“Fracking” gets a bad rap, says energy executive

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires

With the Marcellus Shale providing a plentiful source of natural gas in the U.S., interest is on the upswing in “fracking.” A panel of industry experts Wednesday discussed the need to educate the public about hydraulic fracturing during the Governor’s Conference on Energy in Richmond.

“We need to do a better job of explaining to everybody what fracking is — the myths vs. the facts,” said Virginia “Gigi’ Lazenby, chairman of Bretagne LLC, an oil and gas production company she founded in Tennessee that operates 600 wells.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, refers to a process that involves drilling and injecting water and other fluids underground at high pressure to create fractures in rock formations, which release oil and natural gas.

Lazenby, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, cited these so-called myths about fracking: “It’s not safe, it contaminates drinking water, and it causes earthquakes. The amount of seismic energy released during fracking,” she said, “is about the same amount of energy as dropping a gallon of milk on the kitchen floor.”

Fears about fracking are being fanned she said by environmental groups who “mischaracterize” practices to discredit the industry. “There has never been a case of contaminated drinking water. Even the EPA has admitted that.”

While people crowded into the room to learn about fracking, overall attendance at the conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center was way down. Organizers said the three-day conference, which continues through Thursday, attracted about 400 people, compared to the 800 or so who have attended in the past — a drop attendees attributed to the waning days of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration. McDonnell has made energy a key focus, supporting tax incentives and legislation to spur investment in new infrastructure.

Panel member Gregory Kozera, regional sales manager for Nabors Completion & Production Services Co., noted that fracking has been in use in this country for 60 years. “Of the natural gas and oil wells in the U.S., almost every well in this country is hydraulic fracturing. If there’s no fracking, there’s no oil, and gas and no jobs,” he said.

While large deposits of the Marcellus Shale in states like Pennsylvania have prompted the drilling of new wells, the formation — which stretches from Virginia to New York — is pretty limited here with some of the shale found only in Rockingham County, Bradley C. Lambert, deputy director of Virginias Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy, and the panel’s moderator, told Virginia Business.

Virginia has about 9,000 oil natural gas wells, with 7,000 in operation in seven counties in Southwest Virginia. Some do employ hydraulic fracturing, Lambert said, but a good portion of natural gas in Virginia comes from coal-bed methane wells, he added, which are drilled in advance of mining to release natural gas from coal seams, making the environment safer for miners.   

While Lambert described fracking activities in the state as relatively stable, a Texas-based company hopes to begin drilling for gas and oil in an area east of Fredericksburg. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported earlier this week that Shore Exploration and Production Corp., based in Dallas, has leased tens of thousands of acres east of the city in an area known as the Taylorsville basin, with plans to begin drilling in 18 months.

One survey done in 2012 by the U.S. Geological Survey found that there could be about 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the basin, the newspaper said, a small amount compared to the 400 trillion cubic feet of the Marcellus Shale formation.  Before drilling could begin, the company would have to pass state reviews and get permits. Plus an environmental assessment would be required, since the area area falls in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The abundance of natural gas will play an important role in the shaping of U. S. energy policy in the years ahead, according to the conference’s luncheon speaker, Ripudaman Malhorta, of SRI International in Menlo, Calif. The natural gas supply should last about 42 years, he said, and already is helping the U. S. lower its carbon emissions.

However, he warned, current practices of energy production and consumption are unsustainable. “The balance between protecting the environment and the social justice aspect of providing affordable, abundant energy is the real challenge.”

The energy conference was hosted by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and co-hosted by the Virginia Alternative and Renewable Energy Association.

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