Shale Gas Fracking Causing Friction in the UK

by Dominique Curtis

Controversy in the UK community has sparked over shale gas. Whitmarsh (2015) discusses how shale gas is the newest project the UK government has suggested to help reduce their reliance on energy ports. The community has questioned the UK’s method of fracking to extract the shale gas because fracking is known to use large amounts of water and the chemicals used in the process are toxic. Researchers and the UK government have tried to explain the great benefits that shale gas will have on the economy and the environment while attempting to pacify the communities’ concerns. Environmental groups still protested about how fracking will contaminate and decrease the availability of water supply, and cause erosion and changes in the temperature of the water in aquatic habitats. Continue reading

Will Increased Natural Gas Usage Decrease the Effects of Climate Change?


by Alex Frumkin

The improvement of hydraulic fracturing technologies in the last decade has allowed access to previously uneconomic shale gas resources across North America. Natural gas production is often touted as a way to cut carbon emissions to slow down climate change because gas-fired power plans emit roughly half as much CO2 per unit of energy produced as coal-fired plants. There are some assessments that have been completed, though, that argue that natural gas lifecycle emissions are actually higher than those of coal because of emissions from shale gas production. In line with this latter idea, Mcjeon et al. (2014), show that market-driven increases in unconventional natural gas production does not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions or climate forcing. Continue reading

Is there a relationship between proximity to natural gas wells and health?

by Alex Frumkin

There has been little research about the public health impacts of living near unconventional natural gas extraction activities. Rabinowitz et al. a (2015) aimed to assess a possible relationship by generating a health symptom survey of 492 people in households with ground-fed wells in an area of active natural gas drilling. The survey looked at the household’s proximity to gas wells and then the prevalence and frequency of reported dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms. The study found that individuals who lived within 1 km of a gas well were twice as likely to experience upper respiratory systems than individuals in households more than 1 km away. No relationship found between well proximity and any of the other possible health conditions that this survey covered. Continue reading

What can CCS learn from hydraulic fracturing acceptance?

by Alex Frumkin

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) faces potential obstacles when it comes to the development and deployment of the technology. Many of these challenges are strikingly similar to those faced by proponents of hydraulic fracturing, especially the challenge of social acceptance of this technology. Due to these similarities, Wolff et al. 2014 uses hydraulic fracturing as a comparison to identify potential strategies for future carbon capture and storage efforts. When using hydraulic fracturing industry as a comparison the authors consider not only the act of fracturing, but also the process of obtaining mineral rights and the waste removal process. This comparison is achieved by completing statistical analysis on the relationship between state demographics and the stringency of state regulations of the hydraulic fracturing industry. Ultimately, the authors find that states that are familiar with the oil and gas industry have less variable regulation of hydraulic fracturing. In addition, they recognize a disconnect between the regulations of hydraulic fracturing at the state level and at the local level. This tension suggests that carbon storage proponents should focus on local engagement not just on state level. Continue reading

c Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing

by Alex Frumkin

Hydraulic fracturing is considered controversial for many reasons, including the possible negative environmental impacts, the possible economic benefits of development, and reduction of reliance on foreign oil. Previous national opinion polls have indicated that a sizable minority of the population lack familiarity with this largely unregulated field. Boudet et al. (2014) studied different socio-demographic indicators will predict support of or opposition to hydraulic fracturing. Continue reading

Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

By Alex Frumkin

Directional drilling and hydraulic-fracturing technologies are dramatically increasing natural-gas extraction across the United States. Hydraulic fracturing remains largely unregulated at the Federal level regardless of the growing concerns about contamination of drinking water. However, the potential contamination risks in shallow drinking-water systems are still not fully understood, and a topic of study for many scientists. There are four main reasons why scientists and public health officials are concerned about methane contamination in the ground water: that the chemicals use in fracturing fluid can leak into the ground water, that the water can become explosive if methane levels are high enough, that the methane could be released into the environment, and that the untested and unregulated shallow ground water in rural areas near drilling sites could be ingested during household or agricultural use. Scientists have continued to study whether water wells are being contaminated in any of these ways by hydraulic fracturing and drilling. Continue reading

How Well Does CO2 Adsorb onto Shale?

by Emil Morhardt

If one of the big advantages of using supercritical CO2 rather than water for fracturing shale is that it effectively disposes of the CO2 by absorption onto the shale (Middleton et al. 2013—see Jan 13 post), some experimental evidence would be useful. This is provided by Lafortune et al. (2014) who obtained a sample of shale from a Mesozoic marine basin in France, dried and crushed it, put it on an ultrasensitive balance, and flooded it with CO2 at various pressures and temperatures. The highest pressure was 9 MPa (90 bar, or 90 times atmospheric sea level pressure) and the highest temperature 328 K (131ºF), just at the combination of temperature and pressure at which CO2 becomes supercritical (see figure). This is only about a tenth of the pressure sometimes achieved in actual hydraulic fracking, and probably a somewhat lower temperature than normally used, but might be all that is necessary when using supercritical CO2. The higher the temperature the less CO2 adsorbed onto the shale so that the observation by Middleton et al. that temperatures of supercritical CO2 drop suddenly at the shale when the pressure is released augur well for increasing CO2 adsorption. There was a nearly linear increase in the amount of CO2 adsorption onto the shale with pressure, with no sign of leveling off at the pressures these experimenters used, so that too suggests an effective means of both sequestering CO2 and releasing methane, although the adsorption was not as high as it would have been on coal, someplace else it might be profitably sequestered. Continue reading

Using Supercritical CO2 Instead of Water for Fracking

by Emil Morhardt

The purpose of hydraulic fracturing is to use high pressure to open up pores in deep fuel-bearing shale deposits so that the oil or natural gas can escape through boreholes to the surface. To make this work, very high pressures (hence, much surface equipment) and a great deal of water are required. To keep the pores propped open when the pressure and water recede, something (usually sand) needs to be included. The inclusion of acid can increase pore efficiency, and because water is a good biological medium, antibacterial agents may be required to prevent fouling. Finally, most of the fracking fluid returns to the surface where it presents a treatment and disposal problem. But in theory, any liquid, or supercritical substance, would work, supercritical CO2, for example. According to a study underway at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Middleton et al. 2014) sCO2 has a number of potential advantages over water, and some potential disadvantages as well. Continue reading

Shale Gas Development Poses Threats to Regional Biodiversity

by Shannon Julius

Shale gas development physically and chemically alters the surrounding landscape, and native plants and animals can be particularly susceptible to these changes. In the Marcellus and Utica shale region—a largely forested area that encompasses the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia—shale gas wells are being drilled with increasing density. A shale gas installation, including the well pad, compressor station, and storage areas, requires 3.56 ha on average. If an edge effect is considered, installations can affect approximately 15 ha of forest per site. Kiviat (2013) reviewed the potential ways that shale gas development can impact biodiversity. The most serious threats are physical alteration of terrestrial landscapes, chemical contamination of water and soil, and alteration of regional hydrology. Terrestrial alterations include construction of well installations, which cause deforestation and habitat loss, and construction of roads and pipelines, which create forest fragmentation. Chemical contaminants come from fracturing fluid and recovered wastewater. Hydrologic alterations are caused by water withdrawals and an increase in impermeable surfaces. Minor impacts on plant and animal health can come from noise, light, and air quality. Certain species are particularly at risk from shale gas development activities and some are able to thrive in the altered conditions. Continue reading

How Long will the Fayetteville Fracking Play Last?

by Emil Morhardt

How long will shale gas be available until it plays out? The Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) at the University of Texas at Austin is making a concerted effort to find out for the four largest shale plays currently in development in the US. The first they reported on was the Barnett Shale in Texas. The topic of this post is their second study, conducted on the Fayetteville (Arkansas) Shale by John Browning and eleven colleagues at the BEG. The overall answer is a long time—but well short of a century—with production peaking soon and falling to between half and a third of the current levels by 2030 and continuing to decline thereafter; they ran their model through 2050 and estimate the technically recoverable gas resources if economics were not an issue (38 trillion cubic feet), and the amount likely to be recovered eventually given economic reality, about half that. Continue reading