Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” coupled with technological advances in horizontal drilling, have revolutionized the natural gas industry’s ability to tap into North America’s vast shale reserves and dramatically boost available natural gas volumes.
Because of its relatively low cost and increased availability, natural gas has become the “energy of choice” for many companies using it to fire up their plants, heat their buildings, generate electricity and maintain business operations.
Natural gas executives lately are expressing an optimism they haven’t always enjoyed about their industry’s future. Before, limited natural gas reserves appeared for decades to be locked up and inaccessible due to an inability to reach them underground.
Fracking and horizontal drilling have made an almost infinite supply of natural gas and petroleum a reality, they say, greatly helping America’s energy independence.
But the controversial hydro fracturing technology is opposed by many environmental groups who fear it contaminates ground water, reduces air quality and causes gases and chemicals to migrate to land surfaces.
Injection of highly pressurized fluids into subterranean shale formations creates new veins or fractures, which improve extraction rates and recovery of hydrocarbons. The fluid injected into the rock typically is a slurry of water, sand, gels , foams, chemical additives and gases, including nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen.
Industry officials say fracturing liquids consist 90 percent of water, 9.5 percent of sand and .5 percent of chemicals. A typical fracking treatment uses between three and 12 chemical additives, including acids, salt, friction reducers, ethylene glycol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, carbonates and disinfectants.
Petroleum engineers, not public relations professionals, coined the term “fracking,” notes Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Portland-based Northwest Gas Association – a trade organization that includes six natural gas utilities serving Idaho, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, and four transmission pipelines that transport natural gas throughout the region from supply basins.
There were large declines in industrial natural gas use in 1999 and 2000 in connection with California’s energy crisis, which left only two of 10 aluminum plants standing in the Pacific Northwest, Kirschner says. The “Great Recession” that started at the end of 2008 also caused permanent shutdowns of other plants across the region.
Meanwhile, “gas came into the market right into the teeth of the Great Recession. There was a decline in demand just as there was a great increase in production.” From 2007 to 2010, there was a dramatic spike in production, driving down costs. (more…)