Hydraulic Fracturing the Key to a Brighter Natural-Gas Future
- Marc Edwards (Halliburton)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- May 2010
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 18 - 20
- 2010. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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This article addresses a political issue in the US, but JPT’s global readership also needs to be concerned when people, however well-intentioned, confuse fact with fiction.
In the US, most of us believed that the benefits of natural-gas development were well understood. After all, natural gas is relatively clean, efficient, and very plentiful—especially now that technology has made unconventional reserves commercially viable.
However, a political stumbling block has appeared that could threaten the future of unconventional gas development and derail the transition to this plentiful and relatively clean alternative energy source. We in the industry need to understand this threat and use our scientific expertise to overcome it.
The challenge is this: the debate surrounding the merits of natural-gas production has become significantly clouded by misinformation and false assertions. As fracturing involves pumping large amounts of material deep into the ground, many misinformed stakeholders are concerned that the fluids could infiltrate their drinking-water supply. As a result, some believe that the process of hydraulic fracturing is potentially dangerous, and they have called on their elected representatives to enact regulations to ban or limit its use.
The Real Threat
This threat to our industry is real and specific. Currently, the US Congress is considering legislation that would add a new layer of punitive hydraulic-fracturing federal regulation. At a minimum, this would expand and complicate the permitting process and require detailed disclosure of fracturing fluids. This legislation is called the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. I am concerned that Congress may threaten the forward progress of our industry and take away the jobs and the economic boost that the global economy needs right now.
Let me be clear—I am not arguing against regulation, especially considered regulation that serves to protect our health or the environment. Instead, what I am questioning is the need for broad and sweeping federal governance that stifles innovation, progress, and economic development.
We need to discourage legislators from adding federal requirements that would suppress technology development, reduce natural-gas production from unconventional sources, and, in particular, restrict development of shale gas, a resource in plentiful supply around the world. As informed participants in an industry that, perhaps more than any other, has contributed to the global economic advance of the last 100 years, we need to be active in explaining why this move is unnecessary and contrary to the public interest.
State Regulation Sufficient
In the US, state regulation of fracturing, and of the oil and gas industry in general, has a long and successful history. The 27 states that account for hydrocarbon production have permitting requirements that cover the process of locating, drilling, completing, stimulating, and operating wells. These state regulatory systems have evolved along with the oil and gas industry; some go back to the 19th century.
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