fracking can require 3 to 5 million gallons of water per well. To reduce potential impacts of water diversion, plan for sources that lessen competition.

Limit disturbance effects
Reduce pad footprint size, deploy temporary drilling platforms, use small diameter drilling techniques, consider piping rather than trucking water to/from sites, minimize steep slopes and stream crossings for roads, deploy open-bottom culverts.

Implement sound restoration design
Minimize initial cut/ fill grading, restore land contours, remove pit liners and solid residue, employ “disappearing” road methods, re-meadow and re-forest with native plants, and apply performance standards for restoration outcome.

James Shallenberger, P.G.
Senior Geologist/Ecologist