Saturday, April 9, 2016
"Frackphobia" from the perspective of a mud engineer
Frackphobia from the perspective of a mud engineer
Added to a virtual barrage of You Tube videos expounding the dangers of hydraulic fracking, two new feature-length films, "Promised Land" and "FracNation," show the new techniques of fracking from the perspective of a fearful propagandized paranoia, unsound speculation, and outright lies.
I know this, because I did fracking for 30 years as a mud engineer.
Fracking, along with new specially designed muds, and innovative directional tools, has produced an unprecedented amount of Natural Gas here in the US. It has become so prolific, the price of Natural Gas is at an all- time low, with the assurance, even in our Progressive White House, that there will be more than enough for export. It promises to also transition our infrastructure from oil to natural gas, along with state of the art LNG export facilities. It is hoped that clean-burning Natural Gas will revive our long stagnant economy, and clean up our environment as well. It promises to bring another, unsurpassed and long-awaited, oil-patch boon. And 100 years of clean energy.
And yet, the green-machine wants nothing to do with it. They see other ways to make money for themselves.
It isn't surprising that Matt Damon's "Promised Land" is funded by elements inside of the United Arab Emirates, because they know full well that America can finally become energy independent. How comically cartoonish to drench a miniature farm with common household chemicals and then set it on fire. A bit reminiscence of Mr. Bill on Saturday Night Live, "Oh, no!"
In FracNation, a homeowner claims that the fracking procedure polluted his ground water with weapons-grade uranium, and New Yorkers Against Fracking has the Statue of Liberty torching drilling rigs as they flee in fear. Please note that Frack in FracNation is misspelled.
"In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater." -Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency, April, 2012. In front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in May 2011, Ms. Jackson previously stated: "I'm not aware of any proven case where the fracking process *itself has affected water." Please note the word "itself," that Ms. Jackson used above. I will explain the reason she used that word below...
The EPA backed her claims, both then and now. Published in California's San Jose Mercury News was an amazing imperative by the state's oil and gas supervisor, Tim Kustic. Taken out of a long context he said: "In the 41 years that I have supervised oil and gas exploration, production, and development in South Dakota, no documented case of water-well or aquifer damage by fracking of oil or gas well, has been brought to my attention."
Here is the truth, from my experience. You be the judge.
Spending nearly 30 years of my life as a Mud Engineer, or what some in the industry might call a Fluid Engineer, what is stated above is probably true. Fracking does not, in and of itself, pollute ground water, but there is more to this story... Note above that Ms. Jackson said *"itself," and that is the rub. They know that fracking is not the whole story of drilling, and that is a CYA word. Here is how drilling actually works, in a nutshell.
Surface hole, especially in the basin and Gulf Coast, is drilled through sand, gravel, and then varieties of hydrateable clay. This is usually where fresh water is encountered, and it is sometimes in communication with surface water, like wells and even lakes and ponds. The mud used to drill these formations vary on circumstance, but most often has a fresh-water clay base for viscosity, Premium Wyoming Bentonite, and a small amount of caustic or lime for flocculation, to help carry up the pea gravel and cuttings to the surface. As we drill into a firmer shale, strong enough to accept a casing shoe, those fresh-water formations are cemented behind casing, safe and sound. But every well is different, and all around the world, and sometimes an inhibitor has to be used in those top zones so that indigenous clays will not hydrate. That's when Lignite and what is called chrome-lignosulfonate are used.
Chrome is a heavy metal. Without that, drill pipe will stick. I have seen times in west Texas when these clays were so water sensitive the mud was pumped out like tooth paste, to be shoveled by roustabouts under the rig floor, and the shale shaker completely bypassed. Nightmare scenarios, but we drilled the well. That was our job, and because of that, you have gas for your car, lipstick and plastic, clothes and rubber, insecticides and fertilizers, even petroleum jelly.
Now chrome is indeed a cancer causing agent in large quantities, but what is diluted into the environment is in such a minute amount it is virtually undetectable. I know this because I did the testing. It is like trying to determine emission on a jet airplane traveling at 33,000 feet. Everyone knows the emissions are toxic, but they are diluted to the point where it is not a concern.
You check to see that you have a good cement job by performing what is called a leak-off test, under a prescribed pump pressure. The outcome is duly recorded on a chart and kept as part of the permanent rig records, by strict laws.
Definitely, a bad cement job can contaminate ground water, but it is quickly detected and fixed by what is called a "squeeze." By mathematics, it can easily be determined where the leak is and cement is squeezed to seal the leak. Another test is done, and possibly another squeeze, until the test shows stability under pump pressure. And all of these procedures came under the description of what was considered my job, and my responsibility, as a field fluid engineer. The cementer did the pumping, and we compared calculations, along with the Company Man in a pre-job meeting. We all compared our calculations, and safety and rig time was our primary criteria, along with the job.
I was the first to experiment with "drill in" fluids designed for directional and fracking procedures, and I mixed lignosulfonates, synthetic polymers, and oil based muds for deep hot wells all around the world. I considered myself responsible, and took my job seriously, as one mistake in my calculations or inattention on the pits could have blown us all to bits. I answered to the Company Man, and the Tool Pusher only, and I was considered their adviser. If they did not feel comfortable with my advice, they had the ability to immediately and with extreme prejudice, replace me. I worked internationally all around the world, from the North Sea, Saudi, Equator, Africa, Mexico, to India, on deep sea submersibles to drill ships, jack-ups to floaters. I was also considered a work-over and completion hand as well.
I saw regulations change to the point where one could be run off of a job for a flip word (bad attitude), not wearing ear plugs or safety glasses, or being caught urinating over the side. Zero discharge, and that was strictly enforced. Part of my job was to do a daily visual monitor of the surface of the sea down-wind and current, and was required to record any anomaly. My rig could get fined heavily if a surprise inspection indicated this paper work had not been done, or was bogus, and I would be given no second chance. Anything discharged over the side was tested my me, from chlorides to solid content, and recorded in my daily mud report. If something happened, and this was brought even to the supreme court, my words were held as evidence to the truth of the matter.
Though I have never experienced a blow-out on my watch, I have killed other wells with barite and iron oxide as heavy at 19.5 pounds. In my day, nearly all mud engineers were college graduates, chemistry and math teachers looking for a more lucrative profession.
Believe what you will, but it is undeniable that money makes the world go around, and those who control the black-gold machine, the drug machine, the war-machine, and the new green machine, would do or say anything to make a buck. Fortunately we still have rule of law, and some of it still protects truth, and those who live by it. I believe this, even after all of my years standing on the shaker looking for transition zones. I can't conceive of living in a world where it is not...
The oilfield was once a world primarily of men, tenacious, resolute, and professional, and we learned quickly that everything we did had a consequence. If anyone couldn't take responsibility for that, they went to the house. And that is exactly the same today, but for a few amazing women who seem to fit in perfectly.