Drilling & Fracturing
Ramifications of Proposed Denton, Texas, Hydraulic Fracturing Ban
On Nov. 4, 2014, residents of Denton, Texas, will vote on a referendum to ban hydraulic fracturing within the city limits; however, make no mistake about it – a ban on hydraulic fracturing is a ban on all drilling.
This is borne out by the numbers: Approximately 20,000 natural gas wells have been drilled in the Barnett Shale and every one has been hydraulically fractured.
When oil and natural gas wells are drilled in dense shale rock formations like the Barnett Shale, few – if any – hydrocarbons come out. Only after the wells are “completed” with hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracture stimulation,” do the wells become productive. This is certainly true in the Barnett Shale, which was the first shale play to be made economically viable as a result of combining hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling in the ’90s.
Geologists have always known that the Barnett Shale had natural gas locked inside the rock, but there had been no success in releasing the gas until Texas oilman George Mitchell set his mind to solving the puzzle in 1980s. Mitchell drilled the C. W. Slay #1 in southwestern Wise County next to Denton County and began trying to perfect the best type of hydraulic fracturing, a technique that has been in use since 1947. Some 20 years later, Mitchell perfected the process of hydraulic fracturing in shale rock and the Barnett Shale drilling boom was on. The process quickly spread to other shales in the U.S. and the shale energy revolution was born.
The process of fracking is conceptually simple but technologically advanced. After a well has been drilled and the drilling rig removed, the process consists of pumping – under pressure – a mixture of 99.5 percent water and sand and 0.5 percent additives (such as guar gum, to help suspend the sand in the water) and a biocide like chlorine to kill any bacteria in the water. The fracturing process takes on average anywhere from three to 10 days. That’s it. After a well is fracked, it is no different than any other natural gas or oil well. Wells that have been fracture stimulated typically produce energy for 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years.
Ironically, the city of Denton, Texas, which is not far from the very first Barnett Shale natural gas well, is considering a ban on hydraulic fracturing within its city limits. While the actual proposed ordinance is officially a ban on hydraulic fracturing, Barnett Shale natural gas wells will not be drilled if they cannot be completed with hydraulic fracturing. Sadly, the proposed ban on drilling in Denton is also ironic because the development of the Barnett Shale has been a contributing factor to Denton’s growth and economic prosperity over the last 15 years.
In a June 2014 study, respected economist Dr. Ray Perryman, president of The Perryman Groupin Waco, Texas, highlighted the impacts of banning hydraulic fracturing in Denton. According to the study, the proposed ban on drilling will have significant negative impacts on the city of Denton, including $251 million in lost economic activity and 2,077 lost person-years of employment over the next 10 years. Losses to the state of Texas, including Denton County, would account for $354 million and 2,718 person-years of employment over the same time period.