Geoscientists agree that fracking is a necessary risk to be approached with the best possible technology.
The fourth annual Chesapeake Energy Lecture on hydraulic fracturing was last week on the University of Tulsa campus, hosted by the TU College of Law and the National Energy Policy Institute. During a point-and-counterpoint discussion with geoscientists David Hughes and Terry Engelder, the two were often on the same page.
Engelder is a professor in the geosciences department at Penn State University and a leading authority on the recent Marcellus gas shale play, located in the Appalachian Basin. A strong advocate for accessing our natural gas resources, he supports the use of hydraulic fracturing.
Hughes is the author of two recently released reports: “Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21st Century?” and “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Shale Gas Compared to Coal: An Analysis of Two Conflicting Studies.”
To some, hydraulic fracturing is a controversial process that pumps water, sand and a chemical mixture underground to extract natural gas. To those of us in Oklahoma and other states with mature oil and gas plays, hydraulic fracturing has been a safe and effective way to increase production and make the most of a particular well bore and well site. To others, fracking has been alleged to cause environmental problems ranging from groundwater contamination to minor earthquakes.
Both speakers recommend more industry transparency and a clearer public understanding of the fracking process. Fracking entails risk, but safety requirements and applying industry best practices for every part of the process help ensure the safe and responsible development of natural gas.
“I’m a realist and we need it,” Hughes said. “So we’re going to have to look at best practices and try to reduce the impact as much as we can.”
Hughes suggested that we focus on a portfolio of alternatives and energy conservation, learning how to optimize the energy that we have. He said that low natural gas prices will result in a drastic reduction in drilling, which will produce a supply deficit and a price spike. He claims the industry has made some huge public relations mistakes.
Now, he feels it is learning. Recently, the website FracFocus at fracfocus.org was created to provide the public access to reported chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing within their area.
Engelder said the industry is not monolithic, but rather a group of people who are conscious of their environmental footprint and work very hard to mitigate these particular problems. He suggested the need for both state and federal funding for research by universities and federal branches such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy.
Hughes said a new Environmental Protection Agency study available by the end of the year will contain better data on methane emissions and some fracking issues. He feels those studies will do a lot in terms of credibility for the whole process.
The conclusion reached is that natural gas is the most available and perhaps the largest energy resource we Americans have, particularly in Oklahoma.
We cannot ignore it and expect to meet our energy demands. In fact, we must embrace it and continue to produce it responsibly for our nation’s sake.
Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.