Natural gas drilling: Problems and solutions

Yesterday I was interviewed on an energy-related television show about natural gas drilling in the U.S. and some viewers thought I was too pro-drilling, others thought I was too anti-drilling. My reaction to that is: PERFECT! That was precisely my intention – to be a balanced voice in the discussion of hydraulic fracturing (HF). HF may be an important process to extract what may be a cleaner-burning fuel source for our country; but if it is developed, adverse impacts for gas drilling must be reduced to assure public safety and to protect the environment.

Currently, the environmental impact of natural gas development is unacceptably high. From polluted water wells in Pennsylvania to an exploding home in Ohio, there are numerous recent examples of environmental disasters from natural gas production.

I said in the interview that HF can be used safely “IF” it is regulated more closely and companies are more transparent about the fluids they use. Regulation may be done state by state, but if states aren’t up to the task, it will need to be regulated at the federal level. So industry needs to step up to the plate and improve its practices. While there are issues with HF, many of the problems with gas are more widespread. A framework is needed that focuses on well construction and operation that goes beyond even HF to broader well construction issues and cementing. Additional issues that must be addressed include getting the cement and pipes right in the wells, and proper management of pressure. Additionally, for hydraulically fractured wells it is important to be sure wells are situated beneath a satisfactory cap rock — one or more layers of rock that’s sufficient to prevent toxic chemicals from migrating into drinking water. Some areas are so important, such as drinking supplies for cities, that they need to be off-limits for fracking.

If natural gas is to fulfill its potential, we need much cleaner drilling practices. Results will be gauged by the improved health and safety of citizens and the earth in the short and long term. Stay tuned for more discussion on this vital topic.

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  1. Jack Schwaller
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Quick note of agreement
    Involved in support industry where delayed drilling/production affect our well being.

    Identifying the companies who take the short cuts or who are employing and then not training is key.

    Also is the issue of water needed for fracing; both the stealing of and the dumping in rural areas.(as reporting in the Texas Haynesville)

  2. Barbara Burch
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    This is what the ultraconservative group. Western Traditon Partnership, published, quoting Mr. Anderson:
    The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway writes today about an unlikely defender of natural gas drilling and debunker of the falsified “mockumentary” on drilling, “Gasland.” None other than the Environmental Defense Fund admits the practice of “fracking” is perfectly safe and clean.

    Read Mr. Hemingway’s full article at

    E&E TV: “Do you believe that [hydraulic fracturing] can be used safely?” (5:23)

    EDF’s Scott Anderson: “Yes I do. I think in the vast majority of cases, if wells are constructed right and operated right, that hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem.” (5:19)

    E&E TV: “How difficult is it for states to regulate this practice? And should it be done on a state-by-state bases, a region-by-region bases or nationally?” (2:11)

    EDF’s Scott Anderson: “The states actually have a lot of knowledge and experience in regulating well construction and operation. We think that states have every reason to be able to tackle this issue and do it well. We also think that if states fail in that and the federal government has to takeover, the states will have no one but themselves to blame.” (2:00)

    E&E TV: “Without this practice of hydraulic fracturing, what would our natural gas supplies look like?” (1:38)

    EDF’s Scott Anderson: “Our natural gas supplies would plummet precipitously without hydraulic fracturing. About 90 percent of gas wells in the United States are hydraulically fractured, and the shale gas that everyone talks about as being a large part of the future of natural gas production is absolutely dependent on fracturing in each case.” (1:33)

    E&E TV: “So you would say that this is a necessary part of our energy future?” (1:09)

    EDF’s Scott Anderson: “Yes. At the Environmental Defense Fund we don’t pick fuels, we are realist, we recognize that fossil fuels will be around for a while, a long while most likely. We recognize that natural gas has some environmental advantages compared to other fossil fuels, so we do believe that natural gas will be around, and has a significant role to play….” (1:05)

  3. medij
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    If you figure in extraction costs NG is just another dirty fossil fuel, leaving hundreds of thousands of little toxic ponds deep underground were supposedly they will never migrate up?