Natural Gas Q&A with Bill deRosiers – Part II

About a month ago I decided to start publishing some of the questions I receive regularly during my outreach to high schools in a natural gas q&a post. The first part (found here) focused on water, everything from sourcing it to the creation of water molecules during the combustion of methane. The two questions below are in response to my initial posting.

I didn’t realize the amount of water “produced” from the combustion of the excess methane.  I knew the chemistry behind it, but I didn’t realize the amount of the limiting reactant-the methane-being used. The biggest concern then, that I see, is the amount of carbon dioxide being blasted into the atmosphere, but out of all of them, I recognize natural gas is relatively clean burning and coal is probably the worst…which makes up over half of our country’s electricity product I believe.  My earth science instructor lives in a rural setting and they told me neighbors warned their family not to allow their property to be drilled because all the waste water is kept on site along with toxic chemicals which are surrounded by a fence.  What are your thoughts on this?

Context is the most important part of any well rounded discussion.

Yes, fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And, yes, some people believe this contributes to global warming. But, the reality is there are other, very large sources of greenhouses gasses besides fossil fuel, specifically natural gas development. For example, landfills produce a lot of greenhouse gas, especially methane. Did you know there is a power plant outside of Scranton that actually takes this landfill gas and produces electricity from it?

Swamps and wetlands produce greenhouse gasses, too. Basically wherever something is decomposing it is letting out some form of greenhouse gas. Volcanos, regardless of rupturing, produce massive amounts of greenhouse gas.

Finally, agriculture, especially cows, produce a lot of greenhouse gas when they defecate. Other sources of greenhouse gasses come from the manufacturing of plastics and pharmaceuticals. Even the process of making solar panels (not a green as you might think) and wind turbines (lots of metal work to build those fans) produce greenhouse gases.

What I’m trying to say is the oil and natural gas industry is singled out as a leading polluter when we have much bigger greenhouse gas emission sources to deal with across the board.

The reality is increased usage of natural gas and more efficient technology is actually spearheading a reduction in our greenhouse gases. As this brief from the Energy Information Agency explains: Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 were the lowest in the United States since 1994, at 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2. As we switch more power plants to natural gas, we continue to lower our environmental emissions significantly.

As for your earth science teacher, this statement seems quite anecdotal. Do you have more background? I’m not going to pretend we do not use chemicals or store waste water on location before it is treated. But, everything needs to be in context. To even start drilling a well we need upwards of 35 – 40 different state and federal permits. Once we start drilling we have to comply with random inspections from many of these state agencies. After we finish, we are responsible for the environment around a well site till the wells on it no longer produce. We also comply with voluntary trade standards set forth by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which is the industry’s way of policing itself. Many of these “Best Practices” can be found on the Marcellus Shale Coalitions website.

Here are some of Cabot’s procedures to ensure the environment is protected during a natural gas development.

  • All sites are lined with thick plastic and felt material to create a barrier with the ground.
  • All areas where liquids are stored have secondary containment set up.
  • Areas where fuel is stored will have additional containment barriers in place.
  • If fluid does spell, Cabot has vacuum trucks or equipment suck it up and responsible manage it.
  • Cabot utilizes a closed-loop drilling system whereby drilling fluids returning to surface are passed through a series of shaker screens and a centrifuge to remove cuttings before reuse. Cabot has completely eliminated the use of open pits in both its drilling and completion operations
  • Cabot’s drilling rigs are equipped to run dual fuel, which means combusting diesel and natural gas simultaneously.
  • Cabot has also deployed over 80 bi-fuel vehicles, capable of running on CNG or gasoline.
  • Cabot does not routinely flare wells after completion. Instead natural gas separated during the flow back period and sent to market.

When discussing the waste fluids that come out of the wellbore, we are not talking about some unknown sludge that is so volatile nothing can be done with it. Its dirt, rock and naturally occurring compounds in ground. People have disposed of these substances for decades. The industry is held to an incredibly high standard by numerous regulatory organizations. The PA DEP along with its regulatory counterparts has a great record of oversight and, when necessary enforcement, of the in oil & natural gas industry. Cabot proudly works with these agencies every day to responsibly develop natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

 

As an open thought question, how do you think-from an environmental standing, how can the hydraulic fracking industry work to lessen its impact?

First, let’s clarify a misconception I see quite a bit: hydraulic fracturing is one part of the whole developmental cycle; it is not the all-inclusive representation of the oil & natural gas industry.

In the life of a well it may take month of site prep, a week to set up drilling equipment, 16 days to drill it, a week or two to move drilling equipment out and completions in, 2 days to hydraulic fracture it and a few weeks to flow it back and install the production equipment. All told, a single well is developed in less than two months (more wells on a site will increase this timeframe, of course). More importantly, that same well will produce for multiple decades from the small pad site it is left on. This pad site will continually be upkeep from an environmental standpoint. Farmers can farm right up to its edges and wildlife can roam freely around it.

For comparison sake look up how much land disturbance it takes to install windmills? Solar panels? Both of these energy sources use a lot of land and produce only a fraction of what a natural gas site can.

In terms of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of Cabot’s operation, our engineers are constantly working to implement new technologies. These changes may reduce the time it takes to develop a well or the emissions we create during the development cycle. For instance Cabot is a leader in the implementation of alternative fuels for our equipment and vehicles. In our Marcellus operation over 85 vehicles are capable of running on compressed natural gas (CNG). On our drill sites, generators are equipped with dual fuel packaged allowing the simultaneous burning of diesel and natural gas. When applicable, hydraulic fracturing operations also run dual fuel equipment. Cabot has also implemented procedures to reduce flaring operations. These improvements are just a few examples of Cabot’s work to lessen our impacts.

I encourage everyone to visit other company websites to learn what each is doing. There is a lot of creative technology being employed across the natural gas industry.

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Bill desRosiers

Raised in Highland Falls, New York, William desRosiers learned about responsible resource development, firsthand, as a part of his family's mining business. William received his B.S. in Management, B.A.in History and MBA from Misericordia University. He currently serves in External Affairs for Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. His primary responsibilities include strengthening media relationships, managing company-run fundraising programs, building better community relations and representing Cabot every chance he has.

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