Fracking in South Texas: Spatial Landscape Impacts

by Emil Morhardt

In a Master’s thesis from the University of Texas at Austin, Jon Paul Pierre presents an interesting analysis of the effects of development (which includes a good deal of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing) in the Eagle Ford Shale play in South Texas, where more than 5,000 wells have been drilled since 2008. What he sets out to do is assess the spatial fragmentation of the landscape from the construction of drilling pads, roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure. He used 2012 aerial photography with a 1-m resolution obtained from the National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP), and over laid on that the locations of well pads, pipelines, and other infrastructure, then used Geographical Information System (GIS) tools to characterize the types of areas being disturbed. Continue reading

Instead of Flaring Natural Gas at Fracked Oil Wells, Use it to Treat Fracking Fluid

by Emil Morhardt

Seems like a good idea. Yael Rebecca Glazer just suggested it in a Masters Thesis in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. A major issue with fracking is that sometimes a lot of the fracking fluid that was pumped down the well to create the fractures comes back up, sometimes along with additional “produced” water, sometimes twice as much as was pumped down in the first place. On top of that, it is often so contaminated that it exceeds the capabilities of industrial treatment facilities, so it gets trucked to a nearby injection well and is reinserted. But injection wells are not always handy, and anyway, the water itself would be valuable if it weren’t so polluted. Meanwhile, although a fracked well might producing mainly oil, there is also often a fair amount of natural gas produced; but if there isn’t enough gas to make it economical to capture it and sell it, it is commonly flared—burned right there at the wellhead. This converts the natural gas to CO2 without using the energy released for anything at all. Maybe, thought Ms. Glazer, that free energy could be used onsite to power wastewater cleanup technologies that normally wouldn’t be considered because of their high energy costs. It also occurred to her that since lots of these wells are in the sunny, windy southwestern US, local photovoltaic panels or wind turbines might supply energy as well. This latter option is attractive when there are no convenient transmission lines to take the power offsite, even though solar or wind energy is abundant. Continue reading