Monthly Archives: December 2011

SHALE GAS vs COAL BED METHANE

There is a lot of confusion regarding the terms Shale Gas and Coal Bed Methane, along with an array of other terms.
Here, I attempt to clear up some of the confusion regarding the terms and associated issues.

TERMINOLOGY

Shale Gas is defined as a natural gas produced from shale. Shale has low permeability, so gas production in commercial quantities requires fractures to provide permeability. Shale gas has been produced for years from shales with natural fractures; the shale gas boom seen in the USA in recent years has been due to new technology in hydraulic fracturing (especially directional drilling and frack fluids) to create extensive artificial fractures around well bores. It is sometimes referred to as tight gas. Shale is by far the most common rock associated with tight gas, but others include certain sandstones.

Tight gasis natural gas held in rocks with pores up to 20,000 times narrower than a human hair, such that the gas will not flow freely into a well without fracturing.

Coal Bed Methane (CBM), also sometimes known as sweet gas, coalbed gas, or coal mine methane (CMM), is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds. To extract the gas, a steel-encased hole is drilled into the coal seam (100 to1500 meters below ground). Often, pressure within the coal seams brings water and gas to the surface readily enough. As the pressure within the coal seam declines, due to natural production or the pumping of water from the coalbed, stimulation by hydraulic fracturing is used . Unlike shale, coal is frequently very porous and permeable, and therefore often has a high water content. It generally needs to be de-watered before any gas can be extracted and collected. The ‘produced water’ is either re-injected into isolated formations, released into streams, used for irrigation, or sent to evaporation ponds. It is often contaminated with all manner of dissolved ingredients from the coal beds and associated rocks.

All the above types of gas extraction fall under the category of Unconventional Gas. One way of defining unconventional gas is that can only be produced economically by using hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, or other techniques to expose more of the reservoir to a borehole in order to gain access to the gas.

HYDRAULIC FRACTURING (FRACKING)

  • Shale/tight gas requires intensive fracturing at regular intervals, as essentially gas can only be extracted from fractured rock.
  • Shale gas requires the use of a wide range of chemicals due to the extreme conditions (‘tightness’/porosity, depth/pressure, length of boreholes)
  • Shale gas requires directional drilling into and along the beds, with explosives set of at regular intervals to fracture as much rock as possible and free as much gas as possible.
  • Shale gas requires extraordinarily high hydraulic pressures to be generated in the fissures created, in order to open them up and create the flow of gas. It needs to exceed the rocks strength in order to fracture it. 15000 psi is not unheard of.
  • Coal Bed Methane can involve everything involved above in extreme cases, but will generally be used mush less frequently, with less use of frack fluid chemicals; possibly without the use of directional drilling along the seams; and without such extreme pressures being needed.

CONTAMINATION ISSUES

  • Coal Bed Methane is often relatively close to the surface and, being porous and permeable, frequently needs de-watering; producing huge quantities of water, before any gas production is possible. Coal is often an aquifer but the water will invariably be ‘dirty’ to some extent. Very often, this produced water contains excessive levels of sodium bicarbonate that make it unsuitable for direct discharge into water courses or for agricultural use. There are also often issues with salinity and high levels of sulphur compounds and objectionable minerals such as barium.
  • Any chemicals used in fracking for CBM cannot be ‘secured’ at all. Rarely is more than 50% of frack fluid recovered, and allied to the porosity and permeability of the geology, will mean that the chemicals will have all manner of ways of ‘escaping’ into the wider environment.
  • Shales rarely have any significant water content therefore do not require de-watering.
  • It is a myth that the often great depth of shale formations, and the associated distance between shale beds and aquifers (water bearing rocks), means there is no chance of aquifer contamination – for at least 2 good reasons:
  • The first of these is that although shale normally has little or no permeability, it may lie adjacent to various conduits that could allow contaminants and fracking fluids to migrate in unexpected ways. Leaky dykes, undetected faults, faults created in the fracking process, and sand channels are all known examples of such conduits.
  • The second known issue is effectively the man-made conduits that are the boreholes. The issues of poor well casings are well documented and very common. Even good initial casings degenerate with use and time, such that academic studies have indicated that at least 50% of boreholes will leak in their lifetime.
  • The leaks can release the frack chemical nasties into the environment, and/or allow gas migration. They will also allow leached materials contained with the shales to get free into the environment. Some of these can be very nasty, such as radioactive isotopes. Shales are responsible for most natural radioactivity, so gamma ray logs are often used as a good indicator of the presence of such rocks. Radioactive Radon is a particular issue here in South Wales, but other isotopes commonly found include Potassium 40K , Thorium 232Th and Uranium 238U.
  • It is not just water that gets contaminated. It is soil and air too. The majority of methane that migrates out of the shale or coal beds, or leaks from fracking operations either underground or at the surface, will leak straight into the atmosphere (not into water supplies), where it is potent greenhouse gas. It is impossible to quantify the totality of these leaks, but they are likely to be enormous.

I hope this is helpful.

If you want to know anything else, please ask via the reply facility (Leave a Comment) or the Facebook page. If I don’t know, I will do my best to find out.

(Andy)

Pippa Bartolotti duly elected as new Wales Green Party leader

I can report that, as anticipated, Pippa Bartolotti has been elected as Wales Green Party’s new leader. Pippa is known by her local community as a hard-working campaigner against the Newport Incinerator and a member of the flotilla offering aid to Gaza.
She said:
“I am proud and indeed humbled to be leading Wales Green Party at a time when our message of solving economic and environmental challenges together is desperately needed. Our membership has nearly doubled in the last 2 years, and our voice is getting stronger. The people of Wales deserve to be represented by a party which is prepared to stand strong in action and principle, and present sturdy policies to bring Wales successfully through the difficult years to come.””All over this country we face threats from an unrepentant banking sector which the rest of us have been forced to pay for, and a Government refusing to protect our health and our future by safeguarding the environment. The Green Party will push for policies which create decent jobs and tangible stability. Our strength is in our unwavering commitment to a philosophy which has been proved right time and again. I will work hard to forward our Green agenda for small businesses, for green jobs, for clean industries, better health and a more stable economy.”

“I would like to thank all the members of the Green Party who have voted for me, and thank them for their honesty and commitment which has become the hallmark of a party I am proud to serve.”

Bridgend members will have the chance to meet Pippa at an event Keith is hosting in Swansea, early in the New Year. Details soon.

Encouraging stuff in the news re fracking campaign

Firstly, DECC blog, published today asks the right questions – so let us hope ministers read it and act on it:

http://blog.decc.gov.uk/2011/12/29/energy-future-why-we-cant-afford-to-stick-with-fossil-fuels/

Secondly, our fight against the frackers get acknowledged in the BBC Wales Review of the Year:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-16289702

(although I am not happy that they chose to highlight a misleading quote from Gerwyn Williams!)

As Britain’s poorest are hit by £2.5bn ‘stealth tax’, we need our honest alternative, the Citizens Income, more t han ever

The moral bankruptcy of the the Coalition Government is laid bare by this analysis of the forthcoming
tax changes. The Government’s flagship policy of raising income-tax thresholds has been trumpeted
by the Liberal Democrats as their main achievement since the Coalition was formed last year and
a major boost for the low-paid. But they are now shown to be either utterly inept at checking over the
small print produced by their Tory partners, or aware that it is no more than yet another ‘con’ trick to
rob the poor to give to the rich.

To quote the Resolution Foundation’s findings:
“The biggest winners will be those with middle to high incomes: “Overall, the measure remains

regressive in the lower half of the distribution… Not only is the change huge overall; it is not widely

understood or known about being made up of a number of small changes to both the child tax

credit and working tax credits.” The study concluded: “Low to middle-income households receive

56 per cent of all tax credits in cash terms and so will be hit disproportionately.”

Although 1.1 million people will be taken out of tax by April, the analysis concluded that family incomes

have dropped “dramatically” since the Coalition was formed when inflation and earnings are taken into

account. A couple with two children and an income of £40,000 a year will see it fall by 8.9 per cent between

2010-11 and 2012-13, and by 14.5 per cent by 2013-14. “The scale of that obviously puts in context the

very small impact of the personal-allowance increase,” said the think tank. It defines low to middle earners

as having incomes ranging from £12,000 for a couple with no children to £42,500 a year for a couple with

two children.”

Full Independent article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-poorest-hit-by-25bn-stealth-tax-6281832.html?fb_action_ids=782901269654&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_source=other_multiline#access_token=AAADWQ6323IoBAP66jCpcCoEZCMaJT2ZBsaWYD4lGGVoGzkTO4h5m2BpQL6myscsxiojWclJ0FCZBpLmHsmFX42RzYlOxSHuXGC3qxt1ZAoRgzefF3cul&expires_in=6876

We have to get our Citizen’s Income proposals out there so people can see that there is a genuine, honest
alternative to securing the living standards of the low paid and vulnerable.See the attached document from
the Citizens Income Trust – a charitable organisation that is politically independent and totally committed to
The concept of the Citizens Income being THE way forward: >

ASPECTS OF CITIZENs INCOME.doc

TEN SIMPLE RESOLUTIONS THAT WILL MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE IN

From: Andy & Natalie ChybaDate: 26/12/2011 21:06:40
To: GreenParty Blog Post
Subject:SOME SIMPLE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS THAT WILL MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE IN

  1. Reduce your carbon footprint – We rely on the Earth every day for the most basic of needs: air, food, water, energy, and many other things that enable our survival. What most of us are only starting to realize is that it is also a very delicate system. Just upsetting one element will make many other pieces fall quickly out of place. 23100r6Az42OSWRUPRQOQPTXTQSVWe must love and care for our home planet as much as we can, and it can be done via simple little actions that won’t even cost us a lot of effort, like declining plastic bags and containers, recycling, turning off appliances that aren’t in use, conserving water. You know the drill. If you need more help: http://www.carbonfootprint.com/athome.html

  2. Work less and go out more – Do you ever get the feeling that you’re missing out on life when you spend the whole day cooped up working inside an office? The world be so much better if everyone took time off from work and went ahead and followed their dreams. It’s a win-win situation. The happier and more fulfilled everyone is, the more they will want to spread that joy to others. That’s not even counting the good it will do the earth when all those computers and office gadgets are given a break. So explore the world and do something new and worthwhile. As a step towards enabling this for everyone, we are working on making the four day week Green Party policy, inspired by this 1932 essay by Bertrand Russell: http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html

  3. Walk or bike to your destination instead of taking your car, or use public transportation as much as possible – Cars use up a lot of precious fuel and energy and not only do they pollute our air, too many cars on the road will cause traffic and not to mention, accidents. The result, very many upset and angry people. Not a healthy way to live. Green cars are helping solve the fuel & pollution problem but they still don’t solve traffic. Walking, hiking, biking and taking public transportation will greatly reduce this problem and what’s more, you will become healthier and fitter too. What’s not to like about that? This is one reason we will continue to support this campaign: http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk

  4. Make it a habit to smile more often – You probably know that it only takes seventeen face muscles to smile and, in contrast, a whopping forty-three muscles for your mouth to go the other way? Yet smiles are often underused, under-rated and under-appreciated. A simple smile can make the world a better and brighter place if only everyone took more time to do it and really mean it. Smiling makes us more attractive; can change our mood in an instant; can relieve stress; and releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin. So remember, you are never properly dressed without a smile! (Apologies for not remembering where I heard this quote – maybe it was my grandma, which leads me nicely to ….)

  5. Spend more time with someone from a different generation and learn cool stuff you never knew before – Spending time with children and/or older people will expand your mind and open it up to a universe of thoughts you’ve never even pondered about before. Looking at the world from a broader perspective makes you a better and well-rounded person. How do you think I get to know so much about Indie rock if I didn’t spend a lot of time with my sons and their mates? Or those classic musicals if I didn’t watch them with my grandma when I was a child? (Was that quote earlier from Annie?) Sharing knowledge and insights between generations allow us to become more aware of how things work on this planet.

  6. Support local products as much as possible, and promote tourism to where we live – Buying local products and supporting industry in your home area reduces environmental impact, puts your taxes to good use, ensures a better economy and encourages local prosperity. Localism is a fundamental strand of Green economics. We should not be blind to the wonderful environment in which we live, here in South Wales: http://www.southernwales.com/explore-the-area/the-glamorgan-heritage-coast.aspx and http://www.bridgendfarmersmarket.co.UK/Cymraeg/index.html

  7. Lend a helping hand if you’re able, and give without expecting anything back – This can be as simple as opening a door for someone whose hands are full, assisting an elderly person carry books, or helping a child or elderly person cross the street. Giving is also as easy as baking two cakes and sending the extra one to a dear friend (it makes my day when I am on the receiving end of this gesture – hint, hint!), or clearing out your closet and sending your unwanted pile to your local charity shop to benefit others. You don’t even have to move from where you are seated right now to help promote causes/petitions ( http://www.avaaz.org/en/ ) or support worthwhile charities (e.g. http://www.amnesty.org.uk/ )

  8. Write to someone who inspired you – There is nothing like receiving a sincere, heartfelt letter from someone thanking you for inspiring them to become a better person so just imagine what the recipients will feel when they read it. You not only made their day, you also encouraged them to continue inspiring others like you. I also commend the following campaign as a way of making a difference to inspirational people in dire straits: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=10673

  9. Share your knowledge and life experiences with people you’ve never met – Everyone’s an expert on something so if you want to be able to share your expertise with others, it has never been easier. Facebook and other social media are great, as are blogs like this one and ones on every topic under the sun (I would love contributions to this blog from as many of you as possible. Send to greens@chyba.go-plus.net) . They reckon everyone has at least one book in them too, and that is easier than ever as well (Click on the Lulu logo in the top left here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/AsylumoftheUniverse )

  10. Reach out and hug someone you care for each day, and don’t forget to tell them you love them as well – A hug is one of the best therapies ever. It is positive energy and validation transmitted in its simplest form and is such a simple, effortless gesture that can convey so much more than a million words. Have you heard of the Free Hugs campaign? It’s the story of Juan Mann whose mission was to reach out and hug a stranger to brighten up their lives. Indeed the world would be a much better place if it were full of happy, loving people, wouldn’t it? Making a difference really is this simple:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vr3x_RRJdd4

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS

Fracking Contamination ‘Will Get Worse’: says Alberta University Expert

I have been making most of these points about the problems of well case integrity from the outset of the campaign based on my own knowledge of first principles and the evidence of experts like Prof Tony Ingraffea. Here we have Karlis Muehlenbachs, a geochemist and a leading authority on identifying the unique carbon fingerprint or isotopes of shale and conventional gases, at the University of Alberta, expanding on these points based his own research and U.S. Federal studies:
http://thetyee.ca/News/2011/12/19/Fracking-Contamination/

The findings, which clearly contradict industry assurances, didn’t surprise Muehlenbachs, who has studied leaking wells in Alberta’s heavy oil fields for decades.

“The shale gas boom combined with hydraulic fracking will cause wellbores to leak more often than run-of-the-mill conventional wells,” says Muehlenbachs. “The problem is going to get worse, not better.”

Muehlenbachs, who has been fingerprinting leaking gases since 1994, says that hydraulic fracking, which as we know, injects water, chemicals and sand into rock formations at high pressures, may create more leaks in wellbores overtime. (As industry searches for deeper and more extreme hydrocarbons, it must blast open tight rocks with more brute force over larger land bases than conventional operations.)
“They’ll frack each well up to 20 times. Each time the pressure will shudder and bang the pipes in the wellbore. The cement is hard and the steel is soft. If you do it all the time you are going to break bonds and cause leaks. It’s a real major issue. ”

According to Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield company, there are problems galore. In 2003, the company reported that 43 per cent of 6,692 offshore wells tested in the Gulf of Mexico by U.S. Regulators were found to be leaking. In fact, by the time a well gets 15 years old, there is a 50/50 probability it will leak significantly and therefore contaminate other zones, wells, or groundwater.

“That’s amazing. It’s not Greenpeace reporting this but Schlumberger in the Oilfield Review,” says Muehlenbachs. (Reliable data on well integrity – see below – is hard to find, but a University of Calgary study found that in Alberta approximately five per cent of all wells leak, while leakage rates in Norway range from 13 to 19 per cent from producing wells.)

The University of Calgary study on ‘Well Design and Well Integrity’ can be found here: http://www.ucalgary.ca/wasp/Well%20Integrity%20Analysis.pdf

Muehlenbachs also recognises the industry’s propensity to tell blatant lies.

Although petroleum engineers now admit that companies routinely blast fluids and gas into other industry wells hundreds of metres away (B.C., Texas and North Dakota have all documented such cases), they still claim that “fracture communication incidents” can’t happen with groundwater.

Muehlenbachs, who has documented numerous cases of groundwater contamination, calls such denials dishonest. “Such claims do more harm than good to industry. Don’t they realize that social license matters to industry?”

Whenever methane leaks from one well into a neighboring wellsite, “industry says let’s fix the leaks,” says Muehlenbachs. “But as soon as the leaks enter groundwater, everyone abandons the same logic and technology and says it can’t happen and the denials come out. In Alberta, it’s almost a religious belief that gas leaks can’t contaminate groundwater.”

Yet it happens routinely. At a conference in Washington D.C. last month sponsored by ‘Resources for the Future’, Muehlenbachs showed evidence that shale gas drilling activity in Quebec and Pennsylvania had in several cases resulted in surface contamination.

The debate about whether leaking shale methane comes from heavily fracked zones creating faults into groundwater or along poorly cemented wellbores is immaterial to landowners, says Muehlenbachs. “You don’t care if it comes from fracking or a bad cement job, you suffer the consequences all the same, and lose your well water.”

Given these findings and a Duke University study that found extensive methane contamination of domestic water wells in a heavily fracked area, Muehlenbachs recommends that regulators do rigorous gas and water testing. In addition to baseline isotope testing of methane for all water wells and groundwater sources, Muehlenbachs says regulators must also test for ethane and propane (the shale gas fingerprint) as well as gas from abandoned wells and natural seeps and gases from well casings.

This is certainly is not part of our Environment Agencies regime of testing at present.

FOOTNOTE – Courtesy of Will Cottrell:

For the record, the audio for the event you mention is at http://video.rff.org:8000/~rff/111411.mp3, while Muehlenbachs’ slides are here – http://www.rff.org/Documents/Events/Seminars/111114_Managing_the_Risks_of_Shale_Gas/Muehlenbachs%20Nov%2014%20FINAL.pdf