Fracking is safe, scientists say
Science, not inflamed rhetoric, should be the basis for discussions, geophysicist says
EAGLE COUNTY - Hydraulic fracturing can be done safely and it'll have to be, because the world will be doing more of it, said Dr. Mark Zoback,
"We cannot stop thinking toward the future just because we have abundant natural gas. If it's a bridge, there has to be something on the other side. And what's on the other side is a carbon free energy future," Zoback said.
Zoback was part of the Vail Global Energy Forum. He was also part of a committee formed to study the safety of hydraulic fracturing, called "fracking," a process that releases natural gas trapped deep underground.
The committee was small and diverse, composed of industry types, academics and environmentalists, Zoback said.
"We determined that there was no question shale gas could be developed safely. But we put forth a number of questions," Zoback said.
For example, they'd really like to know what's in those fracking fluids, Zoback said.
"Our committee called for full disclosure. We frankly thought that the best way for industry to make its point, was to get it all out there and tell the public that they're not putting anything dangerous in there," Zoback said.
Tens of thousands of wells over millions of hydraulic fractures raise issues such as surface water contamination and air pollution, Zoback said.
He said he appreciates fact-based discussion, but has little use for shriekers and sloganeers.
"Instead of fact-based and intelligent discussions, unfortunately those issues tend to get caught up in those no-fracking bumper stickers. It has become a cause celebre," Zoback said as a slide of Yoko Ono flashed onto the screen.
"Sometimes it's frustrating to hear hysterical people talk about issues that really don't exist. But that's one of the ways these regulatory improvements occur," Zoback said.
Places like Garfield and Weld counties are home to hundreds of gas wells, and will be for years to come.
Given the technology and reserves, there's no reason this country cannot be powered by clean American natural gas, said Jim Brown, president of Hallilburton's Western Hemisphere division.
It may happen sooner than we realize.
Two years from now the U.S. will pass Russia as the world's largest natural gas producer. We'll pass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2017, Zoback said.
In 2010 Americans consumed 17.5 million barrels of oil each day, and produced 7 million barrels per day; 2 million of those imports come from Canada.
By 2018 we'll import about half that, said Tom Petrie of Petrie Partners.
North America will be net energy independent in a few years, but Petrie cautioned against falling into a sense of false security and confidence.
Industry estimates put the U.S. natural gas supply at 100 years, but how long it lasts depends on how it's used.
"It's too soon to tell," Zoback said. "If we use natural gas for transportation it's down to 50 years. Add other uses and it's down to 30 years."
"This notion that gas at $3.50 isn't something you can count on. It won't stay that low," Petrie said.
Companies had to drill for gas to hold it, and that has contributed to the natural gas surplus that pushed down prices, Zoback said.
"You cannot drill at the price it is today and have it make economic sense," Zoback said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.