What Spurs Change?

When change does happen, it is usually foisted on the industry by excessive costs, fear of catastrophe, or regulations.

Chesapeake Energy began a pilot program to recycle wastewater from its Texas wells after drought and aquifer depletion threatened the industry’s water supply there. The pressure to reuse rather than dispose of wastewater also may have been increased by a series of earthquakes this year near Dallas. Researchers said the earthquakes may have been caused by the company’s normal disposal process: injecting wastewater underground.

Drillers in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania speeded up their search for new water recycling technologies last year, after Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection sharply limited treatment plants from accepting large quantities of drilling waste. Range Resources now recycles much of the wastewater from its Pennsylvania wells. “In the long term the biggest problem is going to be wastewater treatment,” said spokesman Matt Pitzarella. “And we have to figure out how to deal with it.”

Asked why his company pursued “green” drilling and fracturing fluid innovations for drilling in the North Sea – products that it now sometimes used onshore too — BJ Services’ Dunlap was unequivocal: The law made him do it.

“It’s because of local regulations,” Dunlap said. “That’s typically what drives us to develop and bring to market these environmentally friendly products.”

But given the choice, energy companies prefer that they, rather than government regulators, decide when, where or whether to use the environmentally friendly technologies they’ve developed. They oppose state-wide or regional mandates, arguing that a best practice may be less effective – or less affordable — in one place more than another. They also say that formal regulations can institutionalize technologies that may later be proved ineffective, or could be improved on.

“No matter what we do we are capitalists here in the U.S.,” said Richard Haut, the Houston Advanced Research Center project director. “We do have to look for a balance between environmental issues and development.”

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  1. From Mary Sweeney
    December 14, 2009 4:27 pm EST
    While developing so-called “green” fracking fluids may indeed be a help, many problems with shale gas drilling would still remain. For example, no matter what sort of fracking fluid is used, naturally occurring radioactive materials that are normally buried deep beneath the surface of the earth will still be brought to the surface as the fluid returns out of the wellbore.

    Further, even if truck traffic is reduced, the huge number of gas wells, access roads, pipelines (for gas and water), and compressor stations required will leave the landscape forever scarred.

    For those who are not living in a shale area, please understand that they are not talking about putting these wells just in the wide open spaces. In NY state there really are very few “wide open spaces.” NY state law has negated local communities’ ability to zone these gas wells out of residential areas. The setbacks from private wells, waterways, homes, and municipal water wells are very small. In order to get an appreciable amount of gas from the shale, they will need thousands and thousands of gas wells—enough to turn upstate NY and much of PA into a huge gas factory in which the residents will be treated like so much expendable collateral damage.

    Many of us who have lived here for years and years, faithfully paying our mortgages and taxes, feel that we no longer have control of our own property. This is a huge land grab, and it’s not about energy independence, it’s about money. If this country were serious about energy independence, we would have a serious conservation plan in place and we would be seriously working on sustainable, clean energy sources like wind and solar. Instead, our homes and lives are being destroyed in order to produce more fossil fuel energy which will largely be used to run inefficient appliances and heat poorly insulated homes. No one—not even the most optimistic gas drilling advocate—says this gas will last forever. But we are going to spend a tremendous amount of money getting the gas out of the ground and cleaning up the resulting mess. And shale gas will never be cheap: the wells are expensive, the water disposal is expensive, and the wells deplete rapidly, so they will need a huge number of wells to recover an appreciable amount of gas. All of that money could be much better spent developing a clean, sustainable, 21st-century approach to energy production and use.

  2. From EnvtMemo
    December 15, 2009 1:56 pm EST
    I’ve commented at EnvironmentMemo on this article. While there’s a lot of good information in the article, there’s a lot of industry PR that needs challenging, as well. Diesel fuel was taken out of the mix because of severe problems it caused, and it was not exempted from regulation in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, so they basically had to stop using it. That they used it to begin with does not augur well.

    They are spinning some things they would be doing anyway, in an attempt to avoid having to do what they really have to do: commit to using only benign compounds for fracking.