Fracking: Development of Gas Holds Great Promise
Living in a state with little history of natural gas development, I sense a pall of uncertainty at the prospect of drilling for this natural resource.
With a long background in petroleum exploration, I feel an obligation to try to add some perspective to this debate.
Natural gas development brings many positives. As the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel, its expanded use for transportation and power generation will help offset the amount of oil imported each year — about $500 billion worth and growing. It will also bring many economic benefits to local and state governments in the form of tax revenue, royalties, fees, etc.
The land/mineral owner will benefit from lease bonuses, rentals and royalties. For example, the mineral owner would receive about 12.5 percent of the value of any gas produced from his/her land — about $2,700 per day for a well producing five million cubic feet. The local area would benefit economically from infrastructure development, sales of equipment, supplies and services and from new job creation.
Horizontal drilling and fracking are technologies that enable the production of oil and gas from compact rocks that would otherwise be unrecoverable. These technologies are being successfully employed in full compliance with a plethora of laws and regulations across more than a dozen states from south Texas to the Canadian border and east to the Appalachians. That benefits our nation as well as the local communities, landowners and states.
Fracking takes place a few to several thousand feet below the surface and involves pumping large amounts of water into the zone of interest under pressure sufficient to fracture the rock and free up the gas trapped within.
The pressure required to fracture the rock is easy to calculate, and the risk of those fractures running amok to contaminate freshwater zones is highly unlikely. The entire purpose of fracking would be instantly defeated if the fractures extended into the mass of surrounding rock, providing an unwanted escape route for the gas. The freshwater zones are protected behind multiple strings of steel casing securely cemented into place.
A small percentage, about 0.5 percent of total volume, of various chemicals are added to the injected water to prevent adverse reactions such as to suppress clay mineral swelling and iron scale buildup. Some of this water may return to the surface along with the produced gas, where it is then separated from the gas and disposed of according to established laws and regulations.
Coarse sand is usually injected into the fractured zone to “prop” open the fractures. Horizontal drilling opens up much more of the gas-bearing section to the well bore, dramatically increasing the recovery of gas from a single well, thereby limiting the operational footprint on the surface.
Our legislators, in developing the state’s oil and gas law, should adhere to the lesson I learned as a 10-year-old. Frustrated with a barrage of unwanted advice from a much less successful neighbor, my father looked down at me and said, “Son, if you ever want advice, go to someone who has been successful in that field.”
So I urge our legislators or their emissaries to go to those states such as Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma with well-established oil and gas laws to learn from them.
Our state legislators, Sen. Harris Blake and Rep. Jamie Boles, have a golden opportunity to make a difference in the lives of North Carolinians should oil and gas development come to our state.
In the early part of the last century, the state of Texas, developing its oil and gas law, came up with a novel idea. It earmarked the oil and gas royalties from Section 16 of each township of state-owned land for education. Those became known as School Board Sections. Consequently, that royalty revenue allowed the state of Texas to developed one of the most advanced educational systems in the U.S. Additionally, oil and gas royalty revenue is the reason that the state of Texas has no state income tax today.
North Carolina should do something similar. In developing the state’s oil and gas law, set aside 20 percent of all oil- and gas-generated revenue for education without diminishing the percentage of the state budget for education derived from other revenue sources. This should have broad political appeal.
If you do it right, future generations will be forever grateful.
Charles Holbrook, of Pinehurst, is a geologist with a long history of petroleum exploration in multiple states and one foreign country. He taught geology for four years through Campbell University after retirement.
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