The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Standards, Practices and Realizing Shale's Potential

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 4, 2011

Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan was raised in a North Dakota community so small, the time an oil company showed up and sank a well kept folks entertained for days.

At night, lights on the drill rig had a dazzling effect, the illumination representing energy's promise and power. That the well turned out to be a dry hole now seems supremely ironic, given the abundance of oil and natural gas in North Dakota's Bakken region. The impact of oil and gas is dynamic, Dorgan told attendees at API's hydraulic fracturing workshop in Pittsburgh: jobs, growth, energy riches.

Dorgan talked about the twin challenges arising with the shale/hydraulic fracturing revolution -- opportunities and impacts. With the country becoming more engaged on the potential of shale's natural gas and oil, as well as legitimate questions surrounding shale development, Dorgan said the industry has to deal with both simultaneously. On energy, he said, "We need to do everything and do it well."

The Pittsburgh conference, with detailed discussion of standards and industry practices, speaks to energy companies' willingness to do just that. Said API President and CEO Jack Gerard: "We have an opportunity to talk about what the industry is doing to raise the bar on safety and work constructively with regulators, other policymakers, and local communities to help build their trust and support so that we can continue producing this energy that we know our nation will need."

A big part of what's happening where shale formations are being tapped, through hydraulic fracturing, is partnership with state regulators. Dorgan said one reason the Bakken is thriving in North Dakota is the cooperation between industry and state officials. It's not a question of whether hydraulic fracturing will be regulated, he said, but how.

Again, a conference devoted to standards and practices, featuring speakers with field experience implementing them, speaks to a desire to get it right. That means seriously treating issues ranging from quality well construction and waste water recycling/disposal to noise and traffic abatement.

API and its members have developed standards and guidelines that form the basis for hydraulic fracturing operations. There's also FracFocus, the online registry of the fluids used in fracking and STRONGER, a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization that helps states with environmental regulations associated with oil and natural gas development.

As important, there's a sense of industry doing better-not standing still on safety and environmental protection-and, especially, being responsive to community concerns. As Dorgan said, the potential for a 100-year supply of natural gas from shale is a "big, big deal." So are standards and practices that will help ensure that potential becomes reality.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.