nav-left cat-right
cat-right

Gas Industry Report Calls Anti-Fracking Movement a “Highly Effective Campaign”

Gas Industry Report Calls Anti-Fracking Movement a “Highly Effective Campaign”

A report intended to help the oil and gas industry squash the anti-fracking movement turns out to be full of useful information—and admits that much of what activists are saying is true.

Communities working to stop a controversial gas drilling process are getting what sounds like encouragement from an unlikely source: a report prepared for     the oil and gas industry on the risks posed by those communities themselves. Even more bizarre than a risk assessment about grassroots activists is one     that basically admits the activists are right.

The report assembles a wealth of information about fracking and the movement against it.

Control Risks, the global    risk and strategic consulting firm that     conducted the report, calls itself “independent,” but it makes its alliances clear in the first few sentences. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could     bring “a golden age of cheap, plentiful energy for a resource-constrained world,” writes senior global issues analyst Jonathan Wood, “but only if it makes     it out of the ground.”

Entitled “The Global Anti-Fracking Movement: What It Wants, How It Operates, and What’s Next,” the 2012    report uses the term “battlegrounds” to describe more than thirty countries on six continents where the issue of fracking is being debated. Its warnings about the dangers of ignoring the anti-fracking movement were likely a motivator behind last week’s    so-called truce between four gas companies and a handful of environmental groups in the Appalachian Basin. Shell, Chevron, CONSOL Energy, and EQT Corporation joined with     the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, and a few others to form the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. The Center will monitor     the 15 environmental standards for fracking agreed upon by the alliance and will certify drilling operations that voluntarily comply with the standards.

Although the report is intended to provide gas companies with a plan for squashing the anti-fracking movement, people concerned about the environment or     public health will find it worth reading for at least three reasons (besides entertainment). It contains reams of hard data about the movement, it     identifies the tactics that have been most successful so far, and it ultimately backs up many of the movement’s key arguments.

The report assembles a wealth of information about fracking and the movement against it. It begins with a world map in which shale gas reserves are colored     blue. This reveals huge stores of gas buried beneath areas such as Tibet, southern Brazil, Libya, and almost the entirety of South Africa. Just a glance     gives a global perspective on what the anti-fracking movement is really up against.

A still from Josh Fox's documentary Gasland.

In this still from Gasland, a documentary by Josh Fox, residential drinking water contaminated by fracking is set on fire. Image by Josh Fox.

 

A few pages later, there’s a chart measuring Google searches for the terms “fracking,” “shale gas,” and “Gasland”—the title of a 2010 documentary about     natural gas drilling. The chart shows that before the release of the film, few people were searching for information about fracking. Only after a sharp     spike in searches for the term “Gasland”is there a strong, steady rise in search activity for “fracking” and “shale gas.”

This helps to demonstrate just how important the film was in raising awareness about the process. Wood says it provided the movement with a shared point of     reference, and claims that the movement wouldn’t have gone global without the documentary’s scenes of flaming water pouring from people’s faucets.

“They pretty much blame us for the whole thing,” said Gasland director Josh Fox. “Of course, I know that’s not the whole story. The movement happened concurrently with a huge uprising of people.”

Praise for direct action

Wood goes on to describe other tactics, besides creating a fiery documentary, that have made anti-fracking activists so effective. Citing national fracking     moratoriums in France and Bulgaria, as well as local bans and stricter drilling regulations worldwide, Wood claims the gas industry has “repeatedly been     caught off guard by the sophistication, speed, and influence of anti-fracking activists.”

The report advises oil and gas companies to give anti-fracking activists much of what they’re asking for or risk having the process banned altogether.

John Armstrong, coordinator for the anti-drilling group Frack Action, has his own theory about why that is so. The anti-fracking movement “grew out of the     grassroots—it wasn’t led by any national NGO but stemmed from regular working people who have never been activists before,” he says. “It is born out of     children who have become ill, farms that have been ruined, aquifers and wells that have been contaminated, and air that has been poisoned.”

That grassroots urgency has often pushed the movement toward direct action, which Wood predicts will increase if demands for moratoriums and bans are not     met. He identifies blockades of drilling operations, for example, as highly effective: “While the costs to activists of blockades are extremely low—both in terms of organization and penalties—the potential for disruption to the target can be     significant in terms of lost productivity and extra operating costs.”

Freedom to frack in four easy steps?

To avoid ever-increasing blockades and moratoriums, Wood advises gas companies to follow his four-step plan for quelling the anti-fracking movement:     acknowledge local grievances, engage communities, work to reduce the damage fracking does to the environment, and “create more winners” (by which he means giving communities a fair share of the money from fracking). Wood also suggests that, “Movements towards greater transparency and voluntary     disclosure, however grudging, are a positive step in this direction.”

Wood suggests gas companies simply pay off landowners, rather than go to court and have to admit they were at fault.

In other words, the report advises oil and gas companies to give anti-fracking activists much of what they’re asking for or risk having the process banned     altogether. In doing so, Wood concedes that opponents of fracking are often right. He describes the “cozy relationships” the industry has with regulators     and power-brokers, and the “crippling trust deficit” it has with citizens. He confesses there really is inadequate knowledge about the environmental, economic, and health impacts of fracking and that the industry has funded most of the studies that do exist, sometimes secretly.

Wood warns the industry to be more careful in its drilling practices because each well blowout and water contamination story makes the anti-fracking     argument more compelling. When such incidents do occur, Wood suggests gas companies simply pay off harmed landowners and other citizens who file water     contamination charges or other complaints, rather than go to court and have to admit they were at fault. This is not a new strategy—Wood cites a recent case where the industry did just that.

Finally, the report validates many activists’ claims that fracking doesn’t actually provide local communities with significant economic growth: fracking     booms typically only supply local jobs for about two to three years.

Measuring momentum

After laying out this elaborate battle plan, Wood concludes with what activists may read as a challenge. The anti-fracking movement, he believes, “is     grappling with the consequences of its successes, struggling to maintain momentum after winning tighter regulation, moratoriums and bans.”

Frack Action’s Armstrong disagrees, pointing to larger and more frequent rallies in New York. “Momentum is on our side, polls are on our side, the science     and truth are on our side, and New Yorkers know that we are going to win.”

By winning, Armstrong means a statewide ban on fracking. New York, which he says has been the anti-fracking movement’s “catalyst,” currently awaits     Governor Andrew Cuomo’s final decision on whether to lift the ban on fracking following a five-year moratorium. Forty-three percent of state residents     oppose the process, while only 39 percent support it, according to a March Siena Poll, and the majority of both the state assembly and senate recently came     out in favor of extending the moratorium.

Wood’s report is an attempt to use the industry’s resources—primarily money—to regain the upper hand in important decisions like this one. But, if studied     closely, it could also help the anti-fracking movement plan its next steps.


Katrina Rabeler wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Katrina is a     native New Yorker who wrote her senior thesis on hydraulic fracturing, and is an editorial intern at YES!

Interested?

In Ohio, the People Push Back on Fracking Tired of waiting for their leaders to ban the destructive drilling practice, citizens passed their own resolution—and took over the Statehouse to make it heard.

New York anti-fracking rally

2 Responses to “Gas Industry Report Calls Anti-Fracking Movement a “Highly Effective Campaign””

  1. Tom Pendergast says:

    Making it Rain: Water Technology in the Bakken

    Battelle is partners with Winner Water in a joint venture to treat wastewater from industrial process so that it can be used in hydraulic fracturing operations for oil and gas production.

    July 14, 2013 6:00 am • By Jennifer Owen(0) Comments
    AT A GLANCE
    Because hydraulic fracturing consumes large amounts of water and results in wastewater output, large and small companies are innovating solutions to reduce costs and water usage in the oil field.Water in the Bakken often has high saline levels, requiring specialized solutions.Reducing demand for fresh water can save producers hundreds of thousands of dollars per well.
    Technology innovations have led to an explosion of oil and gas production in the Bakken shale and across the United States. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are making previously unattainable petroleum reserves accessible and economical.

    Yet as one natural resource proliferates, another begins to feel the strain. Oil and gas production, in particular hydraulic fracturing, uses large volumes of fresh water. Fracking, as hydraulic fracturing is often called, is the process of injecting a mixture of water and chemicals at high pressures to create fissures in rock formations, allowing trapped oil and gas to escape. Thus, the fracking process both requires a significant amount of water going in and results in a large volume of water flowing back out of the well, presenting the twin challenges of finding enough water for injection and treating or disposing the flowback water after fracking.

    Each fracking event requires approximately 2 million gallons of water, placing substantial short-term demand on local rivers, aquifers and water treatment facilities. Water prices in North Dakota range between 50 cents to 85 cents per barrel – a barrel equates to approximately 31.5 gallons of water. Options for managing flowback water include disposing of it in pits or diluting the produced water with fresh water and recycling it for use in another fracking operation.

    Just as with petroleum production, water in the oilfields is on the cusp of a technological revolution. Investors and innovators have recognized the challenges created by high energy demand and limited water resources, and are increasingly bringing to market new solutions to treat, reuse and recycle water resulting from fracking operations.

    In March 2012, Halliburton announced it had commercialized technology to recycle flowback water, reducing water costs by $400,000 per well in the Bakken. The technology allows companies to use less fresh water while reducing contaminants that can harm well efficiency. Other companies are investing in processes to remove contaminants from flowback water or are exploring the purification and use of produced water from other industrial processes. Some of these technologies are in the earliest stages of development or deployment, but signal a new future for resource use in the Bakken.

    GE: Imagining a Better Oil Patch

    Eight years ago, industrial giant GE acquired a small technology company that specialized in zero liquid discharge technology, a method of treating wastewater that results in no liquid discharge. Because of that acquisition, GE Water now offers a suite of technologies for treating, recycling and reusing produced water in the oil field. In a state like Montana, where water is scarce and disposal options are limited, the ability to efficiently and effectively reuse water from fracking operations is vital.

    “In Montana, the lack of ability to dispose of large volumes of water has really gotten the attention,” said Bill Heins, general manager of GE’s thermal business line. “If you’re able to come up with a system where you need much less freshwater, that’s going to help not only public perception, but helps the producers as well, because you don’t have to fight over freshwater use.”

    GE is currently deploying what is known as evaporative treatment options in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale and throughout Texas, and is in talks with four potential clients in the Bakken region to bring its technology to the area. Assuming those talks move forward, GE systems could be operational by 2015.

    An evaporative system operates on a simple principle: heat produced water until it evaporates, leaving behind all the solids like salt and minerals, and then condense the water back into a liquid for reuse. Heins says this process results in 98 percent to 99 percent water recovery, with only a small portion lost in the treatment process.

    “Basically you are recovering all that water so you don’t have any wastewater to dispose of,” he said.

    For the oil field, GE has developed three distinct evaporative options: a small, mobile evaporator which can process up to 50 gallons per minute and is typically used for oil field operations where equipment can be moved from one well pad to another; a fixed produced water treatment facility, which typically processes about 500 gal/minute and is used for sites with concentrated number of wells in one area, central facility; and finally a crystallization system, which recovers nearly all the water, crystallizes all the salts, and then offers two produces: reusable water and road salt.

    In the Bakken, particularly on the Montana side, flowback water from hydraulic fracturing has a high saline content – as much as six or seven times sea water, according to Heins. Accordingly, a crystallization system has significant potential benefit for the region. That also means that the technology has to be modified and designed specifically to handle the unique composition of water produced from Bakken operations.

    Heins notes that produced water disposal costs can run as high as $2-$3/barrel, making treatment options that allow large volumes of water to be reused economic for oil and gas regions.

    “With a crystallizer you are really minimizing that cost because you are recovering and reusing the water,” he said.

    Winner Water: Delivering Industrial Synergies

    John Ontiveros, CEO of Winner Water Services, has a very different vision for water treatment and reuse in petroleum production. Rather than recycling flowback water for reinjection during a fracking operation, Ontiveros is looking to treat water from related industrial production and deliver it to water-hungry oil fields.

    “The oil and gas industry uses a lot of fresh water,” said Ontiveros. “That’s starting to put a real strain on water sources.”

    Winner Water’s treatment system uses liquid ion exchange technology, a water treatment process that uses an organic extractant to attract minerals and salt in wastewater, resulting in a cleaner water output. The process recovers about 95 percent of the water that goes through the system. Winner Water’s process also uses no heat or pressure, so it works at ambient conditions without extra energy inputs.

    Currently, Winner Water is developing a treatment system that would take acid mine drainage water from Pennsylvania’s coal mines, treat it, and deliver it to nearby fracking operations in the Marcellus shale. In 2008, Winner Water tested a demonstration-scale facility, treating more than a million gallons of water in three months to near potable standards.

    The company is in the process of designing and fabricating a small commercial-scale facility for the same site, scaling from 30 gallons/minute tested to 100 gallons/minute for the new plant. Winner Water partnered with Battelle to develop and test the technology. Ontiveros believes that having a larger plant in place will help industry embrace the technology.

    “This will allow us to establish our business, demonstrate our technology, show that it works, and show that we meet the requirements of the oil and gas industry,” he said. “What we’re finding out is that each company has its own requirements. Obviously, they’d like to have it like fresh water. We are pretty close to fresh water.”

    Winner Water’s process results in treated water with less than 1 part per million (ppm) of iron and 100 ppm of sulfate, resulting in a higher quality product than the common solution of simply diluting and reusing flowback water.

    Currently, Winner Water is focused on deploying its system in the Pennsylvania area, where acid runoff presents a serious environmental hazard and water prices of $12-$16/thousand gallons make new technology cost-competitive. However, Ontiveros notes that his technology has multiple uses and has been tested in environments as varied as Norwegian copper mines and U.S. agricultural sites where runoff is common, such as large-scale feeding operations. He notes that Montana has similar industrial synergies and a growing demand for water in energy production.

    “If there is an opportunity, we would love to go to Montana,” he said.

  2. Tom Pendergast says:

    For a thorough report on the propagation of fractures from black shale formations and the movement of fluids through them, use the following link.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gwat.12095/full

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *