Saturday, April 13, 2013

Scale of shale “oil patch” beyond historical comparison


I drove across part of the oil patch this week. I left early Monday morning from Endicott, New York and headed west at a good clip on Intestate 86. By late afternoon, 390 miles down the road, I was in Oberlin Ohio.

Oil patch --- It’s a term of endearment in oil and gas circles that suggests the colloquial charm and Ol’ Boy character of the industry. Unthreatening, familiar, folksy, agricultural, and local … Like a pumpkin patch. It conjures a notion that – contrary to hype -- there’s nothing really new or fanciful about fracking.

Yet, nomenclature aside, there is nothing old-fashion about 21st century shale gas development. The scale of resource alone – take a drive across Devonian ”oil patch” sometime – is a primary distinction. So are the “unconventional” practices that make drawing gas from rock possible. High volume hydraulic fracturing and computer-modeled horizontal drilling have spurred an on-shore drilling boom as dissimilar to yesteryear’s oil patches as Big Ag and ethanol production is to Ma and Pa’s back 40.  Even so, regulatory controls on the industry remain stuck in the past – a time prior to regional planning and national hazardous waste disposal laws, when toxic loads were legally disposed of in the ground or injected into rivers.

I drove across portions of the Marcellus and Utica shales that collectively encompass the sub-surface of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, including many regions that have never before been touched by the extraction industry. The sheer footprint of these resources and others like them throughout the country have increased the number of stakeholders with futures, for worse or better, tied to their development. (For an areal view of the oil patch, check out this video by Peter Saltonstall.)

What will this look like and what legacy will it leave for the next generation? Numbers, information and reports on the Internet have provided a convenient way to extract information on demand, often minus complexity, nuances and noises of real life.  But, as editors like to emphasize to reporters, nothing replaces being there. Writing Under the Surface has provided me with an unexpected windfall of information, perspective, and sources that comes with invitations from various stakeholders to speak on the subject. Inevitably this brings me to places where I would not have otherwise gone, and puts me in touch with stories I would not have otherwise seen. This past week I visited with activists at a potluck dinner at the basement of Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio; spoke with a worker on the job at an injection well in central Ohio; and visited an area where wildcatters have begun exploring the Utica shale in western Pa. More on that in my next post.

9 comments:

  1. The scale of the proposed shale gas development is one of the main reasons that I am opposed to fracking for shale gas. Even if each and every well could be safely drilled and fracked (a goal that is currently and will probably forever remain in the realm of fantasy), the sheer number of wells required would necessitate industrializing a lot of land that is currently used for agriculture, residences, recreation, and habitat for native plants and animals. In all of the reading I have done about the shale gas issue, I have very, very rarely come across pro-drilling articles that are willing to estimate how many shale gas wells would be needed in order to fulfill the industry's optimistic projections of the total amount of gas that could be extracted from shale in the U.S. Full development of the Marcellus Shale alone would probably require something on the order of 100,000 gas wells, resulting in six or seven more years' worth of n. gas for this country at current rates of consumption. That does not seem like a reasonable tradeoff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. right there with you. Not to mention the crippling drought we're in over much of the country and the massive water needed parents another problem. I'm getting myself up to speed on the particulars of fracking, but uh am led to believe the drillers rarely hit their targets compared to their rosy projections, at least on a per-well basis.

      Delete
  2. Do you have any good links on the financing side, I've read about a looming bubble, something about contracts that over-promise quantity + typical wall st shenanigans- what worries me is that if the only way to not blow up the economy is to drill baby drill x10 and export too, there won't be any stopping this frakking bs. Also I'm not too far from site of a proposed LNG terminal on the Colombia River. I already lost one of my favorite surf spots in baja to one of those, I'm not emotionally tied to the Colombia but i am kinda fond of, you know, the planet in it's current state. I'm not unaware of the massive amounts of gas and oil it takes to run this place but fracking has gotta haves it's limits. Doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've had these same thoughts on hydraulic fracturing horizontal wells. What's the long term scenario? One of my major concerns is post closure of a well. Well fractures can't get grouted, only the well casing. So these become perpetual shortcuts for gases and liquids to migrate up to the surface - that hadn't previously been there.

    What we're doing is turning America into West Texas. People moved to Midland because of oil. Not because of agriculture or water. People moved to places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and other similar places because of agriculture and water. Not oil.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is very sobering to read the projections..most recently 3-8000 gas wells projected for Susquehanna County...the numbers are staggering. Not one projection includes the humans that live in this one large "patch" or gasfield. We are very frightened and frustrated. But do keep on writing Tom. I am hoping I can handle the truth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yoko, Thanks for the projections. Can we source this? Is this from the Nature Conservancy Report, or something more recent?

      Delete
  5. The EIA estimate is that there are about 141 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable gas in the Marcellus Shale, with an average estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) per well of about 1.56 billion cubic feet. See:

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/table_21.cfm

    Using those figures, we can calculate that more than 90,000 wells would be needed to get the estimated 141 tcf.

    The EIA estimates that we can expect an average well spacing of about 4.9 shale gas wells per square mile. The area of Susquehanna County is about 800 square miles, so at a spacing of 4.9 wells per square mile, we could expect to see about 3900 wells in the county--a number that is in line with the numbers reported by yoko.

    For me, this is one of the most staggering impacts of shale gas extraction--the well densities required are very high--much higher than what NE PA has seen to date.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The post was made 4/9/13 on Energy In Depth Marcellus Initiative WHOLE LOTTA GAS was the title. I cannot picture us living in the middle of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Yoko. Just read that. It's a candid indusry-eye view of the wealth locked in the resource and a must-read for any stakeholder

      http://eidmarcellus.org/marcellus-shale/whole-lotta-natural-gas-goin-on-in-susquehanna-county/19232/

      Delete