Big Fracking Texas Shale Boom Could Increase U.S. Oil Output

May 31, 2011 5:00 am 1 comment

Houston-based New York Times correspondent Clifford Krauss writes of the shale oil boom in West Texas, where the fields have attracted an influx of oil field workers. Production has ramped up so rapidly that the roughnecks have taken up quarters in RV parks due to a housing and hotels in the area:

CATARINA, Tex. — Until last year, the 17-mile stretch of road between this forsaken South Texas village and the county seat of Carrizo Springs was a patchwork of derelict gasoline stations and rusting warehouses.

Now the region is in the hottest new oil play in the country, with giant oil terminals and sprawling RV parks replacing fields of mesquite. More than a dozen companies plan to drill up to 3,000 wells around here in the next 12 months.

The Texas field, known as the Eagle Ford, is just one of about 20 new onshore oil fields that advocates say could collectively increase the nation’s oil output by 25 percent within a decade — without the dangers of drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the delicate coastal areas off Alaska.

Krauss then goes on about the concerns of the environmental lobby because of the technique used to coax the oil out of the tightly packed layers of shale. Hydraulic fracturing — aka “fracking” — involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals into the rock to force the crude out of it. And it’s the chemicals, mostly, that the greens object to, claiming that the compounds leach into the water table.

But at Just One Minute, Tom Maguire points out that groundwater contamination due to fracking is not settled science:

The risk to groundwater from fracking may be hypothetical rather than realized – Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, made news with her disputed claim that she is “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water”.

FWIW, the risk from nuclear reactors is real yet unrealized, in this country at least.

Perhaps new technologies will settle the issue. Cavitation hydrovibration, a greener alternative to fracking, uses only water and none of the 200 chemicals employed in the fracking process has shown much promise when used to get natural gas out of shale rock. Crude oil, of course, is much heavier and stickier than methane gas and therefore easier to extract. But if some variation of this newer technology employing nontoxic chemicals can be adapted for shale oil extraction it would change the focus of the debate. But the greens would complain even if pure water were used. They won’t be happy until we’re paying over $10 a gallon for our gasoline.

As Tom says, Frack, Baby, Frack!

- JP

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