Posts Tagged ‘gas reserves’

So What Exactly is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Both vertical and horizontal wells are used in shale gas drilling and completion; however, horizontal wells are the increasing trend due to both environmental concerns and economic efficiency (DOE, 2009). Horizontal drilling allows more exposure within the formation to optimize capture of natural gas as well as reducing the environmental footprint of drilling activity (DOE, 2009). The United States Department of Energy’s recently released document on shale gas development in the United States explains that “a vertical well may be exposed to as little as 50 ft of formation while a horizontal well may have a lateral wellbore extending in length from 2,000 to 6,000 ft within the 50-300 ft thick formation” (DOE, 2009, p.47). As such, surface disturbance and impacts to wildlife and communities are reduced while providing optimal gas recovery; considering 16 vertical wells per 640-acre section of land would disturb 77 acres, the equivalent in horizontal wells (4- horizontal wells) would disturb approximately 7.4 acres (DOE, 2009). In addition to reductions in surface disturbance, horizontal wells allow for development in areas previously considered unavailable, primarily urban and environmentally sensitive or protected areas. Well pads can be located away, or ‘setback’, from residences, roadways, wildlife habitats and other protected areas without hampering access to available gas reserves.

In order to recover the shale gas after drilling a well, current industry practice is to hydraulic fracture the formation to stimulate the near wellbore area and facilitate the release of natural gas trapped within the shale. Hydraulic fracturing is a process whereby a fracturing fluid, primarily water, is pumped into the formation under pressure at a calculated rate to form fractures and cracks within the formation, providing a pathway for the gas to migrate to the wellhead for recovery. Sand or other granular materials are added to the fracturing fluid to help ‘prop’ open the newly created fractures after the fluid has been removed from the formation (ALL, 2008a). Additional chemicals may be added to the fracturing fluid for specific engineering purposes; these additions may include friction-reducing agents, biocides and various stabilizers to prevent corrosion of metal piping in the well (DOE, 2009; ALL, 2008a). Depending on the formation and well characteristics, multiple fracturing procedures may be performed in order to fully develop the well for gas recovery (DOE, 2009). While each well and geologic formation is unique, continuing advances in horizontal drilling and well completion practices provide additional reductions in environmental impacts from oil and gas activities while providing the nation’s critical energy supply.

Natural gas shines in energy scene

Cleaner than coal and cheaper than oil, a 90-year supply is under our feet, experts say.


An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It’s cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet.

Natural gas tanks sit near a drilling site owned by Atmos Energy, in Grapevine, Texas. Natural gas is seen as filling an increasingly important energy role as discoveries and reserves increase.

It’s natural gas, the same fossil fuel that was in such short supply a decade ago that it was deemed unreliable. It’s now being uncovered at such a rapid pace that its price is near a seven-year low.

Long used to heat half the nation’s homes, it’s becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Someday, it may win wider acceptance as a replacement for gasoline in our cars and trucks.

Natural gas’ abundance and low price come as governments around the world debate how to curtail carbon dioxide and other pollution that contribute to global warming. The likely outcome is a tax on companies that spew excessive greenhouse gases. Utilities and other companies see natural gas as a way to lower emissions — and their costs. Yet politicians aren’t stumping for it.

In June, President Barack Obama lumped natural gas with oil and coal as energy sources the nation must move away from. He touts alternative sources — solar, wind and biofuels derived from corn and other plants. In Congress, the energy debate has focused on finding cleaner coal and saving thousands of mining jobs from West Virginia to Wyoming.

Utilities in the U.S. aren’t waiting for Washington to jump on the gas bandwagon. Looming climate legislation has altered the calculus that they use to determine the cheapest way to deliver power. Coal may still be cheaper, but natural gas emits half as much carbon when burned to generate the same amount electricity.

Today, about 27 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions come from coal-fired power plants, which generate 44 percent of the electricity used in the U.S. Just under 25 percent of power comes from burning natural gas, more than double its share a decade ago but still with room to grow.

But the fuel has to be plentiful and its price stable — and that has not always been the case with natural gas. In the 1990s, factories that wanted to burn gas instead of coal had to install equipment that did both because the gas supply was uncertain and wild price swings were common. In some states, because of feared shortages, homebuilders were told new gas hookups were banned.

It’s a different story today. Energy experts believe that the huge volume of supply now will ease price swings and supply worries.

Gas now trades on futures markets for about $5.50 per 1,000 cubic feet. While that’s up from a recent low of $2.41 in September as the recession reduced demand and storage caverns filled to overflowing, it’s less than half what it was in the summer of 2008 when oil prices surged close to $150 a barrel.

Oil and gas prices trends have since diverged, due to the recession and the growing realization of just how much gas has been discovered in the last three years. That’s thanks to the introduction of horizontal drilling technology that has unlocked stunning amounts of gas in what were before off-limits shale formations. Estimates of total gas reserves have jumped 58 percent from 2004 to 2008, giving the U.S. a 90-year supply at the current usage rate of about 23 trillion cubic feet of year.

The only question is whether enough gas can be delivered at affordable enough prices for these trends to accelerate.

The world’s largest oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., gave its answer last Monday when it announced a $30 billion deal to acquire XTO Energy Inc. The move will make it the country’s No. 1 producer of natural gas.

Exxon expects to be able to dramatically boost natural gas sales to electric utilities. In fact, CEO Rex Tillerson says that’s why the deal is such a smart investment.

Tillerson says he sees demand for natural gas growing 50 percent by 2030, much of it for electricity generation and running factories. Decisions being made by executives at power companies lend credence to that forecast.

Consider Progress Energy Inc., which scrapped a $2 billion plan this month to add scrubbers needed to reduce sulfur emissions at 4 older coal-fired power plants in North Carolina. Instead, it will phase out those plants and redirect a portion of those funds toward cleaner burning gas-fired plants.

Lloyd Yates, CEO of Progess Energy Carolina, says planners were 99 percent certain that retrofitting plants made sense when they began a review late last year. But then gas prices began falling and the recession prompted gas-turbine makers to slash prices just as global warming pressures intensified.

“Everyone saw it pretty quickly,” he says. Out went coal, in comes gas. “The environmental component of coal is where we see instability.”

Nevada power company NV Energy Inc. canceled plans for a $5 billion coal-fired plant early this year. That came after its homestate senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, made it clear he would fight to block its approval, and executives’ fears mounted about the costs of meeting future environmental rules.

“It was obvious to us that Congress or the EPA or both were going to act to reduce carbon emissions,” said CEO Michael Yackira, whose utility already gets two-thirds of its electricity from gas-fired units. “Without understanding the economic ramifications, it would have been foolish for us to go forward.”

Even with an expected jump in demand from utilities, gas prices won’t rise much beyond $6.50 per 1,000 cubic feet for years to come, says Ken Medlock, an energy fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston. That tracks an Energy Department estimate made last week.

Such forecasts are based in part on a belief that the recent spurt in gas discoveries may only be the start of a golden age for gas drillers — one that creates wealth that rivals the so-called Gusher Age of the early 20th century, when strikes in Texas created a new class of oil barons.

XTO, the company that Exxon is buying, was one of the pioneers in developing new drilling technologies that allow a single well to descend 9,000 feet and then bore horizontally through shale formations up to 1 1/2 miles away. Water, sand and chemical additives are pumped through these pipes to unlock trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that until recently had been judged unobtainable.

Even with the big increases in reserves they were logging, expansion plans by XTO and its rivals were limited by the debt they took on to finance these projects that can cost as much as $3 million apiece.

Under Exxon, which earned $45.2 billion last year, that barrier has been obliterated.

Copyright: Times Leader

Fueling up with natural gas

By JOSEPH B. WHITE The Wall Street Journal

First it was ethanol made from corn. Then ethanol made from twigs and stems and trash. Then, the future was going to belong to hydrogen. Now, the alternative fuel flavor of the month in Washington is natural gas.

You may know this already, thanks to vigorous public-relations campaigns mounted to promote natural gas as a vehicle fuel by energy billionaire T. Boone Pickens and allies such as Chesapeake Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon. Mr. Pickens touts natural gas as a fuel for cars as part of his broad “Pickens Plan” to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Pickens, in a television ad, summarizes his case for using natural gas as a vehicle fuel in nine words: “It’s cleaner. It’s cheaper. It’s abundant. And it’s ours.”

Nothing is ever that simple in the energy business. A lot of natural gas isn’t “ours.” It belongs to the same companies that currently supply us with oil, or to big gas utilities such as Ch esapeake. But Mr. Pickens is correct when he says that natural gas is abundant in the U.S. Recent advances in drilling technology have made it possible to exploit gas reserves that weren’t economical to tap before, such as the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian region of the Northeastern U.S.

The macro problem that Mr. Pickens and gas industry executives need to solve is what to do with all that new gas – assuming it becomes available as forecast. Already, natural-gas prices have slumped about 40 percent since May. Grabbing some of petroleum’s more than 90 percent share of the U.S. vehicle fuels market is a smart strategy for the gas industry.

The question for consumers who don’t own shares in natural-gas companies is whether a compressed-gas fueled vehicle is a better deal than some other green technology, or the status quo.

The only natural gas car on the U.S. market right now is a Honda Civic GX. Honda Motor Co. let me borrow one for a few days to road t est the NGV (natural-gas vehicle) lifestyle.

Driving the Civic GX isn’t different than driving a standard, petrol-fueled car. My white test car had an automatic transmission and the usual bells and whistles. The adventure of driving a natural-gas fueled Civic only starts when the fuel gauge gets close to empty – and that happens fairly quickly because the car’s range is only 200 to 220 miles between fill-ups.

At this point, you’ll need an Internet connection to help you find a public natural-gas vehicle refueling station in your metro area. If you are fortunate will you find one in your ZIP code, because there are only about 1,100 natural-gas refueling stations in the U.S. The closest one to my house was about 18 miles away at a depot owned by the City of Ann Arbor.

The unmanned refueling station had an imposing looking pump with two hoses that dispensed compressed gas at different pressures. The Civic’s manual explained that I should use the one marked 360 0 pounds per square inch. Behind the Civic GX’s fuel door is a nozzle fitting. After a couple of tries, I got the fitting from the high-pressure hose properly locked on, and threw a lever on the pump to “On” to start the flow.

I realize it was irrational and techno-phobic to worry that I would somehow overfill the compressed gas tank on board the car and turn my Civic into an explosive device. Let’s say that I was nervous enough that I had done something wrong that when the pump shut off automatically, I was relieved, even though the system had only refilled the tank to the half-full mark. Mr. Pickens could add another element to his plan: It will create jobs for filling station attendants who can help nervous natural-gas newbies.

On the positive side, my natural gas was about half the price of the equivalent quantity of gasoline – $1.94 a gallon.

The Honda Civic GX illustrates almost perfectly the chicken-and-egg problems besetting efforts to wean personal transportation in the U.S. away from petroleum fuels.

Because there aren’t many natural-gas refueling stations, Honda only builds a couple of thousand natural-gas Civics a year, and other car makers are reluctant to push the technology to consumers. Because there are so few natural-gas vehicles, outside of commercial or government fleets, fuel retailers don’t have much incentive to sink $500,000 to $750,000 into a natural-gas refilling station capable of handling cars as rapidly as a conventional gas station can, says Richard Kolodziej, president of NGV America, a Washington advocacy group that represents about 100 natural-gas companies and other enterprises with a stake in promoting natural gas as a motor fuel.

Because there is little demand for natural-gas vehicles, the ones that are available come with a hefty price premium, in part because their fuel tanks aren’t molded plastic, but are instead heavily engineered, high-pressure tanks. A Civic GX lists for ab out $24,590, compared to about $17,760 for the mid-range Civic LX on which it is based. Tax credits can offset as much as $4,000 of that price. And in some states, natural-gas cars can use high-occupancy vehicle express lanes – a major perk for time-pressed commuters.

The Civic GX achieves about 24 miles to the gallon in the city and 36 on the highway, when its consumption is converted to gasoline equivalent miles per gallon, Honda says. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the GX’s annual fuel costs at $884 a year, compared to $1,987 a year for a petroleum-fueled Civic. That indicates a payback, after the tax credit, of about 2½ years on the premium over the standard car.

One problem with the natural-gas Civic, Mr. Kolodziej concedes, is that it doesn’t look any different than a normal car. It doesn’t advertise the owner’s green cred the way a Prius does. “Where’s the sex in that?” He asks. “The sex comes in when you fill up for $10.”

Mr. Kolodzie j says he refuels his Civic GX using a Phill home-fueling system. This costs about $5,000 and allows a natural-gas vehicle owner to refuel overnight with gas from the lines running into the house. (A $1,000 tax credit is available for the Phill system.) But the hardware in Mr. Kolodziej’s garage isn’t all that’s different. He also says he doesn’t care that the vehicle has a limited range and takes hours to refill using the home refueling device.

“I go to work. I go to the store,” he says. “That’s what 99 percent of people do. Americans want to be able to drive to California tomorrow. They won’t.”

Mr. Kolodziej would say that. But he’s right. A switch to natural-gas cars would require a change of attitudes and expectations both by consumers and car makers. More of us would need to accept owning a car that can do one job – commuting and running errands in fewer than 200 miles a day. It’s the same fundamental proposition behind plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt or plug-in Prius.

The big hurdle for natural-gas vehicles is that somebody will need to invest substantial sums in a consumer refueling infrastructure. The gas industry was hoping that somebody would be Uncle Sam. Unfortunately, Congress just found out last week it may have to spend $700 billion salvaging the global financial system. That could put big federal subsidies for natural-gas cars – and a lot of other worthy ideas – on the back burner.


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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Posted At: Times Leader