Fracking in Pennsylvania: What goes on behind the scenes?
Fracking has revolutionized the US energy landscape, but the technique is controversial. One energy blogger takes a tour of a fracking site for himself, to see what all the fuss is about.
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Of course for all the precautions and evident best practices there’s no disguising that while it is being prepared, drilled, fractured and completed, each drilling site is a compact industrial operation and hub of activity. Numerous trucks carry water, sand, chemicals and equipment back and forth. Anadarko has improved over 200 miles of country roads to handle this traffic, while minimizing freshwater haulage by the use of water pipelines connecting its sites.Skip to next paragraph
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Each Well “Pad” An Entire Wind Farm
The consolation for the neighbors is that the entire process runs its course like any construction project. A few weeks or months of intense activity are followed by years of unobtrusive operation, during which gas flows into pipelines and royalties into the community. The employment and other local economic benefits this creates are worthy subjects for another post.
Several of the participants at the dinner the evening before drew comparisons to wind turbines, which are much taller than the drilling rigs used for gas wells, and remain on-site for decades. That got me thinking about relative energy contributions. The 8 billion cubic feet of estimated lifetime gas production per well could generate more than 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in a gas-fired power plant. By comparison, a 1.5 MW wind turbine would normally generate less than 80 million kWh over 20 years. So when brought online the five wells on the one pad I visited will together produce energy equivalent to a wind farm of 75 turbines.
Conclusion: The Local Face of the Revolution
I came away from the tour with a strong impression of a well-trained and experienced team, focused on doing the job right — safely and with minimal impacts, because this is where they and their families live; the landowners from whom they lease their sites are their neighbors. And for all the truly impressive technology deployed, what really counts is the people using it.
I can understand skepticism about the balance of risks and benefits from shale gas development –this is a skeptical age– but nothing I observed in Williamsport would validate such concerns. Instead, I saw a well-tuned operation that is a microcosm of the biggest energy revolution of the last 40 years.
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