Drilling Ahead: Balanced energy strategy beats demonizing natural gas

Posted on 30 April 2010

By Mike Killalea, editor & publisher

In the oil and gas business, most people adopt an evenly balanced approach to energy and the environment. The people I brush shoulders with don’t trumpet oil-and-gas solutions for every niggling energy problem.

Rather, our guys and gals think broadly and generously, with a realistic and panoramic view of the full energy, economic and environmental mosaic. We obviously regard the role of oil and natural gas as critical, but recognize as well the importance of nuclear, coal and alternative sources.

So it’s disappointing and irksome to read demagoguery on the subject – particularly when it targets natural gas. And no, I am not speaking of environmental extremists whose only answers are solar, wind or biomass. These smidgens of energy will doubtless skyrocket. But 100 times a smidgen equals what? A whit? Perhaps a half whit.

In any event, the clamor of the clean crowd is so much noise, and green breast-beating is to be expected.

No, it is the more disheartening to read vituperative attacks from those who should know better. I refer specifically to an occasionally received e-newsletter from Energy-Facts.org. The website is touted as “Commentary and Research from Dr Frank Clemente.” Now Dr Frank is a professor of “Social Science and Energy Policy” at Penn State University and boasts an “Expert Profile” on coalcandothat.com. Gee, I wonder where funding for Energy-Facts originates.

Energy-Facts.org pulls no punches in demonizing natural gas – pricing, availability and, oddly from a coal-ish perspective, its environmental impact. But the vigorous condemnation of natural gas sounds edged with desperation – plaintive objections from one on the wrong side of the facts. Shrill headlines from recent newsletters include “Natural Gas: Is a Train Wreck Looming” and “ ‘Dash to Gas’ Makes Neither Economic Nor Environmental Sense.”

Most laughably, the coal-loving column dolefully disputes natural gas’ environmental benefits. Its tired, ennui-inspiring prose not only trashes the safety of the time-tested and drinking-water-friendly hydraulic-fracturing method, but even questions the low-CO2 content of natural gas.

For those seeking a balanced view, I urge a visit to www.EnergyInDepth.org, which, I must brag, was co-sponsored by IADC, along with allied energy groups, such as the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

The facts, as cited on EnergyInDepth.org, are that frac fluids are 99.5% water and sand. The minute remaining 0.49% comprises such threatening substances as NaCl (table salt), citric acid (please pass the lemon juice), and proppant material (also used in drinking water filtration and play sand), to name a few.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has already conducted two studies on dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing. Both produced in a clean bill of health. The latter study, in 2004, specifically addressed fracturing in coalbed methane wells. Other research has confirmed these results.

Now EPA is conducting yet another study. Stay tuned.

For a comprehensive review of shale plays and activity both in the US and in Europe, please check out the article by DC contributing editor Katie Mazerov beginning on p 72.

The point is not to launch an internecine squabble among those of us who, in a better world, would be energy partners. A balanced and broad approach to energy supply makes the best sense not only for our individual interests, but for the ultimate customers – the citizens of the global community.

You can reach Mike Killalea at mike.killalea@iadc.org.

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