Shale Gas Opens New Energy Frontier

This shale revolution has turned around the industry. Today it contributes to one-third of the US gas supplies. By 2030, it might provide half.

US oil and natural gas production is increasing at its fastest rate in five decades. The Bakken formation, one of the country’s largest shale gas reservoirs, produced 0.1m barrels per day in 2007. In 2012, it produced over 1mbpd. This rapid growth is set to continue over the next decade too. But there is another, less discussed part of this story too.

Fracking involves blasting millions of gallons of water, combined with chemicals and proppants, such as sand, underground at high pressure to release trapped oil and natural gas.

The high level of water consumption in the entire process, is now a real concern.

Hydraulic fracking has already run into a potential problem there because of the long-term drought that has afflicted the Lone Star State in recent years. The problem is exacerbated because the unique geology of the Eagle Ford formation, where Texas gets much of its shale oil and gas, requires more water to frack open the product.

Water is an issue. Many say the next round of global wars could be to secure scarce water resources. A senior Canadian diplomat, once told this correspondent; ‘look, we are a water rich country. And we know it fully well; the day there is a scarcity of water next door, we would find a pistol pointed at our head, to ensure a regular supply.’

Shale gas is a black hole for water, argue Asit Biswas Julian Kirchherr in a paper, carried by Huffngton Post.

A typical horizontal shale well requires 5m gallons of water to complete, according to Chesapeake Energy, which has fracked more shale wells in Ohio than any other company.

Exploiting the resource requires and pollutes massive amounts. And because of this water footprint, France in 2011 banned hydraulic fracturing. Environmentalists also note that water used in fracking cannot be treated and reintroduced to the water supply where it eventually will cycle through to become rain.

Lea Harper, founder of the Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water, an anti-fracking organisation, said , “We cannot make more water. We can find renewable sources of energy.”

Other countries are also joining in the shale bandwagon, making the water issue acute. China is reported to have huge, un-tap huge resource.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is planning to drill about seven test wells for shale gas this year.

“We know where the areas are,” Minister Al-Naimi said at a conference in Hong Kong, referring to the shale deposits.

“We have rough estimates of over 600 trillion cubic feet of unconventional and shale gas so the potential is very huge and we plan to exploit it.”

However, Aramco is conceding that finding the necessary amount of water will be difficult, Amin Nasser, senior vice president of upstream at Aramco said at a conference in Manama.

Faced with this challenge, oil and gas companies have been attempting to overcome the problem by recycling fracking fluid.

Texas Tribune reported that a new technology, dubbed “waterless fracking,” could address the problem of water use in fracking operations.

A Canadian company called GasFrac is using a combination of gelled propane and butane to conduct fracking, without the use of water.

The technology is new and may cost more than conventional hydraulic fracking. And in addition to propane, some companies are also experimenting with carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

The fracking industry is still in its infancy. In order to deliver the revolution, that it has promised and in fact unleashed too, it will have to overcome many obstacles.

The water issue is just the one – that needs immediate attention – all around the globe.