12-20-10: On the Subject of Shale

December 20, 2010 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

We want to revisit our December 7th segment about the possibility of drilling for natural gas in western Maryland. That conversation has continued in correspondence.

On the air, we spoke first with Kristi Gittins of Chief Oil & Gas LLC, which is planning to apply to drill in the Marcellus Shale in western Maryland, followed by Eric Robison, co-founder of the environmental group Save Western Maryland.  Mr. Robison said that he was concerned about the relatively new technologies being put to use in hydraulic fracturing:

“In the last 5 years, really in the last 3 years, they’ve only really developed it to the pressures—yes, they’ve done hydro-fracking, but they’ve never done them at the pressures that they’re doing them at now, and with the volume of contaminants that they’re using.”

Ms. Gittins refused to be on the air at the same time as Mr. Robison, but after listening to the segment, she wrote to us to contest Robison’s statement:

“There is nothing new or different about the pressures used in the hydraulic fracturing process in the 10 years I have been working in the shale gas industry… There are many shale plays in the U-S.  The depth and density of the shale rock dictates the pressures used for fracturing the rock….Second, he said that only recently are we using this volumes of chemicals (“contaminants”).  This is actually not a factual statement at all.  We are actually using far less chemical additives now.…  It is in the industry’s best interest from a financial perspective and an environmental perspective to use less of any and all additives.”

Well, we ran both those statements past Michael Arthur, a professor of geosciences at Penn State.  He studies the Marcellus Shale formation. He said–and we’re paraphrasing here—that based on the numbers he’s viewed from gas companies, there has NOT been a great increase in the pressures in the past five years. But he added that companies don’t always report the most recent pressures at which they drill.

Regarding contaminants, Professor Arthur said that depends on how much fluid is required to drill the well.  If the amount of fluid needed is greater–as is sometimes required for horizontal drilling–then the percentage of chemicals in the mixture may remain the same, but the volume of chemicals may be greater.  He added that many companies are beginning to replace the more toxic elements of their drilling mixtures with so-called greener chemicals.

If you’d like to share your thoughts with us about the natural gas segment – or any segment you’ve heard “Maryland Morning,” please write to us at mdmorning@wypr.org.  You can also leave us a message or text us at 410-881-3162.

Entry filed under: Energy, Environment, On Air. Tags: , , .

12-20-10: Ocean State of Mind 12-20-10: Tech Talk!

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