Whether you are involved in the natural gas liquids sector, or are compassionately adverse to the efforts of that sector, one thing is clear—they have taken a pounding in the media, specifically over extraction methods and waste management. They are, however, not lying down.
Consider activity on the water, methane emissions and carbon fronts.
I would venture that most readers are well aware of complaints leveled at the energy industry over the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Known too as hydrofracturing, hydrofracking, fracking or fraccing it is a “well-stimulation technique” using pressurized liquid to increase well yields.
It is said that 2,000,000 (two million) gallons of water is used to frack the average well. That’s a lot of water, so it’s no surprise that there is pressure (no pun intended) to limit water use in the fracking process. In addition to political pressure from an environmental advocacy industry, government suspension of water withdrawals in reaction to low levels in watersheds, low rainfall and higher-than-normal temperatures play a role in the water equation.
So, reduce, if not the eliminate, the use of water by using Carbon Dioxide “C02” instead?
Exactly. Take away 2,000,000 gallons of water per well; perhaps even eliminate the sand and chemicals currently used now to break apart layers of shale, and use nitrogen and carbon dioxide in so-called “energized” or “foamed” fracking fluids to improve well yields.
There goes one argument against the well industry. Check.
Storing carbon is considered one option to defer or mitigate global warming. In this example, CO2 is transported by pipeline, train, truck and ship, and injected into geologic formations suitable for long term sequestration. Turns out that depleted oil and gas fields, deep coal seams and saline formations (salt mines) are a good fit for this technique.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that anywhere from 1,800 to 20,000 billion metric tons of CO2 could be stored underground in the United States, and EPA says that this is equivalent to 600 to 6,700 years of current level emissions from large stationary sources in the United States.
GE, a major oil and gas industry supplier, is to partner with Norway’s Statoil to investigate the use of carbon dioxide in frack wells. The idea is to capture CO2 at the wellhead, recycle it and then use it to frack again, repeatedly. Given that water today can only be used once due to contamination with fracking chemicals the benefit is obvious.
Here, the energy industry plays a major role in curbing global warming by banking carbon as a hedge against global warming. Check.
Methane, long considered a powerful greenhouse gas, has been on the radar for decades. The heating oil industry has been making this case since the 1980s, pointing mostly to leaks from natural gas transmission and local distribution pipelines; however, methane emissions from natural gas production are declining, according to a new study from the University of Texas. This, even as natural gas production is increasing.
The new study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas in coordination with the Environmental Defense Fund found that methane emissions upstream on the supply chain are approximately 10% lower than the same research teams found in a study released in September 2013. The new study showed that the majority of emissions came from a small number of sites, suggesting methane leakage is a fixable problem and that industry appears to be managing methane leakage with some success.
EPA says that methane emissions from fracking have decreased by 73% since 2011, and methane emissions from U.S. natural gas systems have declined by nearly 17% since 1990. The mathematicians say this implies a net leakage rate of about 1.5%. Check.
Water use: Check
Store Carbon: Check
Methane emissions: Check
Shane Sweet is an energy and management consultant with clients in the heating oil, propane and motor fuel sectors, a Partner with the firm of Lake Rudd & Company. As of Nov. 1, 2014 he is the new Executive/Technical Director for the New York Propane Gas Association. He served the industry as President & CEO of the New England Fuel Institute “NEFI” from 2007 to 2011, and as Executive VP/Director and Lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association “VFDA” from 1993 to 2007.