Will California media ignore fracking’s long, safe history?

FrackingDec. 26, 2012

By Chris Reed

The escalating battle over using hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — for highly promising oil and natural gas exploration in California isn’t just another front in the state’s long-running war between environmentalists and business interests.

For the journalists who cover the bid of oil giants such as Occidental Petroleum to develop California’s enormous oil shale resource, it’s a test of their honesty.

The stakes are vast for the Golden State. If fracking were allowed, our state’s ravaged economy could enjoy the sort of boom that is lifting the Dakotas, Ohio and other areas around the U.S., a boom that has freed up immense new supplies of natural gas, driven down its cost by 70 percent and helped reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to 1992 levels. California has by far the largest oil shale resource in the U.S. Thankfully, the initial fracking regulations released last week by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration appear both neutral and thoughtful.

But because the brown energy revolution is so much of a threat to their global push for renewable green energy, environmentalists are feverishly fighting back — even if having much more natural gas in the U.S. energy could help in the fight against global warming.

The narrative that the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Democratic operatives push is that it is dangerous and entering uncharted new territory to use high-powered streams of water mixed with sand and chemicals to blast away underground rock and reach previously inaccessible oil and natural gas resources. They warn of profound risks to groundwater supplies and of triggering earthquakes.

fracking.equip‘Massively’ used in 1970s

But the truth is fracking has been around since 1947, and according to a University of Texas study, has been used in the drilling of 1 million wells — yes, 1 million. (In a twist that will only further inflame those on the left who see it as an unholy plot, it was pioneered by Halliburton.)

And not only has it been around for 65 years, five presidents ago, fracking was regularly described as being in “massive” use. This is the first few graphs from an 5,300-word article headlined “Massive frac treatments tapping tight gas sands in Uinta basin” in the Jan. 16, 1978, edition of the Oil & Gas Journal:

“Massive hydraulic fracturing (MHF) is giving favorable results in the low-permeability Wasatch- Mesaverde sands in Utah’s Uinta basin where earlier conventional completions gave marginal gas wells.

“As many as 24 sands over a 3,500-ft gross interval are fractured with up to 1 1/2 million lbs. of sand in one continuous treatment using staged or limited-entry techniques.

“Over 90% of the sands perforated are effectively stimulated. The treatments have given an average sevenfold increase on the nine wells stimulated to date.”

An 1,800-word Newsweek article from Oct. 30, 1978, headlined “The New Gas Bonanza,” places fracking at the center of one of the big energy stories of the late 1970s:

“Deep beneath southeastern Louisiana lies a 125-mile geological formation called the Tuscaloosa Trend. Several monstrous drilling rigs soar above the surface, probing nearly 4 miles into the earth for deposits of natural gas. The cost of drilling so deep is enormous — about $5 million for each well — and many producers have been discouraged from making the gamble by the low price of any gas they might find. But when he signs the new energy bill Jimmy Carter may give new life to the Tuscaloosa Trend project and scores of other potentially vast gas discoveries. ‘The gas industry,’ says American Gas Association president George Lawrence, ‘is entering an entirely new era.’

“Such enthusiasm marks a dramatic departure from the mood only eighteen months ago. Then, the Administration’s proposed energy program virtually discounted natural gas as a significant source of energy in the future — a conclusion reached in the light of declining reserves and consumption, falling production and chronic winter shortages. As a result, the Carter strategists recommended that the U.S. continue to cut consumption, that industry switch from gas to coal and that natural gas be saved for the highest-priority consumers.

“But the legislation that finally emerged from Congress earlier this month placed natural gas at the center of the nation’s energy efforts — and during the months of debate, even Administration officials have turned 180 degrees on the issue. Under the new law, Federal price ceilings on newly discovered gas will be lifted by 1985. In anticipation of higher prices, gas men are already drilling at record levels. And the real bonanza may lie in exotic new sources. As gas prices rise, experts say, both independent drillers and major energy companies seem more likely to commit the huge investments required to tap gas trapped in deep basins or in tight sand, rock and coal formations.”

What was used to tap some of these exotic new sources? You guessed it.

“In many parts of the Northwest, large deposits of shale laid down in the Devonian age contain quantities of gas estimated at 10 trillion to 600 trillion cubic feet. The advantage of the Devonian deposits is that their gas is close to the surface of the earth — and also to gas-starved markets. Their big disadvantage is the tight grip the dense shale holds on its gas, frustrating attempts to make it flow fast enough for economical production.

“Experiments are under way to enhance the flow through advanced hydraulic fracturing. Coarse sand, bauxite pellets or glass beads are mixed with fluid pumped into the shale under high pressure to crack the rock and wedge the cracks open to allow the gas to escape.”

A ‘moderate’ risk turned out not to be

As these articles make obvious, fracking was utterly routine decades ago. And were environmentalists terrified by the practice? No, not at all. A study by the U.S. Energy Department cited in a July 21, 1979, National Journal article found that environmental concerns associated with “massive hydraulic fracturing — using water and various chemical compounds at high pressure — [were] ‘moderate’ … They include the degradation of air quality during site preparation and fracturing activities and the risk of surface water contamination.”

These “moderate” concerns never turned into a major issue. Fracking has been common for more than 30 years. So why all of sudden is it now depicted as an evil assault on Mother Earth by environmentalists? Because in the past decade, dramatic gains in its efficiency and effectiveness have made it a game changer, allowing drilling to access immense oil and natural gas reserves in North America that heretofore were considered either unreachable or prohibitively expensive to reach.

What’s the key to this radical improvement in efficiency? To hear how environmentalists carry on about the immense danger posed by fracking, one might assume it’s the use of much more dangerous chemicals in the high-powered water streams used to break up rock formations limiting the access to reserves.

That’s not remotely the case. Instead, it’s raw computational power and technological ingenuity combined with growing knowledge of how to best break down different types of undeground rock.

The high-tech revolution in drilling

The March 2012 World Oil trade publication’s description of the sophistication of modern fracking has a science-fiction feel:

“It’s not a stretch to suggest that we are now witnessing the latest technology worthy of joining the geoscience canon of innovation. Who, after all, would have thought of laying out hundreds or even thousands of passive seismic receivers over many square miles to set up what is, in effect, a giant microphone, thousands of feet above a shale oil or gas reservoir. This microphone allows geoscientists to record and map the exact location of the cracks created by hydraulic fracture operations in real time.

“It turns out that this technique offers an exceptionally economic method for monitoring hydraulic fracturing operations across a whole shale oil or gas field. Reservoir engineers can optimize reservoir depletion in a way previously not possible, thereby significantly increasing the return on a company’s asset. Just as important, the microseismic monitoring system is able to provide the factual evidence necessary to deflect environmental objections to hydraulic fracturing; for example, the perceived threat of contamination to public water supplies.”

That latter part is crucial: The vast data-crunching that makes fracking so much more productive than it used to be also will insulate it from the alarmism that fossil fuel haters are trying to sow.

But will California’s environmental journalists bother to read beyond the NRDC press releases? Will they talk to the experts who say not only is fracking environmentally safe, but its increasing sophistication is also making it steadily cleaner? Will they share with their readers that fracking has been “massively” used since the 1970s without the catastrophes we’re now warned about? Will they acknowledge that if the Golden State chooses not to join the revolution, it is likely to be an outlier, because states and nations where green energy is less of a religion are lining up to take advantage of the fracking revolution?

We shall see.


Write a comment
  1. Tom Tanton
    Tom Tanton 26 December, 2012, 06:25

    I usually know pretty quick if a journalist is actually practicing journalism. IF they call name hydraulic fracturing ‘controversial’ or worse call “Promised Land” a documentary. In the first instance, fracturing is only ‘controversial’ because NRDC and Sierra Club have deemed it so, simply because there’s more than adequate science to show it’s safe and effective.
    Nicely done, Mr. Reed.

    Reply this comment
  2. Scott
    Scott 26 December, 2012, 06:51

    Here are the realities of living where gas drilling and fracking are taking place. Increased crime, truck traffic, plummeting property values, and quality of life are forever changed. Know what you’re getting before you decide. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL062539BFB8A2B2D4

    Long safe history? Pennsylvania has over 100,000 abandoned gas wells from 60 years ago, most of them leaking methane into local aquafers. Do a Google search, you’ll see what I’m talking about

    Reply this comment
  3. Burt Wilson
    Burt Wilson 26 December, 2012, 10:28

    Reed is a good propagandist. But he loses a lot when he writes that frackings “increasing sophistication is also making it steadily cleaner.” This means, of course, that it’s now dirty. Bam! Argument lost. Occidental wants to frack 154 wells in the coming year, but when I asked their media department where the water would come from, they refused to answer. Ah yes, failure to discloseon a toxic substance. Nice. Reed says we should use fracking because it’s been around for 65 years. Child slavery has been around a lot longer than that, but does that mean we should continue using it? Reed also gives us a photo of a well–not a fracking well, but a verticle bore well. Why? Because a fracking well takes acres of area for all the attendant vehicles, etc. And dlastly, he talks about Carter and new regulations that boosted natural gas exploration. Ddo you want to know what really happened? The legislation gave a tax exemption for drilling new wells, so what did the NG industry do. They capped all their old, still producing wells, and drilled “new wells” right next to them. Bravo, Mr. Reed. Keep up the good work!

    Reply this comment
  4. Paul S
    Paul S 27 December, 2012, 16:50

    We have been fracking for natural gas in Alberta, Canada for 4 decades now and. Everyone here is scratching their heads over this current paranoia about fracking.

    Scott suggests doing a Google search for folks to ‘educate’ themselves. But there is a ton of junk science on the subject on Google. As for Burt, it’s hard to make sense on what he is talking about.

    Fracking, for those who have lived around it for decades and decades, is a complete non-issue here. Even Canadian environmentalists support fracking because natural gas is such a clean source of fuel.

    Reply this comment
  5. Lee Reynolds
    Lee Reynolds 27 December, 2012, 17:06

    The job of the media is as follows:

    1) Tell the truth only when it fits The Narrative.
    2) Distort facts that fail to fit the Narrative, and tell outright lies when possible.
    3) Ignore facts that cannot be distorted per #2
    4) Make noise to distract public attention away from any story that they cannot control

    So yeah, the media is going to lie, distort, and ignore everything it can.

    This is what happens when you let Marxist subversives capture the institutions of journalism.

    Reply this comment
  6. Jeff mccabe
    Jeff mccabe 27 December, 2012, 17:35

    Actually, he says that cracking has been used without incident for 65 years. At what period of time are you claiming child slavery has been without incident? And no, saying its steadily cleaner does not mean its now dirty. It means it’s getting steadily cleaner. I hope you don’t make decisions on other things with this sort of logic.

    Reply this comment
  7. TexasJew
    TexasJew 27 December, 2012, 17:40

    As a matter of fact, JR Ewing discussed the benefits of fracing in the first season of Dallas

    Reply this comment
  8. TexasJew
    TexasJew 27 December, 2012, 17:44

    Burt Wilson
    You are woefully ignorant about this subject, comparing fracing to child labor
    No one is going to drill next to a depleted well
    No wonder California is going down the toilet

    Reply this comment
  9. Richard Windsor
    Richard Windsor 27 December, 2012, 17:52

    “Scott” and “Burt Wilson”,

    As good believers in the propaganda of the Sierra Club, Earth First, and their ilk, you must sign the Petition Against DiHydrogen Monoxide! Do it now!


    Reply this comment
  10. Orson Olson
    Orson Olson 27 December, 2012, 17:56

    Methane leaks naturally into aquifers, too (cf, “Gasland”). The pretense of “dangerous untested fracking” is pure politics.

    So who the Hell am I? Just an environmental scientist from the frack-happy West – places like Wyoming and Colorado who, ahem actually know Bull… when they see it…. Instead of ridiculous propaganda.

    But the political Left is in the grip of severe psychotic delusions, and is in no way able to move past it, into the reality-based community that shares the rest of the world. Good luck with going without reality!

    Reply this comment
  11. robin4
    robin4 27 December, 2012, 18:03

    Scott and Burt
    Don’t worry.
    It’s California.
    There won’t be any more drilling or “fracking.”
    We will just keep raising taxes, and the world will be a better place.
    What is it that makes those cars go and keeps the lights on?
    There should be a law that we receive energy without risk, and California is just the place where it would pass!

    Reply this comment
  12. SDN
    SDN 27 December, 2012, 18:10

    Scott, bull…. of the purest ray serene.

    More people = more criminals (judging by the news, more green companies more criminals).

    Reply this comment
  13. askeptic
    askeptic 27 December, 2012, 18:13

    The only mention that will be made by the LAT, SF-Chron, and The Bees, will be to denounce it – they have their marching orders.

    Restore Hetch-Hetchy!

    Reply this comment
  14. eck
    eck 27 December, 2012, 18:42

    You guys need to implement some sort (there are many) gaurds against the above automated stuff

    Reply this comment
  15. eck
    eck 27 December, 2012, 18:46

    Oh, and Burt, you’re obviously an idiot. Get your facts straight man!

    And Scott, where is any data to back up your claims? C’mon give us at least one.

    Reply this comment
  16. Bill M
    Bill M 27 December, 2012, 19:35

    Scott is full of it. I live in Texas and we have thousands more wells than PA and I am in the middle of a big play without problems. Property values went UP due to demand for housing.

    Reply this comment
  17. Chris Reed
    Chris Reed 27 December, 2012, 20:11

    I actually like no. 4 — lets me know Instapundit picked it up.

    As for fracking’s critics, c’mon, guys, how can you ignore the fact that YOU DIDN’T CARE about fracking until it became really efficient?

    In other words, you found reasons to hate it that you didn’t see before, when it was inefficient.

    Reply this comment
  18. stephen
    stephen 27 December, 2012, 21:01

    Scott would you come to midland Texas and show me some plummeting property prices. Any were vast amounts of people are moving into the area for good high paying jobs does what to property prices? Common Scott what’s the answer. These jobs will generally pay 80,000 to 100,000 a year starting out. You may work 80 to 100+ hours a week but it pays good for someone just starting out. I live on a family farm that has 160 acres. It has 3 new oil wells and 3 old plugged wells. I’m the 4th generation on this land and we have had zero problems all this time. Each of the new oil wells takes up less than 1.5 acres Mr Burt. As for the old plugged wells you would never know they were ever drilled and produced from.

    Reply this comment
  19. stephen
    stephen 27 December, 2012, 21:31

    OChris I think you published one of the best articles yet on this so called contruvisural fracking. I do know a verticle bore well photo when i see one but we call that a drilling rig photo. A frack job photo is not that big of a deal any how. Most frack jobs look like 10 or 15 trucks with trailers parked very close and a few frac tanks lined up. Chris some people have said and wrote a few things in plain english for 65 years or longer but that does not mean they know what they are talking about.

    Reply this comment
  20. Phil
    Phil 28 December, 2012, 06:58

    Burt, even though most fracking now occurs on directionally drilled wells, the drilling operation still uses a derrick like the one pictured. The first mile or more of depth is vertical.

    You are right that fracking requires a bunch of attendant vehicles–but only temporarily. Typically a week or less. And a couple acres is sufficient. After fracking, some separator equipment stays for several months to collect the water for reuse.

    After that, the permanent install needs only a couple hundred square feet.

    Reply this comment
  21. PJ
    PJ 28 December, 2012, 08:06

    No, instead of carefully embarking on a win-win energy plan, California will continue to bow before the gods of the sun and wind. So what if our work force is reduced to third world status? CA workers are now being recruited by Canadian firms that are building, drilling, and mining like crazy. Men leave their families and send money home or move them up North. Sound familiar?


    Reply this comment

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