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From Fossil To Fuel™
From Fossil To Fuel™

Episode 8 · 2 years ago

Episode 7 - Fracking in the Media

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Fracking is a big deal in the media. Let's dive into some of the major concerns.

My name is Brennan McDougall and I'm a professional engineer. Or the last decade I've worked in many different facets of the oil and gas industry. While I have a pretty solid technical background in oil and gas, I don't really know a whole lot about the other non technical departments that help run an oiling gas company. Recently I took a course to help develop my business acumen and better understand how the financial side of the business works. What a novel concept to educate the technical people on the business and financial side. I thought it would be a really cool idea to return the favor and educate the non technical people on the technical side. This is how the concept from fossil the fuel was born. Through these twenty four episodes, we will take a journey from how oil and gas was formed millions of years ago how it is refined into the fuel that runs our cars and keeps our homes. Come join me on this adventure as we learn how the oiling gas industry operates from fossil to you. When I first thought of doing this whole podcasting news as I wanted to talk about hydraulic fracturing. It's such a hot top in the media right now, and both sides are generally pretty onesided. This is the area that I personally have the most experience in and, as such, it's something that I wanted to shed some light on. It was originally intended to be the first episode of this whole podcast series, but I quickly realize that I should be doing a bit of an introduction to oil and gas before diving right into this topic. And of course, next thing you know we have from fossil the fuel. Before we get into the media and all the hot topics going on right now, let's take a step back. I've actually broken the hydraulic fracturing segment...

...into for podcasts, this one, which is kind of an overview hydraulic fracturing operations, which is kind of the Daytoday, stuff that actually goes on on a location when you're fracking the well water and, of course, seismicity, more commonly known as earthquakes. So let's start with an overview. The words hydraulic fracturing basically mean breaking something by applying force with some sort of fluid, normally water or water based, although in some cases you can use things like propane or natural gas, sometimes carbon dioxide it's generally used in oil and gas reservoirs that are described as tight, which means that they have low permeability, which from previous podcast you'll recall, means that it has trouble flowing on its own because the oil and gas molecules don't have a lot of pathways to flow down. Remember, this type of rock is called unconventional or unconventional reservoirs. Hydraulic fracturing allows us to fracture the rock or reservoir to create artificial pathways for oil and gas molecules to flow through. However, because of the enormous pressures created by all the rock that's on top of the formation. So remember, in most cases you've got several kilometers or miles of rock overhead weighing down on all of this, creating huge pressure. So the artificial pathways created will want to close up once you're done fracking. So if you picture in your head, you're fracturing the rock with this fluid and you're forcing the rock to open up and create these artificial pathways, but as soon as you take the pressure off of that fluid, all of that pressure from the rock above you is what is going to want to close what you've just opened. So in order...

...to mitigate this, we pomp sand or propit down the well and we mix it in with the water. It's called profit because you guessed it. It helps prop open the artificial pathways to keep them open after we're done fracking. On average, it takes about eight million liters, or say two million gallons, of water to frack a well, which is about the daily consumption of sixty fivezero people. So big note here. When you're fracking well, and I'm talking eight million liters or two million gallons, there's a huge range here in terms of how much water you can use. This would just be like kind of an average ballpark figure for what you would use. At the end of the day, doesn't really matter what that number is, because I'm just trying to paint a picture of how much water you actually need just to frac one well. In addition to that, you've got several thousand tons of sand and several thousand liters of chemicals. There are many different chemicals used, but the most common ones are used to kill bacteria, to help dissolve rock and improve the performance of the fluid system being used predominantly. What I mean by that is to help reduce friction and change the properties of the fluid so that it can carry more sand. And so the reason that we would want to carry more sand is that you're paying like a dollar per hour, dollar per day, cost for all the equipment that's out there. So the quicker you can pump your sand down, the lass overall cost you're going to pay, because the project is going to be shorter rather than longer. So we won't go too far down that path. But really, at the end of the day, what you're trying to do here is reduce friction and improve the properties of your fluid so that you can carry more sound down. I've got an entire podcast and water and the chemicals use, so I'll save the details here...

...for that one. fracking has been around since the S, but it's really only become commonplace in the last decade or so, especially in North America and specifically the US. In fact, over sixty percent of new oil and gas wells that are drilled utilize hydraulic fracturing, and even that stats probably a couple of years old, and so it's got to be quite a bit more than sixty percent as of today. This is because most of the conventional wells, so that's wells that don't flow naturally without any sort of aided stimulation. These conventional wells are harder and harder to find, so we need to resort to hydraulic fracturing to gain access to the unconventional wells, that is, the wells that don't flow naturally. This is, of course, a bit of a simplification, but it goes to show that with increasing energy demand, we need to produce more oil and gas, and that gap has been made up by hydraulic fracturing. But hydraulic fracturing is in all roses, there are pros and cons. The added production of oil and gas is obviously a definite pro as the cost of energy has come down, some would say too much, as were in the middle of an oil and gas market that is oversupplied, meaning we have too much oil and gas produced for the amount that the world actually needs. Anyone who's been following geopolitics for the last few years knows exactly what I'm talking about. This is really one of the main reasons why the price of oil and gas is relatively so low right now. Hydraulic fracturing isn't the only reason for this, but it certainly is playing a big part. You've got lower heating bills for your home, likely due to hydraulic fracturing. Hang lower prices at the pumps, likely doing part hydraulic fracturing. But let's take a look at some of the cons which, let's be honest, is what...

...most people want to know. On the one side, you've got the media. Go to Google and search the risks of fracking and you'll get contamination of groundwater, methane pollution, air pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, blowouts due to gas explosion, waste disposal, large volume of water use and racking induced earthquakes. I would certainly agree that some of these are significant risks that need to be addressed more diligently, but I've always found the order of importance as portrayed by the media to be a bit curious. In my own experience, the top three issues in the media, and this is a no relative order, our contamination of groundwater, exposure to toxic chemicals and the fracking and douce earthquakes. These ones seem to catch on the most because they were flashy and they're easy for the average person to relate to. I mean, come on, earthquake, that word alone is instant headlines. Toxic chemicals, unless we're talking superpowers, that's something everyone can relate to. And finally, the infamous contamination of drinking water, which I'm sure some of you have seen some of the documentaries about. Let me make something clear here. These concerns are all valid. I'm not denying any of them, but I think it's important that we put everything into perspective because for me, the biggest issue by far with fracking is none of these. In fact, it blows my mind that the media and government doesn't focus more on this. It's the use of fresh water. Water is one of the most precious resources that we have, and fresh water even more so for me personally. I believe water usage will be one of these central factors, if not the central factor, in oil and gas going forward, and I mean all of oil and gas, as our conventional...

...reservoirs continue to go away and we rely more and more on unconventionals. Therefore, hydraulic fracturing, the use of water will be crucial to the success of this industry. It's why I've devoted the entirety of episode of nine to talk pretty much just about water. Let's take a look at the top three in the media, though. So we had groundwater contamination, fract chemicals and earthquakes. I'm going to try and explain the facts rather than take a position on each of these, but forgive my biases if they tend to come out, and make your own educated decisions and opinions. Hydraulic fracturing is supposed to be engineered to fracture the target rock formation, and only the target rock formation. Boil companies are spending a lot of money on fracturing operations, so it's completely wasteful and inefficient when the energy and fracking goes beyond their target. However, it's very difficult to design fracts that are contained entirely in the target formation. The Rock formations can be very complex and the calculus behind designing accurate FRAC models can be mine numbing. Ultimately, though, it is entirely possible and likely common for the fractures that are created to go beyond their intended target. When these fractures continue to grow and they tend to grow upward, they can connect with other naturally occurring fractures or faults in the earth, which create a pathway for the fract fluid. In some cases this pathway can lead all the way to aggre around water source and contaminated. Theoretically speaking, because we know the chemicals that are in a given fract fluid, we can match the groundwater contaminants to determine if it is indeed from the Frac or from something else. I'm...

...sure it's much more complicated in this once the lawyers get in, but that's basically the gist of it. However, when we're looking at fracts potentially contaminating ground water, you can run some simple math to determine if it's even possible. And what I mean by that is if you've got a formation that several kilometers below the surface of the earth and therefore several kilometers below your groundwater, the path that this water has to travel to get to the ground water is going to be quite long and, depending on what kind of volume you're pumping, you can actually calculate if it's even possible for that amount of volume to travel that far. And so really what I'm getting at here is that groundwater contamination is really only going to be likely or possible into scenarios, and one is if you've got a really shallow formation, meaning that it's not too deep and it's relatively close to the ground water or the surface, in which case, mathematically speaking, it would be possible for the FRAC water to actually travel all the way up in to your ground water. Or Two, if you have some sort of casing breach, and what I mean by that is, if you remember from we are are drilling episodes, we were talking about how, when you're drilling the well, you drill it with metal casing in the ground and then you put cement on the back side of that to protect the groundwater. Well, if, by some chance, you're casing has a whole or bends and brakes and the water can actually get out through the casing, through the cement into the ground water. In that type of scenario, then of course, yes, it's possible that you could have some sort of groundwater contamination from your FRAC fluid. Personally, I've never heard of that happening in the industry or the area that I work in, but yeah, of course...

...it's definitely possible. I'm just saying that for ground water contamination to be possible, you really have to have a specific set of scenarios line up the FRAC. Chemicals themselves are another issue. Most of them are environmentally friendly and some you could actually drink without any adverse effects, but some are just downright nasty. These are not things you want to spill on the ground or even let touch your skin. I'm talking about hydrochloric acid and bioside. Hydrochloric acid and other acids are used to dissolve rock near the well to make the frack easier to initiate or to do. They are deluded, but they'll still burn and significantly hurt you if you come into contact with them. Bi asides, on the other hand, are designed to kill any bacteria in the frack water, but because they're designed to kill bacteria, they are extremely harmful to pretty much any living organism. Blanket statement there. Their actual composition is mostly a trade secret, with each track company having their own special blend. The last exciting topic in the media is earthquakes, and because this has become such a popular topic recently, I've decided to do an entire episode to go over the details. We'll talk about this more in episode ten. Hey guys, if you like today's episode, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. Unlike most podcasts that release an episode every week or two. I did all twenty four at once, Netflix style, so you can listen to them all right now if you just hit subscribe. If you like today's episode, make sure you leave me a comment or a thumbs up, or you can email me at from...

...fossil to fuel at GMAILCOM, or look me up on Linkedin. I'm Brendan McDougall.

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