Analysis: Research Group Defines 'Best' Fracking Practices to Ease Concerns

A non-profit advocacy and research group, the Houston Advanced Research Corp., (HARC) issued a non-commercial white paper, essentially an issue brief of truly remarkable content and clear, clean composition. The paper outlines the most serious environmental concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in oil and natural gas shale operations – and identifies emerging practices that could substantially ease these concerns, if they were put into wider use.

HARC operates the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program (known as EFD Systems.) EFD Systems, in turn, is a cooperative effort funded by industry interests, universities, environmental groups and government entities that pro-actively studies drilling technologies and practices of all kinds which leave the least footprint on the environment.

A summer-long project by HARC interns and Texas A&M engineering undergraduates, senior John Michael Fernandez and junior Matthew Gunter, the white paper reviews a number of technical papers and finds that five "good management practices available . . . [that] make hydraulic fracturing more environmentally friendly, while also being economical and efficient in time. These practices include replacing harmful chemicals, re-fracturing wells, closed loop drilling and fracturing, pad drilling, and centralized remote fracturing." In some instances, best practices identified by the students resulted in major air quality, water savings, safety and even cost improvements.

The first article in this series provided a condensation of large sections of about the first 75 percent of the paper. This article reviews the rest.

Like joining jigsaw puzzle pieces into a more cohesive picture, the paper overall remains remarkable for its simplicity, clear English and strong content. It avoids the usual barely-veiled pot-shots at regulators, the industry or environmentalists, and instead advocates a challenging, pro-active environmental agenda– while paying genuine, unusual respect to both sides.

We left off with what seemed like the ultimate "home run hit," or the young authors finding that closed loop drilling and fracturing, in the American vernacular, covering amazingly diverse safety, environmental and cost-saving bases all at once, where it makes sense to use it. (Emphasis added, as 'one size fits all" solutions rarely really fit any situation or body type well.)

"The Williams Energy Services company is one that has had great success with centralized remote fracturing. In their studies, they have found that the time to drill and complete the well was reduced by up to 80 percent. They also found that for a single pad, truck traffic can be reduced by up to 30 percent and for a site with several multi-well pads, up to 90 percent."

Next, the authors move to pad drilling, where it makes sense, or drilling a cluster of wells from the same pad due to land use, cost and other benefits. Then, the researcher/authors hit another "homer": centralized remote fracturing, It's basically often combined with pad drilling, the students said, and involves using "frac pumps located on remote, central pads that can pump frac water to remote sites." After a little more description, the authors add:

"The Williams Energy Services company is one that has had great success with centralized remote fracturing. In their studies, they have found that the time to drill and complete the well was reduced by up to 80 percent. They also found that for a single pad, truck traffic can be reduced by up to 30 percent and for a site with several multi-well pads, up to 90 percent." Again, the authors caution that this practice "may not be available in all regions, specifically when the geography does not allow it.

The White Paper's Conclusions (Verbatim)

"Several potential environmental issues can be associated with hydraulic fracturing, including air emissions from truck traffic, high water usage, the use of dangerous chemicals in fracturing fluid, and the impact of nature from the size of pad sites. Several new technologies and good management practices that are considered environmentally friendly are also economically efficient and plausible.

  • Closed loop drilling and fracturing should be used for decreasing water usage, truck traffic and mileage, and to decrease the probability of spills of chemical fluids into surface and/or groundwater

  • With the hazardous chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, it is imperative that the industry, environmental groups and regulators to find more environmentally friendly chemicals to use.

  • Pad drilling should be used to decrease the amount of surface area taken by the pad sites, which would decrease the impact on the nature around it and the overall landscape of the region.

  • Centralized fracturing should be used to decrease truck traffic that comes through locations by fracturing several wells from a single, remote pad location."

 

Author's Conclusions

After assessing thousands of reports on various aspects of the oil, natural gas and renewable energy industries, for thirty-something years now, this one stands out somehow. Strongly recommend that you just read "all" 11-12 pages of it (depending on font used etc.) for the "first mover" case studies if nothing else – and don't forget to read between the lines, as well.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.
Paul Fernandez | Sep. 13, 2011
One of the best articles I believe ever written on the subject. It provides insight into how the energy industry can and should adapt to the environment where it is possible to do so. It also provides the public concerns over damaging environmentally protected areas, where oil and gas can and should be drilled, with a practical and socially responsible means of extracting what we as a nation need too, to decrease our dependency on foreign oil. Williams is a cutting edge group for sure.

R, Incorvia | Sep. 6, 2011
Great stuff, Williams is doing a great job and we all appreciate it very much


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