The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Energy Tomorrow Radio: Episode - 124 The Truth About Fracking

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted December 21, 2010

In today's episode, I interview David Adams, Halliburton's vice president for production enhancement, about hydraulic fracturing. He describes the fracking process, the associated benefits as well as the exaggerated risks.

Use the audio player below to listen to information about the article and follow along with the show notes. I hope you find the podcast informative.

00:17 The U.S. government released statistics a few days ago showing that natural gas supplies have reached the highest level since 1971. Much of the credit for the supply expansion goes to the drilling companies that are using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to coax natural gas from hard rock formations, such as the Barnett Shale in Texas. One of the companies providing hydraulic fracturing services to drillers is Halliburton and today we have David Adams, Halliburton's vice president for production enhancement, on the telephone.

00:55 Lets begin by providing a brief explanation of hydraulic fracturing. What is it exactly?

01:01 Mr. Adams: At a basic level, it's a process used to deliver water and sand to rock formations deep underground. It creates these tiny fissures in what would otherwise be solid, densely packed rock. Those fissures allow trapped oil and natural gas to flow to the wellbore, which create the means for oil and natural gas to reach the surface, and from there to the consumer. We're talking about a rock that is denser than concrete, which is in itself, 10 times denser than asphalt. Hydraulic fracturing is the key to unlocking those tightly diffused pockets of hydrocarbons and has made the revolution of shale gas possible in the modern context.

01:59 How long has hydraulic fracturing been used in U.S. oil and natural gas fields?

02:05 Mr. Adams: If you just read the newspaper and listen to the general public, you might think that it's something that was created in the last 10 years. However, it's been around for more than 60 years. In that time frame, more than 1.1 million individual wells have undergone this process and have delivered more than 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and more than 7 billion barrels of oil to the American public. As we know, our demand for energy is going to continue to grow. Those numbers will keep climbing dramatically over the next several years. It's also important, from an energy service perspective, to recognize the importance of renewables and the role they're going to play in future energy supply. It's going to take a combination of all energy sources to manage that overall demand.

02:57 There are critics of hydraulic fracturing who assert that the water and sand you've mentioned are also mixed with some chemicals and when they create these fissures underground, they threaten drinking water supplies. Is that accurate?

03:13 Mr. Adams: Absolutely not. If these critics took the time to research the record of safety and performance of hydraulic fracuturing, they would arrive at a very different conclusion. Today, the typical frac job is done in rock located miles below the lowest water aquifer. Dense rocks fill the space between the two. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ground Water Protection Council, the State of Pennsylvania and New York and many other agencies have already concluded that hydraulic fracturing has never been found to adversely impact any ground source of drinking water.

04:11 How do you know that the chemicals going underground don't reach the groundwater during the fracturing process?

04:17 Mr. Adams: Our company is a solution business and just about everything we do is driven by science, data and the feedback we're receiving from the formations we're fracturing. Halliburton provides its customers with some of the most advanced 3-D fracture mapping technologies on the market today. More subsurface data and geological information means a better understanding of the reservoir and a greater productivity at the wellhead. It's also an important tool for protecting our environment and keeping the public and its drinking water safe. The other key advantage is that it allows us to monitor multiple fractures in multiple wellbores across a reservoir, which in turn, lets us know where to place the next wellbore. This further reduces the overall environmental footprint on the surface.

05:14 In general, how large is the distance between the hydraulic fracturing underground and the groundwater in the Barnett Shale? And how does that compare to the fractures and groundwater in the Marcellus Shale?

05:32 Mr. Adams: Pinnacle, one of Halliburton's subsidiary companies, specializes in 3-D mapping that I just discussed. We asked Pinnacle to help us better understand the distance based on the fracture maps they've conducted. After mapping thousands of fracturing operations in the Barnett since 2001, and the Marcellus since 2006, they found the following statistics: more than 3,500 feet of rock separate the closest fracture from the lowest aquifer point in the Barnett and more than 4,500 feet separate the two in the Marcellus. Those numbers represent the outlier cases. On average, there's 5,000 feet of separation in the Barnett and 6,000 feet in the Marcellus. That's more than a mile of separation and equivalent to five empire state buildings. These findings can be found online at www.energyindepth.org and www.aogr.com.

06:44 Very interesting. But there are still plenty of concerns about the chemicals. There are critics who contend that the fracturing companies, including Halliburton, should divulge the chemicals in the fracturing fluids. What's your position on this?

06:58 Mr. Adams: We believe that there's a great value in having a grown-up conversation about where American energy will come from in the future and what sort of technologies and tools will be used to deliver it safely and efficiently to the public. Halliburton has always supported disclosure. I mean it's a misnomer to think that we haven't. We comply with all local, state and federal regulations focused on disclosure. Halliburton has also always had a toll free number that is monitored 24/7 in order to answer questions about what is used at a particular well site in an unlikely event of an emergency. We realize there's still a lot of public frustration associated with the information we do provide and that it's not in a method that's clear and easy for the general public to understand. Last month, we took a big, bold step and launched an entire new website devoted to conveying that information directly to the public in a way that is easy to understand. You can find this link on www.halliburton.com. I think many folks will agree that we've effectively set a new industry standard with this site when it comes to transparency. In the months to come, we are committed to adding more pages to this site and eventually plan to have information on every state where we're conducting hydraulic fracturing.

08:18 You've put a number of the chemicals on the website, but when it comes to a well by well basis, who actually owns the information about the chemicals that are used in any particular well?

08:30 Mr. Adams: We provide general information on our complete portfolio of chemicals, but when it comes to a well by well perspective, the chemicals belong to operators, customers and clients that we work for.

08:49 So in a sense, it's up to them to divulge what's actually being used in any particular well?

08:55 Mr. Adams: That's correct because it does become their product.

08:57 Halliburton recently announced a new approach to creating fracturing fluids, including these chemicals. Can you briefly describe your company's efforts?

09:05 Mr. Adams: I think we first have to understand the landscape and how it's really changed. Our customers are operating right now in an environment of $4 plus [natural] gas, which would not have been economical a few years ago. This makes it very challenging and operating with greater efficiency and less impact has become very important. Everyone can always agree that efficient business practices make good economic sense, but now folks are waking up to the fact that it makes great environmental sense as well. Our customers demand both of these. For a number of reasons, there's never been a better time to roll out a fracturing fluid solution that has distinct advantages over traditional fluid systems. We have a new fluid system--CleanStream--which is comprised of materials sourced entirely from the food industry. Halliburton is using the CleanStream, which uses ultra-violet light technology that's used in hospitals and water plants today, for various purposes. In addition, we recognize the need to reduce the amount of fresh water we use every day for hydraulic fracturing. Halliburton has also developed technologies that allow us to reuse the fracturing fluids over and over again with the process we call CleanWay. We're also looking at technologies that reduce the overall chemistries that we have on location and replace them with mechanical means.

10:50 You mentioned efficiency and how important it is. Also, there are other companies that provide the services as Halliburton. What could potentially happen if companies like Halliburton were forced to disclose to the public the exact chemical make-up of fracturing fluids used in every single well?

11:09 Mr. Adams: I think it would be extremely detrimental to the industry. For one, Halliburton and our competitors spend millions of dollars of research developing the chemistries that will significantly increase the overall performance of these wells. Without this technology and innovation we would be nowhere near where we are today. The moment we would have to fully disclose and give up those trade secrets, or that intellectual property surrounding that technology, that innovation would die. There wouldn't be any further advancements and no benefits for companies to spend that money just so someone would quickly copy it. It's not just from a development perspective, but also from an environmental perspective.

12:12 Very good point. Thanks so much for giving us Halliburton's perspective on hydraulic fracturing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.