|Marcellus Shale Gas Exploitation and the Common Good
Following are excerpts from talks given by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University. His Ph.D. is in rock fracturing mechanics. He has done twenty years of research on hydraulic fracturing for companies like Schlumberger, Exxon and the Gas Research Institute. I [Allen Johnson] heard him speak at a congressional staff briefing in March 2011.
Ingraffea opposes immediate intensive exploitation of the Marcellus Shale. He says, “Not here, not now.” His immediate reasons for landholders is as follows: (1) Gas prices are low; (2) Science/technology in this field is in its infancy; (3) Regulations are weak.
Ingraffea suggests other important reasons why society should reject intensive drilling:
1. Marcellus Shale gas exploitation will benefit less than 2% of the population [New York state], and cost other people much more for much longer.
2. Drilling regions will incur losses of life, habitat, infrastructure, incomes, and quality of life for many, without any current modality of compensation for these losses.
3, Marcellus Shale exploitation will prolong the inevitable shift to renewable energy sources, while providing negligible impact on the national energy supply.
4. Greenhouse gasses will rise. This includes carbon dioxide from combustion and methane from leakage.
Ingraffea emphasizes that a national energy policy is needed with timetables that meter out future consumption. As for Marcellus Shale gas, Ingraffea says that the national supply of natural gas is high, prices are low, and that future generations should have access to such energy. “Bank it for the grandkids!”
Cortney Jaquet (Cornell University) has taken Gilmore’s 4 Stages of Boomtown Attitudes from a 1975 study of Rock Springs (Green River) Wyoming, to apply to the modern gas boom in Wyoming. See link here.
Gilmore’s 4 stages of Boomtown Attitudes
Concentration on Positive Impacts
Negative impacts are either unknown or dismissed
Lots of pro-industry spin, but little objective knowledge
Town starts to change
Realization that negative impacts have arrived, and might grow
Begin to Research/Analyze Situation, however few resources to draw upon
Industry and State Gov. claims nothing can be done
Pro/Anti growth divisions emerge within the community
3. Near Panic
Industrial Activity and impacts develop far faster than expected
Town starts to change dramatically (what happened to my community?)
Residents become confused, angry at officials and each other
Gov. Services overloaded – officials ill-equipped, unprepared
Realization that increased revenues will not match expenditures
Any ongoing planning efforts are found to be misdirected, under-funded
Core problems are identified
Planning and mitigation strategies are developed
Residents become solidified in their beliefs
Development opponents start to accept situation
Sense of Progress develops despite overwhelming impacts
Ingraffea gives some useful statistics:
A typical gas well costs $4.5 million to drill, which can be expected to produce an average of 4 billion cu. Ft. in 50 year lifespan. One pad can support from 8 to 12 wells. A well might be designed to drain 80 acres, figured as 1 mile long, 300 feet wide, and 100 feet high (Marcellus Shale seams are not thick).
A drilling company can only drill one well at a time on a pad. A well takes two or three months to drill. With 8 to up to 12 wells per pad, the local communities can figure about 3 years constant, 24/7 of 365 days per year of noise, truck traffic, and light pollution per pad.
Chesapeake Energy figures an average of 5.5 million gallons of water (lubricated with fracking fluid) per well. If the water is trucked in at 6000 gallons per truck, that is close to 1000 water hauling trucks, often on narrow country roads, emitting noise and diesel exhaust.
About 0.5% of the water is fracking fluid. That is, 5000 gallons frack fluid per million gallons of water. About 1/3 of the frack fluid flows back to the wellhead. This is a key concern, inasmuch as the frack fluids themselves are highly toxic, but in addition, they bring up from the ground salt brine, heavy metals, and sometimes radioactive materials.