Boom: Fracking innovations are leading to more efficiency, less methane

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, a.k.a. “fracking” is not the cheapest or easiest drilling method out there, but innovations to the technique in just the past few years have transformed shale plays once considered more costly to tap than they were worth into economically viable additions to the United States’ proven oil and gas reserves. Fortunately for our recently explosive shale boom, that trend is only continuing as ongoing innovation and efficiencies are unfolding in real time and helping the industry to decrease the production dropoff rates that are currently a regular criticism of shale wells:

graph of new well production per rig, oil and natural gas, as explained in the article text

The productivity of oil and natural gas wells is steadily increasing in many basins across the United States because of the increasing precision and efficiency of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in oil and natural gas extraction. Many resource-producing basins are experiencing an increasing yield over time in either oil (Bakken, Eagle Ford, Niobrara) or natural gas (Marcellus, Haynesville). …

DPR data show that each drilling rig in the Eagle Ford Shale will contribute over 400 barrels of oil per day (bbl/d) more in April 2014 than it would have in the same formation in January 2007. At the same time, the DPR also shows that a Marcellus Shale well completed by a rig in April 2014 can be expected to yield over 6 million cubic feet of natural gas per day (Mcf/d) more than a well completed by that rig in that formation in 2007.

And in that same vein, another criticism that self-fancied green types often level at the United States’ sharply increased natural gas usage is the methane leakage that comes with its production — but the industry is getting evermore efficient with trapping those leaks, too, via the Breakthrough Institute (h/t the American Interest):

Since the onset of the shale gas revolution, many have worried that emissions of fugitive methane — the main component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide on a molecule-for-molecule basis — are eroding the climate benefits of switching from coal to natural gas. Some have gone so far as to claim that natural gas is worse than coal because of excess methane emissions. But according recent measurements from the Environmental Protection Agency, total methane emissions have been going down, most rapidly in the natural gas system. …

Fugitive emissions of methane continued their decline last year, according to the latest draft Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory released annually by the EPA. Methane leakage from the natural gas system in particular has plummeted, dropping 40.4 percent between 2006 and 2012. Thanks to this progress, natural gas systems are no longer the largest emitter of methane, a position now held by enteric fermentation (methane from cattle and other livestock).

Environmentalist types will reliably seize on any available excuse to play up the gloom-and-doom aspects of the energy sources that they have deemed unfit for their zero-fossil-fuel visions of what the future should look like, but as our technology and our methods continue to sophisticate in rapid fashion, the shale revolution is only going to keep growing.

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