An Inside Look: Fracturing Q&A with Oil and Gas Industry Leaders – 3

Here’s the last installment of the question and answer session with industry leaders on hydraulic fracturing. You can read the first and second parts here.

How would you explain why hydraulic fracturing is so important to the industry?

Hydraulic Fracturing q&AA: Cobb – “There would be a tremendous amount of oil and gas that would never make it to the surface without hydraulic fracturing,” he said. “The big area we’re talking about now is these shales. We’ve known for years and years like in the Marcellus that there is gas in those shales, but the thing of it is, you can drill a hole down in there and you can’t get it out. Small amounts come out but with these frac jobs, they are creating huge fractures through the shale and you’ve enhanced the recovery just thousands and thousands of fold.”

How can the industry prove to the media and environmentalists that hydraulic fracturing really  is safe?

A: Clute – You can’t unless they choose to believe it.

“The EPA has done studies and service companies like Halliburton have done studies on the process,” Clute said. “If no one chooses to believe it, how do you defend yourself? People can make all these allegations and because the oil and gas industry has such as bad reputation, for better or for worse, it’s indefensible.

“There are places where there are problems, or where they were having casing failures, but for the most part it’s pretty minimal.”

A: Talmage – “I think the safety record in 50-60 years of fracing is pretty good when you compare it to any other industry out there,” he said. “We need to talk honestly about what we’re doing and also just using the actual safety record of the past 50 years of fracturing and saying hey, here are the numbers, here’s the ration and proportion of what has actually happened in a real way and not just listen to scare stories.

“I mean there are always going to be scare stories out there for anything. The industry also has to be responsible itself and say, hey, some of the stuff we’re doing we might need to take a look at and we might need to make some changes.”

Talmage said that change does not mean abandonment though.

“I don’t think anyone in the industry would say, ‘hey we need to stop hydraulic fracturing completely’ and walk away from it. It doesn’t make any sense because the rewards are much greater than the risk. But we need to honestly evaluate the risks and do whatever we can to prevent them.”

A: Cobb – “I don’t necessarily think you’ll change their minds,” he said. “I think people tend to distrust oil and gas and think they’re paying too much for oil at the pump and too much for natural gas and probably think their water is too high as well. But I think some more time could be spent [by the industry] on educating the public on what is transpiring in a frac job and how safe it is to drinking water.

What didn’t I ask that you think we should know about hydraulic fracturing?

A: Cobb – “Fracing in my opinion is relatively safe,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything that is foolproof. I think the BP blowout was a real disaster and those things do happen, even though most of it is human error. As long as humans are involved, we’ll continue to have problems sometimes, but we just have to hope that the impact is at a minimum.”

A: Clute – “Fracing in my opinion, is something that is a proven technology,” he said. “It’s been around since the 1940s and has improved domestic production immeasurably. If you took that method of completing oil and gas wells away, you’re going say goodbye to most domestic oil and gas production and existing production depletes.

“What you’re doing is running the risk of turning all of the wealth of the country over to people who don’t have our best interests in mind.”

A: Talmage – “It would be great if we could all have some completely renewable, completely free energy that we just get naturally, but anything from solar to wind has an environmental and economic impact and gas is no different,” he said. “If you compare something like natural gas fracturing to virtually any other energy source in the big picture and look at the safety record, the process and the volume, you’d probably find that it’s one of the cleaner and safer sources out there.”

Talmage also said that the industry isn’t great at communicating and those throwing blame don’t necessarily understand what’s actually happening, a sentiment echoed by the others I interviewed as well.

“I consider myself an environmentalist. I have a college degree in biology from Colorado and I care about the environment,” Talmage said. “But a lot of the people that are attacking the oil and gas industry don’t really understand it and they don’t understand science. They’re not really scientists. Whereas,  a lot of people in the oil and gas industry are engineers and they get the nitty gritty science of the stuff, but kind of by definition, engineers are very bad at explaining things so others can understand it well and people who often very good at explaining thins have very little to no expertise behind them.”

That is something that needs to change as well, he said.

“People that are bringing forth problems, yes, there are some legitimate problems they are bringing forth, but a large portion of them is just other crap, if I’m allowed to say that. And we need to do better at not getting riled up at the accusations and listen to some of the things they’re saying and see if there are things that make sense that we need to look at.

“This is all part of a bigger debate and that is population. We need energy to maintain our current lifestyle and we all have to make sacrifices somewhere.”

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