Vail Daily column: Hydraulic fracturing is necessary | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Hydraulic fracturing is necessary

Steve Soychak
Valley Voices

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

I read the column from Michael Pleimling in the Vail Daily recently about his concerns about hydraulic fracturing and the impact to Colorado’s waterways (“Fracking and its implications on Colorado’s waterways,” Thursday, July 13).

First off, I would like to say that hydraulic fracturing to stimulate oil and gas production has been around a very long time (the first documented hydraulic fracturing operation was in 1947 in Kansas) and is necessary for extracting oil and gas from newly drilled wells. As a petroleum engineer, I was involved in my first hydraulic fracturing treatment in Colorado in 1979. Tens of thousands of oil and gas wells have been drilled in Colorado since that time, with almost all of them being hydraulically fractured.

Without hydraulic fracturing, more than 90 percent of the wells drilled would not be economic and therefore would not be drilled. As a nation and a state, we have to continue to produce our own domestic oil and gas, which has made energy much more affordable for our citizens and has vastly improved our quality of life.

Since the industrial revolution and due to the hydrocarbon society we live in, people are living much longer (“The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” by Alex Epstein, p. 77), and cheap, abundant energy has afforded human beings a much more comfortable life.

Colorado’s oil and gas fields, where the majority of wells have been hydraulically fractured, have existed for 30 to 50 years near many of Colorado’s waterways (i.e., DJ Basin along the North Platte, San Juan Basin along the San Juan and Las Animas rivers and in the Piceance Basin along the Colorado River). I have personally fly-fished many of these waterways and have noticed a lot of these producing gas wells that were hydraulically fractured near the banks. Some of the best fishing I have ever experienced has been along the San Juan River in New Mexico, where a 40-year-old gas field exists, and no doubt the majority of these wells were hydraulically fractured.

The makeup of hydraulic fracturing fluid these days is comprised of mostly (99.5 percent) sand and water. A very small amount of chemicals (surfactants, biocide and friction reducers) are used, and I am not aware of any documented case where these chemicals have ever caused a catastrophe along a waterway.

There have been some documented cases of hydrocarbons from producing wells that have been spilled on the surface or escaped through poor cement integrity in wellbores that have gotten into groundwater or waterways. If this does happen, the industry is really good about cleaning these up through bioremediation of the soil and water. It is not catastrophic, like some may want you to believe. Natural oil and gas seeps occur around the world, and Mother Nature tends to biodegrade these hydrocarbons through natural processes.

As far as water use for hydraulic fracturing operations, much of the water that is produced from the wells is recycled so as to reduce the need to draw from fresh-water sources. Companies have done an outstanding job in recycling and cleaning up the water for its reuse.

If makeup water is necessary from fresh-water sources, hydraulic fracturing use only takes up a very small percentage of the amount of the water available compared to agriculture and municipal use. Even if it didn’t, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to use this water to develop domestic supplies of hydrocarbons since it affords us cheap, abundant energy for all of our needs.

Anticipating some responses that we do not need hydrocarbons and that we can survive on 100 percent renewables, please keep in mind that the manufacturing of green, clean energy sources (rare-earth/silica mining, plastics, etc.) are not without a carbon footprint or an environmental consequence. Look at the impacts of these rare-earth mines for renewables and technology in areas such as Baotou, China.

Steve Soychak is a Grand Junction resident.