The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

How to Control Surface Spills on Unconventional Gas Wells

Graham Marshall - Thursday, December 11, 2014

I'm fortunate to work with some very bright people who care passionately about protecting our environment; and at the same time, meet our community energy needs through the exploration and production (E+P) of unconventional hydrocarbons in the form of clean-burning gas.

So it is particularly annoying to have a rat-bag group of NIMBY protesters telling outright lies to the community about our industry's so-called pollution risk to soils, ground water, and health.

I am proud to work in the unconventional energy business - as an Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) specialist - with a very real focus on absolute minimization of risk in our business.

The safety of our people, and the protection of our environment are paramount values amongst the people with whom I work.

Having said all that, one of the common lies told  by opponents of Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation ("frac") is that spills of chemicals on the surface will pollute ground water for thousands of years, and cause untold adverse health problems for local people.

Let me share with you some photographs of the simple, yet effective ways in which we aim for "Zero Loss of Primary Containment" (0 LOPC).

It all starts with the way we construct the drilling location at the start of the Frac process.

As you can see in the picture above, we make a very large non-porous impermeable membrane that covers the whole of the frac-location before work begins.  The impermeable layer is designed to contain any liquid spills and allow time for a Vac-truck to be called to location to suck up the spill before it gets beyond the containment barrier.

Of course, the impermeable barrier is just one of several "layers of protection" that we ensure are being used before the frac begins.  The first layer of protection is to make sure that primary containment of any liquids is always sound.

By primary containment, I mean things like the actual fuel-tanks on generators, or the hoses on engines.  These items of equipment are frequently checked to make sure they are able to contain liquids within the equipment.  But where possible, we used secondary containment (often called "paddling pools" or "duck ponds")  to surround any equipment that contains its own liquid sources (e.g., fuel tanks, light plant, etc).  The paddling pool is the first line of defence if a spill does occur.

So, contrary to the lies of the anti-frac brigade, we make enormous effort to ensure that spills and leaks from primary containment are prevenented.

But a significant part of our risk management efforts is to ensure we have plans in place to ensure that spills which do occur, do not get beyond the secondary containment of the paddling pools or the tertiary containment of the location liner.

Finally, if that fails, we have contingency plans in place which ensure a rapid clean-up is put in place.  This  ensures that all contaminated soil is either treated on location, or removed for treatment at an approved waste facility.

Taken together, the prevention controls and the emergency mitigation and recovery controls I have outlined above mean that there is zero-risk to the earth where we frac; zero risk to the water-table directly below frac locations; and zero risk to community health in the local community in the areas where we work.

Please don't believe the lies of the rat-bags who oppose our drive to create energy-security, cheaper sources of energy, and more high-paying jobs for local people.

There is another side to the story which the Frac-free groups won't tell you.

How Can a Fracked Well Fail?

Graham Marshall - Monday, December 08, 2014

Opponents of the drive to create energy self-sufficiency and energy-security in Britain will often call on the alleged threat to drinking water as a reason not to develop British gas resources through the process known as hydraulic fracture stimulation.

Here is a typical example of the frightening propaganda used by opponents of unconventional gas; in this case from the "Frac-free Ryedale" website: "Our drinking water would become contaminated if one of the wells leaks, as they are likely to do over time. It is estimated that one in four wells will leak within five years, and 50% of all wells will leak within 15 years."

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I'd like the folks at Frac-free Ryedale answer two simple questions:

Firstly, how, does one in four wells leak within five years?

Secondly, how do 50% of all wells leak within 15-years?

You see, the problem I have with these claims, is that they are simply nonsense: let me show you how a gas well is constructed to prevent any risk of failure and you can work it out for yourself.

When the drill-rig drills the hole into the ground - anywhere up to a depth of 9,000 - 12,000 feet below the surface, and a further 9,000 - 12,000 feet "lateral" (horizontal), an outermost "conductor casing" is inserted.  This conductor casing is a steel tube which fits into the drill hole.  Surrounding the conductor casing and filling the space between the steel tube and the wall of the drill hole is a cement liner. So this provides the outermost barrier between the inside of the well-bore and the outside rock.

Inside of the conductor casing, another steel liner is then inserted into the bore-hole - called the "surface casing".  The gap between the surface casing and the conductor casing is then filled with another layer of solid cement.  So this provides a second barrier inside the well-bore to help prevent any hydrocarbons escaping from inside the well; and prevent any contaminants from migrating  from the outside rocks.

If that wasn't enough protection, there is then a third steel liner - the intermediate casing - inserted into the well-bore inside of the surface casing.  The gap between the intermediate casing and the surface casing is, once again, filled with hard-setting cement.

So, that is now three layers of steel tubing, and three layers of solid cement between the outside rocks and the inside well bore.

But we're not done with protecting the aquifers just yet; inside those three steel rings and three cement walls, the well completions folks then insert a penultimate barrier - called the Production Casing. Outside the Production Casing is another layer of cement.  Inside of the Production Casing is a gap (called the annulus) and inside the annulus is the final protective barrier inside the well.  This is the Production Tubing.

The Production Tubing is a steel pipe that allows gas to flow from the bottom of the well all the way to the surface. The gas (or oil) stays inside the Production Tubing at all times.

So, as you can see, it is practically impossible for any hydrocarbons to escape through five layers of steel tubing and four layers of reinforcing cement and contaminate groundwater aquifers.

Put quite simply, the claim that 25% of wells will fail within 5 years and 50% will fail within 15 years is nonsense.

Create Jobs in Ryedale

Graham Marshall - Friday, December 05, 2014

It is so sad to see the anti-development brigade targeting the Third Energy proposal to develop an unconventional gas well outside Kirby Misperton in Ryedale.

I'd love to see lots of high-paying resource industry jobs created for young people in Ryedale; so our kids can have a brighter future.  After all, the low-paying and seasonal jobs to be found at Flamingo Land, while important to the local economy, are not really going to offer youngsters much of a reason to stay in Ryedale.

Rural depopulation in North Yorkshire has been an ongoing problem for the whole of my life; it even resulted in my young family having to migrate to Australia for better prospects.

North Yorkshire and Ryedale have lost too many people due to lack of local opportunity.

The energy industry offers the chance to reverse this decline, and provide interesting, high-paying careers for local people at the same time.

And the so-called environmental "risk" of hydraulic fracturing - "frac" - is so over-blown by the anti-frac brigade.

It is, quite frankly, utter nonsense!

Yorkshire people have been exploiting our mineral and natural resources wealth from the Moors, North Sea, and Vale of Pickering for thousands of years.

Iron-ore mining in Rosedale, Alum mining and processing at Ravenscar, Jet Mines in Westerdale and elsewhere, and coal pits on the Moors above Farndale: those remnants  all attest to the ways in which our ancestors exploited this land for their benefit.

The Hydraulic Fracturing of shale gas thousands of feet below the surface is just another way in which we can continue to create wealth for the people living in this area.

The only difference is that unconventional gas wells require a lot less surface disruption than iron, alum, jet or coal mines, and are far less polluting than most other local industries.

So let's get fracking!

Here is a brochure from Third Energy which answers many of the questions local people may have about the Hydraulic Fracturing process. 

Disclosure: I do not work for, or own shares in Third Energy. I am a native of the North York Moors, hailing from Castleton.  I have worked as a Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) professional in the international energy industry for 20+ years; and in "unconventional" drilling and completions ("frac") for the last 10-years. I am proud to be working in an industry that is meeting the resource needs of society and providing thousands of high-paying and interesting jobs to people.  I believe, through personal experience, that all EHS and other risks associated with unconventional energy are easily managed using existing technology; and that better solutions will continue to be developed to reduce risk even further in the future. In summary, the benefits to society from exploitation of unconventional sources of energy far outweigh the very insignificant risk posed by use of the technology.



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