Thursday, March 29, 2012

Could Gas-Fracking Fuel a NY Gas Boom?

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.


  1. At $2 mcf, all sorts of strange things will happen to these leasing groups

    Their attorneys have to earn their keep

    1. a good question to ask: why push for a lease when the price of gas is at an all time low? Why produce gas at $2/mcf when you can wait a couple years and sell it for more?

  2. Fracking with hydrocarbons, as the process that Gasfrac Energy Services has developed, is a) very dangerous, b) much more expensive and unaffordable to most firms with the current very cheap gas prices, c) still requires the generation of lots of air pollution, noise pollution from drilling pads and compressor stations, potential water pollution, and d) it is an industrial process disrupting our traditional local industries. Tony Ingraffea says that this is a "passing fad" and it's not going to be a big influence on shale gas development. Gasfrac was frackiing a well in Alberta this past summer when there was a large explosion that injured 5 workers, 3 of them being Gasfrac staff. I repeat, this is a comparatively VERY DANGEROUS process and we can expect to see many more great fires and explosions, coming to a field in Tioga soon?? We certainly hope not! Tom Shelley, chemical safety specialist

  3. Why don't we just put our efforts into getting off fossil fuels once and for all? Put our efforts into sustainable energy.


  4. While there are risks to GasFrac and it is in the early stages of development, it is much more environmentally sound and presents a real opportunity to avoid the problems with water. Every new technology has risks and a learning curve, but that doesn't mean its a passing fad. They claim to have addressed many of the concerns here. The real issue is that we are facing an energy crisis and need to be willing to try new things or we will find ourselves in the same oil dependent situation 20 years from now.

    1. and that we found ourselves in 30 years ago....