Yesterday members of the Tioga County Landowners Coalition (NY) got an e-mail titled “We Have a Deal”. For the past 11 months, landowner group representatives have traveled to Houston, TX. By their count they’ve placed brochures of the group’s offering (135,000+ acres) in the hands of about 84 companies. They’ve had face-to-face meetings with the CEO’s of 11 companies.
But no one was interested. As they tell it, the combination of low gas prices and the movement of drilling rigs to “wet gas” areas along the OH/NY border led to a “complete lack of interest from every company we met”. However, the group managed to find one interested operator and, over the past eight weeks, has been "working creatively with a major operator to create opportunity” for the lease-hungry landowners.
That opportunity: an unconventional leasing arrangement with eCORP wherein landowners will receive a majority share of the profits earned by a “sharing company” made up of contiguous parcels with their neighbors. Details to come, but the deal will be a “very lucrative financial arrangement” with the upmost attention given to environmental responsibility.
The plan, outlined in their press release, is to fracture the shale using liquefied petroleum (LPG) developed by GASFRAC. This will be better than hydro-fracking, says the landowner group, because LPG fracking uses no water and has no waste. So that should translate into reduced truck traffic and a smaller pad footprint.
More importantly, this kind of fracking just might get around the state’s moratorium on hydro-fracking. But while the landowner coalition points to Chevron’s reports of successfully gas-fracked wells, Chevron’s own reports indicate that they are still evaluating the process.
Using gas to fracture gas wells sounds like a nifty idea, but it’s not risk free. According to Cornell professor Tony Ingraffea, who heads the “fracture” group, gas-fracking still relies on chemicals added to the gelled LPG. The process also needs compressors to re-condense propane/butane that returns from the well for reuse.
As for reduction of truck traffic, he notes that LPG has to get to the wellsite somehow, and currently that mode of transport is truck – only instead of hauling water, they’re transporting a hazardous material. And there’s still the problem of what to do with the waste fluids that return to the surface.
Fracking with gelled LPG does not eliminate many of the problems associated with hydro-fracking:
- there is still opportunity for waste fluid to travel to the surface via faults and old open wells;
- methane migration can still happen due to casing failures and leaks;
- surface spills of frack waste and/or drilling waste is still an issue;
- and there’s the added danger of propane, a heavier-than-air gas leaking and pooling in low spots near the well pad in large amounts and causing an explosion hazard.
Not to mention that the process itself can be explosive. Last year there were two separate explosions – or “flash fires” caused by LPG fracking in Alberta, Canada (here and here)
And fracking with gas is more expensive, initially, though propane can be recovered and used again. Still, the process needs to be “proved”, and according to the local media, that’s what the landowners hope to do – help prove that the process works, and it’s viable for extracting shale gas from the numerous layers beneath Tioga County.
Right now the question is whether gas-fracking falls within the rules of the existing environmental impact study for oil and gas drilling. Ingraffea says the science isn’t there to evaluate either the environmental impact or the safety of LPG fracks.