Statoil’s hidden chapter: Fracking — the filth gets filthier

by Ole A. Seifert
Photo: Amy Youngs, amymyyou on Flicker<br /> cornucopia.cornubot.se

Shale gas has long been advertised as being an environmentally sound alternative to oil and coal. Is this truly the case? Photo: Amy Youngs

Statoil, the Norwegian state owned Oil Company (owning 66% of the company’s shares) recently announced that it will reduce its tar sands extraction efforts in Alberta, Canada. The public are rejoicing, believing that their voice has been heard – unfortunately this is not the case. The reduction of the exploitation of the tar sands is indeed a wonderful thing, but it has occurred largely due to economic reasons.

A fair amount of Norwegians are very environmentally conscious and the detrimental effect that tar sand extraction has on the indigenous populations of Canada weighs heavy on their hearts. The fact that their government could inflict so much pain and suffering on a homeland other than their own was deeply upsetting, so the announcement of the reduction feels like a win, whatever the reason.

Shale gas has long been advertised as being an environmentally sound alternative to oil and coal. Is this truly the case? Have we had all the facts, or are we simply wanting to believe a government sanctioned advertisement campaign designed to build support for an industry that could well be as detrimental for the planet as all the rest? Are we being fed propaganda? Are we being fed and are we opening up our mouths and minds and swallowing a sugar coated truth?

addictinginfo.org

Would you like a glass of fresh fracking water?

Hydraulic Fracturation, or “fracking” as it is more commonly known, is a hot topic for debate in many countries in the world. Some US cities and states have enforced a temporary ban on the practice after MSBNC ran an expose in 2009, followed by the CNN in 2010, showing how drinking water had an ignitable gas accompanied as a by-product when running out of a faucet. Quebec, Canada have also put a temporary ban on the practice. Tunisia and France have banned it completely.

Statoil is not affected with such bans. In fact, Statoil is one of the largest global operators of the fracking practice, especially on the Marcellus formations located in North-Eastern America. The Marcellus is the third largest field, after those found in Iran and Siberia.

Gas = environmentally friendly?
In a narrow perspective, gas is indeed more environmentally friendly, producing 40-50% less CO2 emissions than oil and coal. This is a great number, but gas affects other parts of our delicate world and in other ways, other ways that governments don’t want us to focus on, from soil pollution to water contamination. The biggest risk however, is the gas’s effect on global warming, especially the unburned gas. Fracking is (mainly) the extraction of methane gas, CH4. Methane gas is 86 times more dangerous as an accelerator to climate change than carbon dioxide in a twenty year-perspective, posing a huge risk to us once again. Currently the UN figures show this increased risk as 34% (IPCC in 2013) compared with CO, in a hundred year perspective. New satellite observations (2014) showed us a leak percentage high as 9-10 on average, which guts the entire benefit of switching to gas as an environmental friendly option.

Water, water, water, sand and chemicals
One of the main reasons that gas has become profitable again — as the techniques has been around for a long time, is the possibility for horizontal drilling and the fracking technique. It consists of pumping millions of liters of water mixed with sand and a huge quantities of chemicals. Many US states are now demanding that it should be explained and disclosed what chemicals are used, but this is halted by several of the companies involved. In 2005, “the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill” passed that exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It has until recently exempted companies from revealing the chemicals used in fracking. The decision overrides the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is referred to as the Halliburton loophole. In a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project (October 2014), it has emerged that diesel and other dangerous liquids with higher levels of toxins as Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl benzene and Xylene. Are being used. These are very hazardous, carcinogenic substances. Fracking will normally go through between 4 and 30 million liters of water. Less than half of the water comes up again and can be treated and cleansed. 80-300 tons of chemicals are used. It goes without saying that the water is highly polluted and very toxic. Both the little that comes up, as well as what is left in the ground.

Accidents happen, even with Statoil. Most recently last summer. “Luckily” most of the gas burned, while the dirty water from boreholes rebounded and flooded the waste water basins and proceeded out in Opossum Creek about five kilometers away and killed an estimated 70,000 fish, according to conservative estimates from the EPA. I guess it was not so lucky for the fish.

More pain than gain
Let’s get back to the emission track. A new research report — Remote sensing of fugitive methane emissions from oil and gas production in North American tight geologic formations, October 2014, various authors — used satellite observations combined with EPA figures, and showed that although emissions have decreased somewhat, they are still too high to give gas the status as an environmentally friendly alternative. Another study from March 2014 (Towards a better understanding and quantification of methane emissions from shale gas development), argues that the EPA numbers are too low, as does a study from December 2013 (Assessment and Risk Analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000-2012) who believes that methane emissions are more likely to be about 100 to 1000 times higher than the EPA estimates! Even with conservative estimates, fracking contributes to a faster global warming and has no net climate benefit whatsoever in any timescale that matters to humanity. It is also of importance to put in perspective that the fresh water — a stable yet scarce resource — is used up, polluted and made unfit for human consumption. Water has long been on the UN agenda (Millennium Development Goals, 2000 -2015). Even water rich nations like Norway will be affected if the water shortage worsens as 2/3 of Norway’s water consumption is abroad, known as Virtual Water.

Ethical guidelines?
Statoil has a long-term plan for the development of shale gas resources. We focus on technology that ensures recovery in the best possible way, providing the highest possible recovery rate, and reduces the environmental impact. In addition, we are working to identify and implement activities to benefit the communities where we operate.”

– from Statoil’s Norwegian homepage*.

Sure, they have long-term plans and technology that give the highest output and return for the company and its shareholders. Reducing environmental consequences? In relation to what? This is simply empty words. Unfortunately this is not the only empty words and misrepresentation. Statoil mix words like “everything” with 15-40%. Where else can you buy a product and only get 15-40% of the item, and still be pleased?

“We are increasingly recycling all water used during Bakken drilling operations. Many shale gas and tight oil operators, including Statoil, are seeking ways to fracture wells and limit the use of water through recycling or an overall reduction in water consumption. We are increasingly recycling all water used during Bakken drilling operations. After being injected into the well, part of the fracturing fluid will return in the days and weeks that follow. The amount of fluid that returns to the surface depends on geological characteristics. Typically between 15%-40% of the fluid is returned. The rest of the water injected as part of the hydraulic fracturing process remains in the shale formation and may be produced over a long period of time.”

— from Statoil’s own website, annual report 2012.

It sounds like pure fraud in a dirty industry. I have already mentioned this “rest of the water” being ”produced” over a long time beneath the ground as extremely polluted and a source of further contamination of groundwater.

Returned (flowback/produced) water is returned for the entire production lifetime of the well…” – it continues. Well, does this only apply for the Bakken formation wells? How credible is this, when they just failed this at the Marcellus formation in 2014? Do they really believe this themselves, until an accident happens there too? Thank you so very much, Statoil, we realize that you really take environmental responsibilities seriously.

 


*) http://www.statoil.com/no/OurOperations/ExplorationProd/ShaleGas/Pages/HowAreTheResourcesProduced.aspx
http://www.statoil.com/annualreport2012/en/sustainability/casestudies/pages/shalegasandtightoil.aspx

A Norwegian version of this story was published in the magazine Gatenytt (Street News), December 2014. http://gatenytt.no/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/GN_nr2_Ole-Seifert-Fracking.pdf

Big thanx to Alexandra Dimitriou-Engeler for editing!