College of Law Center for Energy and Sustainable Development

Energy Forward Blog

Articles tagged with: hydraulic_fracturing

7 Nov

James Van Nostrand
November 7, 2012

New York Times Dot Earth Blog
November 5, 2012

How Natural Gas Kept Some Spots Bright and Warm as Sandy Blasted New York City
Andrew C. Revkin

My former colleague at Pace University, Andrew Revkin of New York Times Dot Earth fame, wrote an excellent post praising the role of natural gas in keeping the lights on in some parts of New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The well-kept secret, and one that deserves more attention, is the use of natural gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) facilities to generate electricity and heat. New York University, for example, was able to go into “island mode,” and thereby maintain essential services on its Washington Square campus as the electric grid around it went dark. NYU had the foresight to install a grid of its own – referred to as a “micro grid” – which allows it to rely on natural gas-fired cogeneration facilities to provide a large portion of its electricity supply. More important, the heat that is produced in generating electricity, which is simply released into the atmosphere in typical large electric generating plants, is captured and used to heat and cool NYU’s buildings. Hence, the name combined heat and power, or recycled energy.

Two other former colleagues from my days at Pace Law School, Tom Bourgeois (Deputy Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center) and Bill Pentland (a frequent contributor to make the case for CHP in Revkin’s blog post. According to Pentland,

Today’s electric grid was not designed to survive strong winds, storm surges, falling trees and flying debris and seems ludicrously inadequate for the demands of America’s increasingly digital and connected economy. The costs of hardening the electric grid will be vast. One widely cited study by the Brattle Group estimated that the electric utility industry will need to invest a $1.5 trillion to $2.0 trillion in infrastructure upgrades by 2030.

Despite spending epic sums of money on the so-called “smart grid,” the electric power grid seems as stupid as it was before spending billions in federal stimulus dollars.

Why throw good money after bad if we have a compelling alternative? And make no mistake about it, we have a compelling alternative to the conventional electric grid. It is commonly called the North American natural gas infrastructure.

Bourgeois, for his part, is a lifelong CHP advocate, and co-directs the DOE-funded Northeast Clean Energy Application Center, which is charged with promoting CHP and district energy throughout the Northeast. Here is the vision of the future electricity system articulated by Bourgeois:

We need a new vision of the electric generation, transmission and distribution system rather than one that moves electricity generated at remote locations, arriving at the point of end use . . . with a loss of 67 percent of otherwise valuable thermal energy. We need some pilots of operating micro-grids and district systems with combined heat and power that ought to represent the energy system of the future. Go beyond thinking of individual building efficiency to zero-energy blocks or neighborhoods. A vision of optimally creating a suite of resources, efficiency, photovoltaics, clean distributed generation, demand response, storage, all managed in synch with the larger transmission and distribution system.

The 67 percent figure to which Bourgeois refers is the energy efficiency of a typical large, central electric generating station, which reflects the discharge of the “waste” heat into the atmosphere instead of capturing it and using it to heat and cool buildings, as CHP systems do, thereby allowing them to achieve efficiencies that reduce the loss to less than 30 percent.

One can hardly disagree with Revkin’s conclusion: “[G]iven the role natural gas played in keeping the lights on in otherwise darkened parts of the city after this storm, it’s clear that this resource can play an important part in building a robust, resilient and flexible electricity and energy grid for the city and region.” This solution has even greater relevance in West Virginia, where we have an interest in stimulating demand for natural gas as a means of stabilizing natural gas prices, which in turn will allow the Marcellus shale resource to be tapped for the benefit of West Virginians. Policymakers in West Virginia should be pursuing measures that encourage the development of CHP facilities in the State. Large industrial facilities, for example, are prime targets for CHP installations. In addition to consuming large quantities of natural gas – which helps the “demand” side of the natural gas market in this State – the electricity produced by CHP facilities can provide some insulation from the inevitable electricity price increases that electric ratepayers in the State will continue to pay for the foreseeable future as a consequence of previous decisions by investor-owned utilities (AEP and First Energy) to rely almost exclusively on coal for electricity generation. We need our manufacturing and heavy industry to be competitive, and natural gas-fired CHP can play a huge role in that. And this is all in addition to the undisputed reliability and efficiency benefits of CHP noted by Messrs. Revkin, Bourgeois and Pentland.

26 Jul

James Van Nostrand
July 26, 2012

NY Times
July 21, 2012

There’s Still Hope for the Planet
David Leonhardt

The United States is now enduring its warmest year on record, and the 13 warmest years for the entire planet have all occurred since 1998, according to data that stretches back to 1880. Atlanta has recorded its hottest day in history this year. Dallas endured 40 straight days above 100 degrees last July and August — and this year so far has been even hotter than last year. As David Leonhardt acknowledges in this column, “[n]o one day’s weather can be tied to global warming, of course, but more than a decade’s worth of changing weather surely can be.” Although the country is moving further away from doing something about climate change through legislation at the federal level, the nation’s energy supply is nonetheless becoming de-carbonized. Low natural gas prices, as a result of the new supplies that can cost-effectively be extracted through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, have stimulated rapid growth in gas-fired electricity generation, to the point where natural gas-fired generation is virtually tied with coal-fired generation in recent months.

Leonhardt observes in this column that “[g]overnments have played a crucial role in financing many of the most important technological inventions of the past century,” including hydraulic fracturing, nuclear and hydropower, all of which have combined to reduce the carbon emissions associated with America’s electricity supply. Leonhardt makes the case for increasing the federal support for clean energy. At the recent peak, in 2009, all federal spending on clean energy — including money for research and subsidies for households and businesses — amounted to $44 billion. This year, Washington will spend about $16 billion. The scheduled expiration of the production tax credit for wind would help reduce the total to $14 billion next year. According to Leonhardt, the sums for clean-energy research that many scientists and economists support are not huge. A politically diverse group of experts recently set a target of $25 billion a year in federal spending on research and development (some of which could come from phasing out ineffective programs).

26 Jul

James Van Nostrand
July 26, 2012

NY Times
July 23, 2012

Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout?
Michael E. Webber

About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are used for cooling electric generating plants. As the nation suffers the most widespread drought in 60 years, stretching across 29 states, the risk is great that power plants may be forced to shut down, due to the insufficient water flows to serve the cooling function. Oil and natural gas production may be threatened as well, given the millions of gallons of water necessary for hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract oil and natural gas from shale in several regions of the country. In Texas today, some cities are forbidding the use of municipal water for hydraulic fracturing. The multiyear drought in the West has lowered the snowpack and water levels behind dams, reducing their power output. The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently issued an alert that the drought was likely to exacerbate challenges to California’s electric power market this summer, with higher risks of reliability problems and scarcity-driven price increases. As climate change trends continue and the demand for energy in the U.S. continues to grow, this water vulnerability will become more important over time.

26 Jan

New York Times
January 23, 2011

Chesapeake to Cut Number of Gas Rigs
Clifford Krauss

Chesapeake Energy announced on January 23 that it is reducing production of natural gas in response to falling natural gas prices. As stated in this NY Times article, natural gas prices have been steadily falling over the last two years because of a glut stemming from the rapidly increasing production in shale fields like the Haynesville in Louisiana, the Barnett in Texas and the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And warmer-than-normal weather this winter has also cut normal seasonal demand significantly, putting further downward pressure on natural gas prices. According to the NY Times, Chesapeake’s announcement showed that the oil industry “does not know what to do with all the gas it is able to produce in shale fields, which were considered almost useless until a decade ago when new production techniques, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, were first employed in a major way.”

26 Jan

New York Times
January 25, 2011

President Obama’s State of the Union Address

President Obama gave a prominent mention to shale gas development in his State of the Union address. In his remarks on the role of oil and gas in the national energy policy, he stated the following:

And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy. Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.

Right now – right now – American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.

But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.

A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs. We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.

And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.

Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk. The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.

And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock – reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.

. . . . . .

Our experience with shale gas, our experience with natural gas, shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away.

According to the President, his administration “will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” which could “support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.” That is welcome news. But right now we have more natural gas than we need, and this glut of supply, coupled with an unusually warm winter, has resulted in natural gas prices so low that Chesapeake Energy announced earlier this week that it was cutting production of natural gas (an 8 percent cut in daily production). Chesapeake will be reallocating its investments from natural gas fields to fields that produce oil and other hydrocarbon liquids.

In addition to a policy promoting the safe development of the nation’s shale gas resources, the President needs to promote a sensible energy policy that will provide a market for this gas to be used. One solution, of course, is the NAT GAS Act, which would convert large trucks to run on compressed natural gas. The NAT GAS Act (H.R.1380 and S.1863) would accelerate the use of domestic natural gas as a transportation fuel by providing financial incentives to fleets and individuals to switch their vehicles to natural gas and to install fueling stations to service them. We should deploy our natural gas resources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and increasing the nation’s energy security. Passage of the NAT Gas Act is one means of pursuing this objective. The President should go beyond encouraging the development of shale gas resources and actively support legislation that would stimulate the market demand to help consume these newly developed natural gas resources.

23 Jan

Los Angeles Times
January 3, 2012

Let’s Do This Right
Hal Harvey

Hal Harvey, the founder of the ClimateWorks Foundation, wrote an excellent Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month with five recommended steps for “getting it right” in developing the nation’s shale gas resources. (The column was later reprinted in the Dominion Post.) Mr. Harvey’s five points:

  1. No leaks in the system. Given the global warming potential of natural gas versus CO2 (about 25 times greater), it is essential that gas leaks throughout the extraction, production and distribution process be minimized.
  2. Use gas to shut down old coal. The median age of a coal plant in the U.S. is 44 years, and the older plants are the dirtier ones for which it does not make economic sense to install scrubbers. Perhaps a better way to state this point, at least in West Virginia, is that we need to make sure that the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity does not displace the use of renewable generating sources, such as wind and solar. While natural gas-fired electric generation is roughly twice as clean as coal-fired, it is obviously not as clean as wind and solar (even under a life cycle analysis that takes into account CO2 emissions over the entire production cycle of a resource.)
  3. Strong standards for wells, with effective monitoring and enforcement. In West Virginia, the legislature recently passed, and the Governor signed, the Horizontal Well Act. The Act delegates to the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the task of developing well casing standards, and the Act substantially increases permitting fees to generate sufficient revenue for DEP to monitor and enforce compliance with the rules. Time will tell whether the rules will be sufficient, and whether DEP will have adequate resources to enforce them.
  4. Don’t allow toxic streams [from the disposal of fracking fluids] poison the land. Again, the Horizontal Well Act in West Virginia includes measures to address this issue, but there is some disagreement as to whether these measures are adequate.
  5. Drill only where it is sensible. In other words, allow zoning of natural gas development so that it is kept out of ecologically important areas.

As Mr. Harvey states, “gas can do a great deal for our energy future” in terms of energy independence, environmental benefits versus coal, and economic development (i.e., jobs). But it is important that this resource be developed in a reasonable manner that balances the environmental impacts of shale gas development against these indisputable benefits. Mr. Harvey’s recommendations offer some wise guidance on how to strike this balance properly.

30 Dec

Washington Post
December 16, 2011

A Boom in Shale Gas? Credit the Feds
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

This insightful article from the Washington Post makes the point that the breakthroughs that revolutionized the natural gas industry — massive hydraulic fracturing, new mapping tools and horizontal drilling — were made possible by strategic financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It should be noted that this same DOE is under serious attack for being unable to invest wisely in new technology, in the aftermath of the Solyndra bankruptcy (the solar firm that received $535 million in federal support but nonetheless slipped into bankruptcy last fall). In a nutshell, the technologies now used to extract natural gas from shale in a cost-effective manner were developed with the support of taxpayer dollars. And much of the early work in the 1970s was done right here in Morgantown, at the Energy Department’s Morgantown Energy Research Center. According to this article, the federal government generously subsidized drilling for non-conventional gas throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when oil and gas were cheap. The authors conclude that:

“[T]he lesson of the shale gas revolution is that we should not be so quick to judge government investments in energy technology. Between 1978 and 2007, the Energy Department spent $24 billion on fossil energy research. Billions more were spent through the Gas Research Institute and non-conventional gas tax credits. Those investments were widely panned as a failure during the ‘80s and early ‘90s, when gas was plentiful and cheap.”

30 Dec

Wyoming Star-Tribune
December 27, 2011

EPA Report: Pavillion Water Samples Improperly Tested
Jeremy Fugleberg

In early December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft report concluding that natural gas wells in the area of Papillion, Wyoming – most of which were developed using hydraulic fracturing – might have harmed groundwater. That report is now under serious attack, including allegations that EPA’s testing methods were flawed and failed to follow the agency’s own procedures. Officials with the Wyoming Water Development Commission reviewed the EPA’s publicly available information, and found that the agency’s conclusions are partially based on improperly analyzed samples from six private drinking-water wells and two EPA-drilled deep monitoring wells in Pavillion. According to their review, the EPA also found contamination in pure water control samples, didn’t purge the test wells properly before gathering samples, and didn’t mention in its report whether it tested water carried by a truck used in well drilling. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has called for a broader, state-led investigation along with the EPA, and has asked the EPA to consider including Wyoming expertise in its peer review. Given the issues that have been raised by qualified and experienced state government officials in Wyoming, that seems like a reasonable course of action.

30 Dec

December 28, 2011

Oil Giant’s Shell Game Nets Elderly Farmers
Joshua Schneyer and Brian Grow

This article from Reuters discusses that rather troubling use of shell corporations to avoid liability for voiding hundreds of land deals. It is understandable for a major gas company to use shell corporations to keep a low profile in order to avoid tipping off competitors and speculators about land leasing and drilling efforts. But the use of shell companies as a tactic to avoid liability for voiding leases, if true, is indeed troubling.

9 Dec

New York Times
December 8, 2011

E.P.A. Implicates Fracking in Pollution
Associated Press

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft finding today suggesting that fracking may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution in Wyoming. The EPA found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath Pavillion, Wyoming, a small community about 230 miles northeast of Salt Lake City where residents complained that their well water reeks of chemicals. EnCana Corp. owns about 150 wells in Pavillion. EnCana has been providing drinking water to about 21 families in Pavillion since August, 2010. Samples taken from two deep water-monitoring wells near a gas field in Pavillion showed synthetic chemicals such as glycols and alcohols “consistent with gas production and hydraulic-fracturing fluids,” according to the EPA statement.

In issuing its draft findings, the EPA also emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used elsewhere in regions with different geological characteristics. Specifically, the fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells. Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that anybody would use.

EPA’s statement notes that “[t]o ensure a transparent and rigorous analysis,” it is releasing its findings for public comment and will submit them to an independent scientific review panel.