Highlights from the U.S. Senate Shale Gas Hearing

Energy in Depth highlights the U.S. Senate shale gas hearing that includes two RPSEA Board members, Dr. Stephen Holditch of Texas A&M University and Dr. Mark Zoback of Stanford University.

US Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman

“In recent years, a number of factors have raised the prominence of natural gas as a resource. Technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have led to more domestic natural gas production and led to a reassessment of the U.S. technically recoverable resources. The international focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has favored the lower carbon intensity of natural gas for power generation.” (Testimony, 10/4/11)

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Energy & Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member

Ø “Natural gas is clean-burning and abundant; it’s well understood and scalable; and it’s clearly in our best interest to take steps to ensure that we maintain a stable and affordable supply into the future by encouraging its safe and responsible development. … We’ve witnessed game-changing technological innovations that have unlocked tremendous volumes of previously inaccessible natural gasThese resources are already benefitting our nation by further diversifying our energy supplies, growing our economy, and creating thousands upon thousands of well-paying American jobs. … Greater use of natural gas would move our nation in the right direction in terms of energy security, economic growth, and environmental protection.” (Testimony, 10/4/11)

Ø Wide variations in geology among shale gas formations mean that what works best in the Northeast might not make sense in Texas, Murkowski said. The U.S. shouldn’t “try to apply a one-size-fits-all” approach to shale gas extraction. (Houston Chronicle, 10/4/11)

Ø "Responsibly developing all our resources is of paramount importance to us," Murkowski said. "These resources are already benefiting our nation by diversifying our energy jobs," she added. "America should allow for this kind of ingenuity in the private sector." (AOL Energy, 10/5/11)

US Sen. and Fmr. Gov. John Hoeven (R-ND), Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Ø “We need to [regulated hydraulic fracturing] it in a way that empowers the state and empowers the industry to move forward, versus falling back to the EPA stepping in and saying, ‘Everybody needs to do it this way.’” (Politico, 10/4/11)

Dr. Daniel Yergin, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates

Ø “Almost overnight, in energy terms, shale gas has become a major and critical national resource. … Today shale gas accounts for about 30 percent of total US natural gas production, and this is expected to rise dramatically in the foreseeable future. Natural gas itself is one of the backbones of our economy, providing about a quarter of the country’s total energy. … Shale gas—the unconventional natural gas revolution—has been called the biggest energy innovation of the past few decades.” (Testimony, 10/4/11)

Ø Industry officials have resisted calls for federal regulation of shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, insisting that states are better poised to keep an eye on that work. The advisory committee members testifying today echoed that view. “There’s a gap in perceptions,” Yergin said. “There’s this view that oil and gas activities are not regulated. But we were all impressed by the quality and experience of the states in regulating oil and gas.” (Houston Chronicle, 10/4/11)

Ø Testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, subcommittee member Daniel Yergin, consultant and author, said, "We were all impressed with the states' regulation of oil and gas." Yergin added that the strength of state regulation of the industry was "not well recognized" by the general public. (Platts, 10/4/11)

Ø Yergin emphasized that fracking has been happening already for decades and in that time states have taken the lead in regulation. "I come out very impressed by the extent and seriousness of the states," he said. The problem with regulating from the federal government: there is a danger, he said "of a superstructure on top of a superstructure." (AOL Energy, 10/5/11)

Dr. Stephen Holditch, Petroleum Engineering Department Head, Texas A&M University

Ø I have been working on…hydraulic fracturing since 1970. … The United States has a real opportunity to develop it’s unconventional gas reservoirs to dramatically improve the energy security in the United States. The U.S. can use the abundance of Natural Gas to generate electricity and for motor fuel, which should reduce oil imports. … Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are currently being used in South Texas, West Texas, the Bakken Formation in Wyoming and North Dakota, and most recently in Ohio to increase oil production in the United States. Oil production in the Lower 48 states has increased during the past year for the first time in decades. (Testimony, 10/4/11)

Ø If you read recent news articles on hydraulic fracturing, the process is often described as pumping in a mixture of water and toxic chemicals under high pressure. This description is far from the truth. Most fracture treatment fluids consist of 99.5% percent pure water and sand. About 0.5% of the fluid is made up of gelling agents, surfactants, and biocides. Virtually all of these chemicals can be found in a typical home. Gelling agents are typically guar gum, which is used in many food products to viscosify the product. A surfactant is just soap, like Dawn dishwashing fluid. Biocides are use to kill bacteria, like the Clorox we use in our homes. … The concentration of these ‘chemicals’ is very minute and does not pose a danger to fresh water aquifers. … Current drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity does not adversely affect shallow drinking water aquifers. I have been working in hydraulic fracturing for 40+ years and there is absolutely no evidence hydraulic fractures can grow from miles below the surface to the fresh water aquifers. (Testimony, 10/4/11)

Ø Stephen A. Holditch…said the chemicals used in “fracking” generally make up less than 1 percent of the fracture fluids and that the process does not adversely affect shallow drinking water aquifers. Holditch said there was “absolutely no evidence hydraulic fractures can grow from miles below the surface to the fresh water aquifers.” (The Oklahoman, 10/5/11)

Ø "There is nothing broken with the [regulatory] system," subcommittee member Stephen Holditch, the head of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M, said. (Platts, 10/4/11)

Ø As Dr. Stephen Holditch…said a the opening of his testimony: "shale gas is for real." "The US has a real opportunity to develop its unconventional gas resources," Holditch said. … Holditch said that one of the biggest concerns of the environmental community, that of chemicals in fracking water, was completely overblown. (AOL Energy, 10/5/11)

Dr. Mark Zoback, Department of Geophysics Professor, Stanford University

Ø I believe that utilization of domestic shale gas and…domestic shale oil, resources are extremely important to our nation. I personally believe that there is no question that they can be developed in a manner (utilizing horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing) that protects the environment and minimizes impact on nearby communities. … It is unfortunate, however, that the concern about the safety of shale gas development has focused almost entirely on hydraulic fracturing. As Dr. Holditch testified, the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids are relatively benign, steps are being taken to make them even safer, and our committee recommends full disclosure of the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids. … Drilling multiple wells from a single pad…not only greatly improves the efficiency of drilling and fracturing operations, it minimizes land-use, lowers the overall impact of drilling operations on local communities and makes regional planning easier to lessen the cumulative impact of shale gas development activities in a given area. (Testimony, 10/4/11)

Ø The process of fracturing shale rock to free trapped natural gas thousands of feet below the ground should not be the primary concern, the panel's experts told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Hydraulic fracturing has sort of become a bumper sticker for everything we have to watch out for,' said Mark D. Zoback, a Stanford University professor of geophysics who has been studying hydraulic fracturing for 30 years. (The Oklahoman, 10/5/11)

Ø "Hydraulic fracturing has become a bumper sticker," allowing some groups to object to gas extraction from shales. (Platts, 10/4/11)

Kathleen McGinty, Fmr. PA DEP sec. and White House CEQ chair to President Clinton

Ø Shale gas resources are abundant in the United States. Shale gas has already generated significant economic opportunity, substantially changed the equation with respect to energy security, and has begun to reshape electricity markets in a way that offers air quality benefits. This point with respect to the robustness of the resource, while perhaps evident, bears stating. Even until quite recently questions were presented as to whether shale wells might produce in a robust manner initially, but then decline rapidly, or alternatively, if they would have staying power. Experience to date in the field shows a very strong pattern of production. … Much attention has also been trained on the fear that fracturing can and has contaminated drinking water. … Yet, fracturing per se seems not to be the culprit. … We found that the initiative “FracFocus” (www.fracfocus.org) is very effective in the collection and presentation of fracturing fluid data--painstakingly reported on a well by well basis. FracFocus has come together in a remarkable way and in short order. (Testimony, 10/4/11)

Ø “There was nothing that led us to the glaring conclusion that there was [a regulatory] actor missing from the scene. … The states are doing a good job.” (Politico, 10/4/11)

Ø Kathleen McGinty, a private consultant who once served as secretary of environmental protection in Pennsylvania, said “frack fluids per se are very unlikely to contaminate drinking water.” (The Oklahoman, 10/5/11)

Ø Witnesses also warned that federal regulation could unduly burden the already heavily state-regulated fracking industry and could potentially slow the economic growth of the industry. "The issues in each state are different," said witness Kathleen McGinty. "Geologic differences make a world of difference in terms of ensuring water and air safety issues." (AOL Energy, 10/5/11)

NOTE: A webcast of yesterday’s hearing is available here.