Technology toes the line between environmental stewardship and profitability in today’s shale gas industry.
According to Raymond Roccon, director business development, Tetra Technologies, Inc., “Fracing doesn’t need to be a dirty word.”
It’s true, the issue is polarized politically, but from the well construction point of view the industry has never operated more cleanly, nor has it ever been more environmentally conscious.
Forget about simple concerns about being “green.” Today, the rapid pace of drilling in North American shale plays has developed a number of trends that not only are decreasing the industry’s environmental footprint, but are saving operating companies cold hard cash.
Roccon was among the speakers who presented at an environmental workshop that was organized in conjunction with Hart Energy’s DUG East conference held in Pittsburgh, Pa., Nov. 15, 2011.
Today, fracing operations generally are carried out using frac water pits as opposed to multiple tanks. These are double lined, double welded, and are specifically designed to avoid communication with groundwater. Environmentally sound and easily mitigated once operations cease, the modern frac job improves safety and long-term profitability. “First-generation slickwater frac jobs typically used trucks to supply vast amounts of water,” Roccon said. “This created a large footprint.”
Reduced truck traffic ensures a smaller footprint. Process improvements also include water reuse technology, which is impacting hydraulic fracturing in a big way. Designing systems to contain, treat, and reuse both flow-back water and produced water in some cases is adding more to the bottom line for companies that considered water as an afterthought just a few short years ago.
It is in the best interest of any company to consider the natural environment when operating on site, but these process improvements often require investment – especially in areas like water treatment, where spent water is now being disposed.
A common myth among detractors is that oil and gas companies rarely invest money in protecting the environment. Experts, however, disagree. “The industry is getting safer and safer,” said Todd Perry, principal and senior geologist, PPM Consultants. The US produces around 5.6 MMbbl/d of oil and 75.4 Bcf/d of gas with an annual spill incident rate of less than 0.01%. “This success is due in large part to the nearly US $5 billion per year spent by the industry to stay in compliance with regulations,” Perry said. The fact is that companies are realizing real profit by minimizing their exposure to environmental risk. Simple improvements such as pad drilling, unifying water management systems, reclaiming and reusing water, and performing these tasks on location are all contributing to the bottom line. Perry quoted legendary brewer Peter Coors as saying, “Find pollution or waste and you have found something you paid for but can’t sell. You’ve found inefficiency… Fundamentally all pollution is lost profit.”
“This comment speaks to the core of production issues,” Perry said.