Yesterday’s Clean Energy Summit, hosted and directed by Harry Reid, featured all the usual suspects (Clinton! Gore! Chu! Pickens! Podesta!) and a big “new” idea.
What are they talking about? Simply a new type of drilling, just like oil drilling, only once a certain layer of rock is reached the drill bit pushes horizontally across the formation.
The rock is then fractured using nitrogen or carbon dioxide, water and sand so that trapped gas flows into the pipe and toward the surface.
Politically this is very exciting. Shale lies underneath much of the eastern U.S., so drilling that shale will create lots of jobs in important districts. The latest estimates are a lot of gas can be produced, from places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. Some gas is already being produced.
But there are problems. This is not clean technology. Just the opposite.
- Initial drilling produces “cuttings” and soap agents may be used to clear debris. All this is pumped to a pit that can contaminate ground water. (Slide
- Water can leach into the initial drill hole, which has to be pumped out and is thus unavailable for later use. (Slide 10) Cuttings and soap can pollute the well water. (Slide 11)
- As this hole is “cemented in,” hidden caves may be found that make it impossible to fill. (Slide 16) Again local deep water sources are contaminated. (Slide 17) Or you can have bad cement, or the driller may not wait for it to dry.
- A second drilling is then made inside this hole, through coal seams. This is also encased in cement, and the WVSORA doesn’t know what other dangers may lurk from this (Slide 23)
- A third drilling takes the hole thousands of feet down, below the shale. This hole is cemented-in, but not completely. (Slide 26)
- The bottom of the hole is dynamited to get gas flowing, then air, water or nitrogen (sometimes mixed with sand) is pumped down under pressure to fracture the rock and maintain gas flow. If there is an old, orphaned hole nearby this may get contaminated and bring gas up uncontrollably. (Slide 28)
The innovation here is that a drill bit may be turned and fractures created across a wide field, meaning more gas comes from a single well. But all the dangers noted above still exist.
Of course, various layers of rock may be found in any order. In this illustration from Horizontaldrilling.org, showing the Barnett Shale of Texas, the water-bearing rock is actually below the shale. If that rock is tapped entire reservoirs disappear at a stroke.
The men and women of the oil patch are good people and work hard to get things right. But there is nothing clean, easy or green about gas shale, and good environmentalists like Al Gore should not pretend there is. It’s a slight refinement on technology that has been used for 150 years.
What the clean energy summit called for was that we risk the nation’s future well water in the hope of keeping the carbon economy going a few more decades.