Statoil shale gas projects ‘absurd’

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A professor and engineer at New York’s prestigious Cornell University has called Statoil’s shale gas in the US “totally absurd.” Professor Anthony Ingraffea can’t understand why Norway, a small country already rich in energy resources, should resort to the highly controversial method of hydraulic fracturing.

Statoil bought a 32.5 percent stake in the Marcellus shale gas acreage from Chesapeake Energy Corp in 2008. The holding covers 1.8 million acres in Appalachia, with leases in the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio, where some residents have complained loudly. PHOTO: Statoil

The process, also known as “fracking,” is one of the most controversial environmental issues in the US at present, not least because it’s put local groundwater supplies at risk of contamination in areas where the drilling through rock is carried out. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that Ingraffea thinks Statoil’s investments in shale projects in the US is “absurd” because Norway already has its conventional offshore resources of oil and gas, alternative energy sources form water, wind and wave power and a global reputation for environmental awareness.

Yet Statoil is involved in shale gas projects in the mountains of Appalachia, in North Dakota and Texas, and in Australia. Statoil’s involvement in oil/tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada also have stirred controversy both at home and abroad.

Shale gas is natural gas formed from being trapped within sedimentary rock formations called shale, often lying more than a mile below ground. The extraction process relies on huge volumes of chemicals being poured into the rocks to release gas trapped between the layers. It can affect the environment through the leaking of extraction chemicals and waste into water supplies, and also through release of greenhouse gas, particularly methane, during extraction, along with the pollution caused by the processing and use of natural gas.

‘100 times’ the amount of chemicals
Ingraffea, himself an engineer with 25 years of experience of the oil and gas industry, has been giving talks around the world about the geological risks of fracking and his attention turned to Norway last week.

Statoil also got involved in the Eagle Ford shale formation, which extends over 24 counties in southwest Texas. PHOTO: Statoil

“Why do you want to do something like this?” he asks rhetorically. He wants people to understand that fracking is different from any form of excavation that has ever been carried out in Norway, at sea or on land. The environmental effects are, he claims, enormous.

He points to how shale gas excavation uses “100 times the amount of chemicals” used in ordinary excavation, and produces “100 times the amount of waste.” It is also more expensive, and only becomes cost-effective if a large number of wells are drilled together, so that you end up “having a rig every half-a-kilometre in every direction.”

Professor Ingraffea was voted one of Time magazine’s “People Who Mattered” last year, along with a colleague at Cornell, ecologist Robert Howarth. Howarth produced one of the most controversial scientific studies of last year: A paper arguing that natural gas produced by fracking may actually have a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than coal. That study, strenuously opposed by the gas industry and many of Howarth’s fellow scientists, undercut shale gas’s major claim as a clean fuel.

‘Fear of the unknown’
Statoil predictably defends its shale gas excavation in both the US and Australia. It describes shale as a “key growth area that increases our long-term reserve base” and describes how large resources of shale gas across the globe “promise to supply cleaner fuel to growing global energy markets for decades to come.”

Torstein Hole, who leads Statoil’s land-based operations in the US, confirms that they drill between six and 10 wells in each of the three plays (group of oil fields) they are excavating there. He concedes there is debate in Norway around the environmental effects of the “shale gas revolution,” but that in his experience, people’s “fear of the unknown” diminishes once they are in possession of the facts.

Ola Morten Aanestad, information director for Statoil, claims no harmful chemicals are being released into the environment. “The point is that it is a closed system… water is re-inserted, re-circulated or treated by some other recognized method” he says.

Aanestad himself questions Ingraffea’s claims about the amount of chemicals used in extraction, but can only provide rather vague estimates from Statoil. “Our own people say that 20 million litres of chemicals (the amount Ingraffea says to be usual for extraction) is enough for between 160 to 1,050 of the land-based wells we drill in the US, not one” he told news bureau NTB.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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  1. The only science professor you’ll see speaking out against fracking is Ingraffea. He’s the altnerative energy equivalent of a climate change denier. The scientific consensus is fracking is a manageable process, Ingraffea stands alone among engineering professors in thinking otherwise.

    • McMurty is a “drill baby drill” right winger, so has a pretty biased opinion.

    • Quite the contrary, there are many, many science professors speaking out against fracking, and the number is swelling constantly. I know many of them personally.

      There are also doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals speaking out against fracking. The science making a case against fracking is overwhelming, to the point that any credible scientist should think twice before jumping on the fracking bandwagon and becoming, well, no longer credible.

      There are ground-level ozone accumulations, harming plants and animals, including people; methane releases into the atmosphere; land farming of solid waste full of radiation and toxic chemicals; dumping of toxic and radioactive liquid waste by unscrupulous operators; leakage of the same from waste pits, sometimes purposefully by having their liners slit so they will leech out and therefore hold more liquid; spills by transporters; and underground migration of contaminants into aquifers through fracking itself, and through disposal well failure.

      And that’s just for starters. That does not address pipelines, noise and light pollution from evaporation facilities/condensing stations and boosting stations; traffic accidents due to excess traffic caused by fracking water and waste transport and overworked fracking drivers; crime increases due to fracking worker influx in overtaxed communities; explosions and fires in communities with fire departments not trained in specialized fire fighting skills, and on and on and on. Plus there are the companies that take their toxic brews to unsuspecting municipal wastewater treament facilities which do not remove the heavy metals and radioactive wastes, so those just get dumped into rivers, such as the Ohio. Fracking produced water has not only the chemicals added to the water, but the contaminants it picks up underground. And we know much of it stays underground, to migrate anywhere it wants to.

      I have literally hundreds of sources documenting these and other problems arising from fracking, Mr. McMurtry.

      I know what a scientist does. It is an honorable profession. You are not credible. And you no longer deserve to be called a scientist.

    • Any idea how Ingraffea got that massive chip on his shoulder ?

  2. Try looking at the science of health, and you will see all sorts of professors who speak out about this nasty business of high volume, high pressure, slick water fracking. As to the geological scientists who have spoken out, there was one in Pennsylvania at the university there who was forced out of his position for telling the truth about fracking. You don’t want to tell the truth amidst a bunch of whores, as too many people are quite willing to sell their souls, and for cheap.

  3. Kuyeidi Jung says:

    Well if it’s fracking or hard-core salmon-industry they destroyed Chile and Canada with… if it comes to risky adventures making money, rather Norway destroys environment abroad… just watch the movie ‘salmon confidential’. But we are just as busy at home destroying nature actually. Cut down the last borreal rainforest around Trondheim, and right now Norway is slaughtering down all the wolves, because the rich hunters feel that the wolves steal their prey. Although over 90% of the population are against it it is always only the money that counts here.

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