Posts tagged "Dr. Robert Chase"
Ohio’s Production Numbers Don’t Tell All
Friday, May 17th, 2013 | 0 Comments
After at least an extra month of guarded anticipation, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finally released oil and gas production data on 86 wells producing from the Utica shale during 2012. Oddly enough, an article from Reuters appearing in Friday’s papers dismisses the Utica play as a bust. To quote the article written by Edward McAllister and Sabina Zawadzki:
“U.S. hopes for a new shale oil bonanza in Ohio, joining the prolific Bakken and Eagle Ford plays that have raised production to 20-year highs, were shattered on Thursday by the first hard evidence that the Utica formation was primarily gas-prone.
“Now, data from Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed that in 2012, the first full year of drilling, oil output amounted to only 636,000 barrels — about enough to fill a single small crude oil tanker. On average for the full year, output came to a mere 1,742 barrels a day (bpd) versus 780,000 bpd in North Dakota, where much of Bakken lies.”
The numbers reported to the DNR and discussed in the Reuters account would indicate that the 86 wells now producing are averaging approximately 20 barrels of oil per day. It’s hard to argue with statistics, but it’s also important to understand that on the surface, these particular ones are very misleading.
For example, Chesapeake Energy reported production on 53 wells that averaged 77 BOPD and 2097 Mcfd. The gas production rates are certainly substantial, even with only three wells being online for more than 300 days, but the oil production rates appear less than impressive. However, no mention is made of natural gas liquids (NGLs) that are being recovered from the gas. In fact, considerable NGLs are being recovered from the gas stream and are not reported as oil production to the state. Similarly, nothing is mentioned as to how the wells are being produced. Notably, due to limited pipeline capacity (a condition that is only temporary, given massive buildouts already underway), many of these wells are being “choked back” until the product can actually be sent somewhere.
In fact, nearly $10 billion is being invested in Ohio’s midstream infrastructure to help bring the gas and entrained NGLs from these wells to market. How will this impact the production from these same 86 wells going forward? No one knows for sure. But it’s safe to say that the numbers will look better when this infrastructure is in place.
In the end, the raw production numbers reported to the state represent only a snapshot of what the industry is actually doing — and, more importantly, what it’s capable of doing. No, the oil numbers are not as good as other, more mature plays, like the Eagle Ford in Texas. But the real question is, are the wells economic? Can a company invest $5-9 million to drill and complete a well in the Utica shale and make a profit on its investment? The most important numbers to a company are net present value and payout time — neither of which are reported to the State.
The Reuters report also compares the Bakken’s current production numbers to the Utica’s first year. This is hardly a fair comparison. I don’t know what the Bakken produced in its first year, but I can assure you it wasn’t 780,000 barrels of oil per day. Heck, back in the mid-1990s, the U.S. Geological Survey thought the Bakken only held about 151 million barrels of oil, a number they later had to upwardly revised by nearly 25-fold in 2008 after development began to take off. The article does not state how many wells are responsible for that production either.
Personally, I like to compare apples to apples — not apples to airplanes.
I’m not throwing in the towel on Ohio production, and we know the companies operating here in Ohio aren’t either. In fact, I’m celebrating the fact that the number of permits taken out at the DNR is steadily rising along with infrastructure development and production — which is great news for our economic future in this part of the country.
Experts Sound Off In Youngstown
Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 | 0 Comments
A panel of geologic, seismic and industry experts delivered testimony at a bipartisan legislative hearing last week at Youngstown State University. The event was organized to help the public gain a better understanding of the history of class II injection in Ohio, a process regulated by the federal EPA and directed and permitted by Ohio DNR . The specialists answered questions stemming from local concerns and misunderstandings, informing the greater-Youngstown community, and Ohio legislators, with information regarding our state’s geological makeup and the geophysics of developing our natural resources. It was a very informative night that showcased some of the unique assets that exist in Ohio above, and under ground, in regards to the development of our natural resources.
Panelists included: Dr. Robert Chase, Chair/Professor for the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Marietta College; Dr. Jeffrey Dick, Chair/Professor of Geology at Youngstown State University; Tom Stewart, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association; and David Hill, President and Consulting Geologist of David R. Hill, Inc.
Experts – Hydraulic Fracturing Not Connected to Seismic Events. No Blanket Moratorium Necessary for Class II Injection wells.
Among all the experts in attendance, two basic things were agreed upon by all. The first was that the recent seismic events in the area were not, and are not, connected to hydraulic fracturing, but rather occurred in proximity to a nearby class II underground injection well. The experts made clear that waste water is produced in an oil and gas context whether or not a well is fractured; whether or not it is vertical or horizontal; and whether or not the target formation happens to be a shale, sandstone or limestone. This fact is not only supported by those at the hearing but also by the Youngstown Vindicator in their reporting on events:
“Many Mahoning Valley residents have taken to Twitter, Facebook and have called local politicians calling for a statewide ban on fracking, mistakenly believing that the process has caused 11 Valley earthquakes this year. … The brine injections are a separate practice from fracking.” (Vindicator, Jan. 2, 2012)
The next fact agreed to by nearly all panelists, including by Dr. Bob Chase, one of the most respected academic experts on petroleum engineering issues in the country, is that a moratorium of class II UIC would be a drastic, and ill-advised action that the State of Ohio should avoid.
This sentiment was also echoed by Dr. Jeffrey Dick who indicated this in his testimony:
In his remarks, Professor Dick was also quick to mention a number of things of importance in this ongoing discussion. Mainly Ohio’s long history utilizing injection wells as a means to dispose of a number of materials, not just byproducts from oil and natural gas development :
“The state of Ohio has long established a well regulated network of class II injection wells to handle the disposal of production brine. Class II injection is the best management practice for disposal of production fluids.” (Dr. Jeffrey Dick, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 5:20)
Since April 1985, and the bipartisan passage of House Bill 501, the use of injection wells has been mandated in Ohio as the primary means to safely dispose of oil and gas wastes. However, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only industry that uses injection wells as a safe and well-regulated means of disposal. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA UIC website), other sectors that rely on injection wells include:
- food and agriculture
The UIC program, referenced by Dr. Dick in his testimony, and successfully in place since the 1980′s, was created using Federal regulations developed by the U.S. EPA. While, the state of Ohio (via ODNR) issues permits for Class II wells, the actual standards in place for construction, maintenance, and continuous monitoring of those wells are set by U.S. EPA and are implemented and enforced by ODNR.
The UIC program has been widely implemented throughout the United States with Roughly 144,000 Class II injection wells receiving more than 2 billion gallons of wastewater a day (EPA website, “What Is a Class II well?”). Of these, the state of Ohio is home to only 181 Class II injection wells – or 0.12 percent of the nation’s total. In 2011, Ohio accepted an estimated 1.03 million gallons of wastewater for disposal per day – or less than 0.05 percent (five hundredths of one percent) of the total nationwide volume. (ABJ, Oct. 2, 2011)
Dr. Dick also covered the lengthy, and successful, history the state has in regulating Class UIC wells without incident for over twenty years. Given his experience in the industry, and unique technical knowledge of Ohio’s geology and mineral resources, Dr. Dick clearly articulates that the seismic events surrounding this well, if connected, are likely based on particular factor.
Dr. Jeffrey Dick: “My thoughts on the issue would be not to complete wells into the Precambrian basement rocks. It’s that simple.” (Dr. Jeffrey Dick, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 3:08)
Gov. John Kasich and the ODNR agree with Dr. Dick as they announced recently that injection wells would be limited to a maximum depth of 8,000 feet, or the depths of Precambrian basement rocks, to avoid unintentionally encountering any fault networks.
For the benefit of our readers we provide a little background of the definition of the Precambrian rock formation or basement rock. It’s the layer of rock, or earth strata, that serves a bedrock for all layers above. The depth of this particular well was drilled more than 9,000 feet into this layer of rock. This can be troublesome because in this layer of rock there are faults and fractures that occur along, and through, the bedrock. It was Dr. Dick’s opinion that one lesson to be learned from this experience is to limit Class II UIC wells to layers above the Precambrian rock formation, whose depth varies from around 9,000 feet in northeast Ohio to approximately 12,000 feet in southeast Ohio.
The good news is that over time Class II UIC wells will become less necessary as the natural gas development industry is treating and recycling an ever growing amount of water used for their operations. In fact, in Pennsylvania some operators are now able to recycle 100% of the water used in their operations, meaning less water, and less disposal of previously used water, is needed.
While the hearing provided factual information on Ohio’s geology, as well as the characteristics of the Class II UIC program and its implementation, it also had some testy exchanges as well. One such exchange occurred when State Rep. Hagan indicated that the oil and natural gas industry is complacent in Ohio. Stating that they only embrace regulations when “They are always dragged kicking and screaming.” (4:17)
Although recent history shows a different experience as just last year industry worked pro-actively to pass Senate Bill 165, a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s natural gas regulations that received exemplary reviews from the group STRONGER for its pro-active improvements to Ohio’s natural gas regulations. To date it was the most significant change in the history of oil and gas regulations in Ohio. For background, STRONGER is composed of an independent group of academics, regulators, industry professionals and environmentalists who review state policies when requested.
Given the good work that occurred less than a year ago, EID Ohio Executive Director Tom Stewart took the opportunity to inform Representative Hagan of industries efforts on that legislation rebutting his characterization:
I took the lead on SB 165 and I take a lot of pride on how that was crafted underneath Senate Pro Tem Neihaus and under Dave Hall over at the Ohio House. Senate Bill 165, most people familiar with…policy across the United States consider SB 165 the most significant amendments to oil and gas law across the 33 producing states. Most importantly the STRONGER and state review process which came in after 165 took place backed that up and got signed off by the environmental community.” (Tom Stewart, 1/17/11, Youngstown State University,4:25)
Exceeding The Standard to Ensure Safe and Responsible Development
The hearing also provided a good venue to learn about what steps are being taken proactively by the natural gas industry to avoid any potential impacts from development.
Dr. Bob Chase: ”The wells that we drill today and the companies doing the drilling are far different than the companies that were doing the drilling here in the 1980′s…We literally have about 6 levels of protection through the zones that are most critical to the people in this room that are getting drinking water from the subsurface.” (Dr. Bob Chase, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 6:10)
The steel-and-cement casing process that prevents any contamination of the groundwater can be hard to visualize so we have included the below image to help understand what this looks like and how extensive the protections are. For an even better understanding of what this looks like you can view this video which contains a model of a natural gas well casing.
Environmental Advantages of Horizontal Drilling Technology
Finally, the experts were able to describe some of the key differences between natural gas production utilizing horizontal development and vertical development. Dr. Chase explained that if we were to develop wells using old technology (vertical development) a well would be placed every 40 acres to capture natural gas, which in a 1,280 acre unit would equate to 36 wells. With today’s implementation of horizontal development, allowing companies to access greater amounts of acreage from a limited surface area, we can develop that same area using only one 5 acre well pad, substantially minimizing the environmental footprint.
Dr. Chase: “The savings there in terms of the environment are great. It’s the most efficient way that we can possibly drill wells.” (Dr. Bob Chase, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 5:10)
The following two video’s are wrap-ups and thoughts on the hearing from panelist David Hill and Tom Stewart (respectively):
We extend our gratitude to those who came out, experts and legislators alike, to gain some factual information (grounded in science and experience) on a very important issue. In moving forward with the development of Ohio’s natural resources, we look forward to more opportunities to learn about our rich history and experience with natural gas development and how our state is uniquely prepared to be successful in this effort given the unique knowledge and expertise that exists within our state.
Marietta Times LTE Distorts Reality of Natural Gas Production in Ohio
Monday, November 14th, 2011 | 0 Comments
Today, the Marietta Times published a letter from Richard A. Wittberg, PhD., one in which Mr. Wittberg takes issue with a recent Op-Ed from our friend Dr. Robert Chase of Marietta College. The author identifies himself as a concerned public health official with some “specific points” against hydraulic fracturing. Certainly, in his role it is understandable Mr. Wittberg would seek to investigate any and all potential impacts any sort of development might have on the public.
While EID-Ohio applauds Mr. Wittberg’s service as a health official, and his previous work on behalf of the environment, it is also important to make note of some of his other roles outside of his day job in West Virginia – namely as a member of the Board of Directors of Ohio Citizen Action, an organization with a history of opposition energy development.
In it’s resource guide on hydraulic fracturing, Ohio Citizen Action cites the widely debunked movie Gasland as it’s top reference for all things related to hydraulic fracturing. Also on their go-to list, NEOGAP, an activist group with a history of vocal opposition to the energy industry as a whole.
These are hardly objective sources for information. As a result of relying on these sources, Mr. Wittberg’s letter quickly devolves into a speculative, misinformed, anti-industry piece, more reflective of an activist than a concerned official.
EID Ohio had a gander at Mr. Wittberg’s letter, and took the time to go point by point and clarify the myths and realities of his response to Dr. Chase’s article, Myths and Realities of Horizontal Drilling and Frac(k)ing in Ohio:
Myth: “Both Ohio and West Virginia are scrambling to catch up with how to regulate this industry. Adequate regulations are not in place yet.” (“Claim that fracking is safe is misleading,”11/14/11)
Reality: With a long history of oil and gas production, and a recent, massive update of state oil & gas law, Ohio has been recognized by outside peer review groups as having a well-managed regulatory program as it relates specifically to hydraulic fracturing. Actually, Ohio oil and gas regulations are regarded as some of the most stringent in the nation:
- In 2010, Governor Ted Strickland signed Senate Bill 165 into law. The bill, passed through the state house and senate with bi-partisan support, was a comprehensive update to Ohio’s existing regulations in Ohio Revised Code 1509. It was the largest overhaul of oil and gas law in more than two decades, designed to address public concerns as well as new technologies.
- In 2011, The State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) conducted a peer review of Ohio’s regulations and practices in regards to hydraulic fracturing. STRONGER is a workgroup consisting of state regulatory agencies, environmental organizations and industry groups.
- STRONGER concluded that the Ohio program is “well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives” (STRONGER Report, January 2011).
In an effort to help our readers understand the regulatory landscape facing natural gas producers in Ohio, each step of the process is regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and/or the Ohio EPA, we provide the below illustration from the Ohio EPA which summarizes the regulatory authority over oil & gas production activities:
Summary of ODNR and Ohio EPA
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
|Issues permits for drilling oil/gas wells in Ohio.Sets requirements for proper location, design and construction requirements for wells.Inspects and oversees drilling activity.Requires controls and procedures to prevent discharges and releases.Requires that wells no longer used for production are properly plugged.Requires registration for facility owners with the capacity to withdraw water at a quantity greater than 100,000 gallons per day.||Requires drillers obtain authorization for construction activity where there is an impact to a wetland, stream, river or other water of the state.Requires drillers obtain an air permit-to-install and operate (PTIO) for units or activities that have emissions of air pollutants.|
and drill cutting management
at drill sites
|Sets design requirements for on-site pits/lagoons used to store drill cuttings and brine/flowback water.Requires proper closure of on-site pits/lagoons after drilling is completed.Sets standards for managing drill cuttings and sediments left on-site.||Requires proper management of solid wastes shipped off-site for disposal.|
|Regulates the disposal of brine and oversees operation of Class II wells used to inject oil/gas-related waste fluids.Reviews specifications and issues permits for Class II wells.Sets design/construction requirements for Class II underground injection wells.Responds to questions/concerns from citizens regarding safety of drinking water from private wells from oil/natural gas drilling.|
|Registers transporters hauling brine and oil/gas drilling-related wastewater in Ohio.|
|Pumping water to the drill site from a public water supply system||Requires proper containment devices at the point of connection to protect the public water system.|
Myth: “hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Clean Water Act. Drillers claims that what they put down the well is 99.5 percent water and sand, but the last 0.5 percent is highly toxic and dangerous in our water supply.” (“Claim that fracking is safe is misleading,” 11/14/11)
Reality: It is important to understand that “frac fluid” is comprised of 99.5% water and sand. The remaining additives – highly diluted and less than 1% – are compounds found in commonly used household items. One of the more frequently used additives here in Ohio is guar gum, a complex carbohydrate used as a thickener for daily products like yogurt and ice cream.
- Here again, Mr. Wittberg references a danger to our water supply, ignoring the fact that in the In the past 60 years, there has been no confirmed case of water contamination caused as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process.
- In 2004, the EPA released the findings of a five-year investigation on hydraulic fracturing commissioned under the Clinton Administration, and concluded there was no record of drinking water contamination as a result of the fracturing process:
National Study Final Report, June 2004:
“EPA has concluded that additional or further study is not warranted at this time. In making this decision, EPA reviewed more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, other research, and public comments. The Agency has concluded that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into (CBM) wells poses minimal threat to USDWs.” (June, 2004)
“In its review of incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing, EPA found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluids. Further, although thousands of CBM wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells.” (June, 2004)
*(USDWs- underground sources of drinking water)
Carol Browner, EPA Administrator under President Bill Clinton, stated in 1995 there is “no evidence” that hydraulic fracturing has resulted in drinking water contamination or endangerment. This was followed by current EPA Director Lisa Jackson who also affirmed the safety of hydraulic fracturing, when she said during congressional testimony: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water,” (May, 2011).
As far as the claim that hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Clean Water Act, Mr. Wittberg appears again to be getting his oft repeated, factually inaccurate, talking points from Josh Fox and Gasland:
GasLand myth: “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act…and about a dozen other environmental regulations.” (6:05).
Actual truth: What occurred in 2005 was anything but an exemption. In 1997, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached a decision in a case, LEAF v. EPA, which over-ruled U.S. EPA’s correct determination that hydraulic fracturing was not covered under the class II underground injection program (it hadn’t been covered since the program’s inception). In over-ruling the EPA, the court’s decision temporarily altered the purpose, and intent of, the class II underground injection program and as a result hydraulic fracturing and other programs were affected. Seeing this incorrect judicial determination, Congress clarified their original intent in the 2005 energy bill which was supported by nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate, including then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill.
Myth(s): “I believe Dr. Chase is correct that leaks from the well casings that contaminate the groundwater are rare now due to improvements in the technology. However…
a) The plastic lined ponds in which this water is stored are certainly not proof against leaks, and I know of several that are leaking. This is a potential and likely source of groundwater contamination.
Reality: First of all most producers in Ohio are using closed loop systems (we cover this further below). For example, the largest producer in Ohio, Chesapeake Energy, employs closed loop systems (see page 13) in their operations. As for what Dr. Wittberg reportedly witnessed, I hope he reported these supposed leaks. I am sure both the company and ODNR would like to know where these leaks are taking place so they can repair and clean up these areas. ODNR will respond to any citizen complaint in 24 hours. In fact, if this claim is true, I would advise Dr. Wittberg to read Ohio Revised Code 1509.22. If ODNR finds any of the author’s statements to be true they have the ability to make the operator cease operations and fix the problem immediately.
b) I also know of several of these ponds built on excessive slopes whose dikes have failed, spilling their contents down the sides of the hill (killing most of the vegetation) and contaminating the stream at the bottom.” (“Claim that fracking is safe is misleading,” 11/14/11)
Reality: Unlike 1509.72 discusses the time required by law to close pits used for temporary storage of produced waters – which is 3 months for urban, 6 months for all other areas.
However, all that being said. In Ohio, most producers are using a closed loop system to manage materials and recycle their flowback water. Closed loop systems directly channel all drilling wastes (muds, water, etc) to steel containers for recycling and/or disposal. This results in these materials never having an opportunity to come in contact with the environment. In fact, in a review (featured in the above link) the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project ( a known industry critic) commended these systems for their beneficial impacts when employed. So in a sense we agree, what happens in West Virginia should stay in West Virginia.
Myth: “Ohio and West Virginia are littered with old oil and gas wells. While Dr. Chase is correct that the fracturing process is very, very unlikely to cause fractures from the depth of the well to the groundwater, in many areas it does not have to. Old wells elsewhere have been the conduits for contamination of the groundwater and air.” (“Claim that fracking is safe is misleading,” 11/14/11)
Reality: Again, the overwhelming amount of evidence from unbiased peer-reviewed, and government sanctioned reports, do not show any groundwater impacts from hydraulic fracturing operations, through a conduit or otherwise.
Ohio does have orphan wells, but Ohio also has an orphan well program, funded by industry to plug those wells. If you have an orphan well on your land, you should contact ODNR. They will work to find the owner and make them plug the well. If the owner is no longer operating, the Orphan Well program is used to plug the well at no cost to the landowner.
But onto the assertion that these wells can be used as channels or contamination pathways. First and foremost, the Marcellus and Utica Shales are locked between the Tully limestone formation and the Onondanga limestone. Both of these are impenetrable layers of rock that safeguard the layers of soil beyond their boundaries making it incredibly difficult, and geologically impossible, for fluid migration to occur over thousands of feet in an upward direction (hence the need to hydraulicly fracture to stimulate natural gas production). ODNR’s Larry Wickstrom’s has a great presentation on shale development, providing a good illustration of these formations.
Secondly, In hydraulic fracturing operators literally have the ability to see underground thanks to intricate seismic data, pressure mapping, and other highly sophisticated technologies. Each step of the hydraulic fracturing process is mapped out beforehand in methodic detail and is monitored by a team of professionals. This occurs from a data monitoring van which tracks every second of the hydraulic fracturing process. From the location the well is originally placed to take advantage of natural fractures in the shale deposit below to the successful operation of the fracturing job there is not an ounce of work that is not properly planned and subject to extensive oversight including taking into account any old wells that may exist in the area.
Myth: “Dr. Chase points out that there have been no documented cases of ground water contamination in Ohio due to fracking. Officials in environmental protection have told me that by industry’s definition, it will never happen. Where contamination may have occurred, industry denies their involvement, and it is difficult to prove that they are. There have been no studies in peer reviewed journals verifying the safety of fracking. We are rushing forward with little regard for the long term.” (“Claim that fracking is safe is misleading,” 11/14/11)
Reality: To help correct this erroneous statement, let’s take a quick look at just two of Ohio’s peer review studies verifying the safety of hydraulic fracturing:
“Neither state has documented a single occurrence of groundwater pollution during the site preparation or well stimulation phase of operations. Despite this, Ohio has implemented more detailed notification, inspection, record keeping, and reporting requirements in response to the national debate on the process of hydraulic fracturing.”
While this review does not include West Virginia in it’s investigation, it does highlight Ohio’s long, sound track record of safe, responsible energy development with high regard for the long term. Of course there is always the STRONGER Report we mentioned earlier, what did it have to say:
“Hydraulic fracturing began in Ohio in the 1950s. Most wells drilled and completed today are completed by hydraulic fracturing operations. Most of these wells are vertical wells. Although an estimated 80,000 wells have been fractured in Ohio, state agencies have not identified a single instance where groundwater has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing operations.”
I touched on the STRONGER report earlier, however for clarification, it is worth mentioning again that it was just this year the peer review of Ohio’s regulations were completed. Again, this is a workgroup consisting of state regulatory agencies, environmental organizations and industry groups.
Ohio State regulators have confirmed the findings in these studies over the years:
“Historically, since we have been tracking since 1983, we’ve done over 1,000 groundwater investigations in Ohio and there is not one incident in Ohio that hydraulic fracturing has caused ground water contamination.” (ODNR’s Tom Tomastik, as quoted by WYTV, June 9, 2011)
“After 25 years of investigating citizen complaints of contamination, our geologists have not documented a single incident involving contamination of ground water attributed to hydraulic fracturing.” (Scott Kell, Deputy Director of ODNR Division on Mineral Resources Management in May 29, 2009 testimony before Congress)
Of course, these studies only touch on Ohio. There are a littany of other studies that take a nationwide approach at examining this claim. Other studies examining the safety of hydraulic fracturing include the 2004, EPA study of hydraulic fracturing in coalbed methane. There’s also the multi-disciplinary report conducted by the Massachussets Institute of Technology on benefits and impacts from natural gas production from shale. All of these studies, and more, support that hydraulic fracturing has never impacted groundwater.
It is understandable that a public health official would have or express concerns regarding any industry’s impact on public well-being. However, Mr. Wittberg’s well-intentioned attempt at objectivity in his assertions falls short. The issue lies with Mr. Wittberg recanting an obvious agenda – one based on the many myths of avant-garde filmakers and the recycled propaganda of activist groups.
Petroleum Engineering Department Looking to Expand at Marietta College
Thursday, November 10th, 2011 | 1 Comment
Marietta College’s Department of Petroleum Engineering is one of the premier petroleum engineering programs in the United States. Founded in 1835, Marietta College hosts the 9th largest petroleum engineering program in the United States and the only program at a small, liberal arts college. It is also the largest petroleum engineering program in the eastern United States. With renovations just completed in 2005, Dr. Robert Chase, chair and professor of the program, never dreamed it would expand so much and touch so many lives before he retired.
The Myths and Realities of Natural Gas Production
Saturday, November 5th, 2011 | 3 Comments
Dr. Robert Chase, Chair of Marietta Colleges Petroleum Engineering program recently wrote an outstanding Op-Ed for the Marietta Times on the myths and realities of natural gas development in Ohio. In the piece, Dr. Chase details the often quoted misconceptions attached to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development and provides readers with a thorough education on the the safety and environmental protection inherent in natural gas development.
Marietta College’s Petroleum Engineering program has been a leader in oilfield research and education since 1955 when the program was founded. With a 100% placement for its graduates, it continues to be renowned as one of the top petroleum engineering programs in the country. It is also the largest petroleum engineering undergraduate program in the Eastern United States.
Dr. Bob Chase joined the program in 1978 and has educated countless students during his tenure at the University. His graduates have secured positions in many, if not all, of the largest exploration companies across the world. Essentially, Dr. Chase is the go to expert in Ohio for petroleum engineering.
During our meeting on Thursday, Dr. Chase discussed the recent Op-Ed he wrote on hydraulic fracturing and the natural gas production process. Thankfully, he provided the Op-Ed for our blog because this important piece needed to reach a wider audience. In addition to link provided above we share the piece in its entirety below.
The Myths and Realities of Horizontal Drilling and Fracing in Ohio
There has been much clamor over the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracing,” to unlock vast resources of not only natural gas but also oil in Ohio. Several myths have been circulating about this process which is absolutely essential to making the horizontal wells being drilled in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations productive.
Some groups and individuals have been quick to predict apocalypse from fracing, claiming that the practice poses an extreme danger to underground water systems. But such hysteria has been fueled by much misinformation. This article is being written to dispel some of the misconceptions about fracing.
One such misconception is that fracing is dangerous when, in fact, it is not when done responsibly. Energy companies planning to drill for oil and gas in the Utica shale that underlies parts of Ohio have placed the highest priority on safeguarding underground water sources. In fact, there will be a minimum of five layers of protection through the shallow zones from which people obtain their drinking water.
The Ohio Revised Code 1509 which spells out all requirements for oil and gas drilling states: “a well shall be constructed using sufficient steel or conductor casing in a manner that supports unconsolidated sediments, that protects and isolates all underground sources of drinking water as defined by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and that provides a base for a blowout preventer or other well control equipment that is necessary to control formation pressures and fluids used during the drilling of the well and other operations to complete the well.” The myth that drilling and fracing operations aren’t subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act is indeed just that – a myth.
Companies that will be drilling Utica shale wells in Ohio will generally start out by pile driving a very large diameter piece of pipe or casing, usually about 26 inches in diameter and 40 feet long, into the earth. As an alternative to pile driving this casing, a borehole 30 inches in diameter may be drilled and the same casing is run in the hole and cemented in place. This is called conductor casing and serves as the foundation for the well.
Next, a company will typically drill a large diameter borehole about 17 ½ inches in diameter, using air or fresh water through the deepest fresh water zone and continuing a minimum of 50 feet below it. A second string of pipe usually about 13 3/8 inches in diameter called surface casing is run in the hole and cemented over its entire length back to the surface. During this process, an inspector from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is required to be on location to monitor the casing and cementing operation to ensure that clean cement is circulated back to the surface. This process instantly provides two layers of protection across the fresh water zones.
Next a vertical borehole approximately 12 1/4 inches in diameter is drilled down to a depth of approximately 1,000 feet above the targeted producing zone, i.e. the Utica shale which is expected to vary in depth from about 6,000 feet to 9,000 feet in Ohio. Another string of pipe called an intermediate casing string is run in the hole and cemented back to the surface. Again, an inspector from the ODNR must be notified and given the option of coming on location to ensure once again that clean cement is circulated back to the surface. This ensures a third and fourth layer of protection across the fresh water zones. The bottom of the intermediate casing string represents the approximate kickoff point from which the process of drilling the horizontal borehole begins.
A special drilling assembly is then used to build a curve over approximately the next 500 to 1,000 feet of depth to the point where the drill bit enters the shale formation horizontally. The horizontal section of the borehole having a diameter of approximately 8 ¾ inches is then drilled approximately 5,000 to 7,000 feet into the shale. At that point, another string of pipe usually 5 ½ inches in diameter called production casing (one more layer of protection) is run in the hole and cemented in place from the end of the horizontal section clear up into the vertical section of the intermediate casing.
The spent frac fluid, oil, salt water native to the shale, natural gas liquids, and natural gas extracted from the formation will generally be produced through yet another string of metal pipe called production tubing that is run inside the production casing. This can provide yet a sixth layer of protection through the shallow fresh water aquifer. A diagram of a typical horizontal well completion is shown in attached figure.
With the well properly cased and cemented, the process of fracing can now be addressed. The fracing process has been in use since the 1940’s to extract natural gas and oil from rocks. It was not until 2003, however, that a Texas oil and gas company began using multiple stage frac treatments coupled with the technique of horizontal drilling to recover vast amounts of shale gas in north Texas. Horizontal wells and multi-stage fracing have since been used to unlock natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, and in other shale formations in North Dakota, Montana, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Fracing is a process in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected under high pressure through perforations or holes created in the production casing that has been cemented in place in the shale.
It is done in the shale far below the water table at depths of 7,000 to 9,000 feet. The frac fluid injected into a well does not mix with the groundwater due to the fact that the aquifer has been protected with four to six layers of steel casing and cement.
The fracing process creates a vertical crack or fracture in the rock that is generally about a 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch in width, less than a few hundred feet in height, and extends less than 500 to 800 feet in length away from the horizontal wellbore to access oil and gas in the rock that would otherwise be inaccessible. Some people worry that the fracture created will extend all the way back up to the fresh water aquifer or even to the surface of the earth. This is another myth. The fact of the matter is that all of the service companies working in Ohio that perform frac treatments couldn’t pump enough water, sand, and chemicals under a high enough pressure to create such a fracture.
If it is impossible to create a fracture that extends back to the surface, how then might frac fluid get into the fresh water aquifer?
For the water and chemicals used in the fracturing treatment to contaminate the fresh water aquifer, the fluid would somehow have to penetrate several layers of steel casing (production tubing, production casing, intermediate casing, surface casing) and cement. In a few vertical wells across the country where only one string of surface casing was cemented to surface and no intermediate string was run (only two layers of protection) a few incidents have been reported. In almost every incidence, however, the cause of the contamination was traced to an inadequate casing cement job. This concern is alleviated by having companies run special survey tools on the casing and cement after it is given a chance to harden to ensure that there is a competent cement bond around the outside of the pipe.
In the case of the Utica shale wells, an ODNR inspector is notified and has the option to be on location when any casing is run and cemented to make sure that the cement job is properly executed and clean cement is circulated back to the surface. Results of the cement bond surveys are also supplied to the ODNR.
The disposal of waste water from the fracing process is, of course, a concern. Spent frac water may not be produced back to the surface and pumped into creeks, lakes, sewage treatment plants, etc. in Ohio. That practice is absolutely forbidden under Ohio oil and gas law. Spent frac water must be flowed back into plastic-lined pits approved by the ODNR and the Ohio EPA or into containment trailers located on the well site. It must then be hauled off location and properly disposed of in a manner that satisfies ODNR and EPA regulations. No exceptions!
Though there have been no documented cases of ground water contamination in Ohio due to fracing and only a small number of other surface water contamination episodes, companies are taking extra precautions to make sure the disposal of wastewater from the fracing process is done safely. The energy industry has developed methods to recycle injection fluids, thereby cutting back on the amount of wastewater requiring treatment and disposal.
Companies are also publicly documenting the chemicals they use in their frac fluids. Though some of the chemicals in their pure form are toxic, they generally account for less than one half of one percent of the injected frac fluids. The chemicals are diluted even further because they are mixed with salt water or brine that is native to the shale formation when produced back after the frac job. Research is under way by several companies to come up with even more benign chemicals for use in fracing. In Ohio, companies are required to submit a copy of the ticket from their frac jobs that details chemicals used along with volumes of fluids and treatment pressures to the ODNR. A website called www.fracfocus.org is also available to the public to examine what companies are using in their frac treatments.
Barring an increase in taxes on oil companies, investment in fracing (along with horizontal drilling) will surely grow while generating huge economic and fiscal benefits for companies, landowners, and states alike. Oil companies plan to use the same drilling technique to produce oil elsewhere in the country. Among the areas that possess great potential for additional oil recovery are Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, and Louisiana.
In a recently-published study, the National Petroleum Council cited the importance of fracing. It said fracing is partly responsible for the dramatic turnaround in U.S. oil and gas production in recent years, and concluded that “under the most optimistic assumptions the U.S. and Canada combined could produce up to 22.5 million barrels per day, with oil shale formations producing 3.3 million barrels of oil per day.”
Today 95% of wells drilled in the U.S. require fracing to make them productive. The practice has already been used about a million times in the U.S. over the course of 60 years. It is closely monitored and regulated. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said that fracing can be done responsibly to develop the energy resources we need.
If America wants to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and develop its own sources of reliable and affordable oil and natural gas, we must ramp up domestic shale production utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods and do it in a responsible manner. There will always be a modest amount of risk, but the benefits to Ohio’s economy and our nation far outweigh them.
Dr. Robert Chase, Chair and Professor of the Petroleum Engineering Department at Marietta College
We normally wouldn’t repost an article in its entirety however this piece is succinct and highlights the expertise we have here in Ohio. I would like to thank Dr. Chase for providing us his article for our blog. Hopefully this will help educate folks uncertain of the extensive environmental protections and regulated systems these companies employ in safely and responsibly developing our natural gas resources.