Myth or Fact?
MYTH: Drilling rigs will be a permanent feature of the Fort Worth landscape.
FACT: It typically takes 20-30 days to drill a well in the Barnett Shale. However, depending on the area, multiple wells may be drilled consecutively on one site. When drilling is completed, the drilling rig is removed.
MYTH: Energy companies are exempt from meeting any sort of safety and environmental standards.
FACT: Operators are required to follow all Railroad Commission of Texas regulations, which are designed to ensure protection of the public and the environment. For example, energy companies must obtain and file a "Water Board Letter" from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that identifies the depth to which fresh water must be protected so a well can be designed to ensure protection of subsurface freshwater.
MYTH: Natural gas drilling releases dangerous levels of NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material) into the environment.
FACT: NORM is low-level radioactive material that comes from natural sources, such as the earth, water and air. It may be brought to the surface in formation water from oil and gas production. The health risk of NORM to the general public is virtually non-existent, and the risk of NORM exposure to site workers is slight.
NORM found in oil and gas operations is generally found in two forms: as scale inside piping and tubing or as sediment inside tanks and process vessels. It can take several years before scale accumulation in oilfield equipment reaches a regulatory threshold. Exposure to either form can only occur when repair work is performed. As long as the NORM equipment is being used it presents no risk to workers or the public. When work is planned, appropriate measures are implemented to contain the solids and scale and remove any chance of exposure to site workers. When NORM equipment is taken out of service, the openings are covered to contain any loose material and prevent release to the environment.
The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) regulates the identification and labeling of equipment containing NORM and disposal of oil and gas NORM waste. The Texas Department of Transportation regulates the transportation of NORM on public roads, and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) regulates all other oil and gas NORM activities.
MYTH: Natural gas producers are not doing anything to control methane emissions from drilling.
FACT: Methane is emitted from both human-related and natural sources, and the biggest human-related cause is landfills, according to the EPA. Methane is generated in landfills and open dumps as waste decomposes under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions.
Many of the energy companies operating in the Barnett Shale are partnering with the EPA in its voluntary Natural Gas STAR program, which strives to improve the companies’ environmental performance through the implementation of cost-effective technologies and practices to reduce methane emissions.
Five members of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council participate in this EPA partnership: Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy Corporation, EnCana Corporation, XTO Energy Inc. and Quicksilver Resources Inc.
In 2006, the nation’s Natural Gas STAR partners reported emissions reductions of approximately 85.9 billion cubic feet (Bcf), which is equivalent to removing approximately 7.5 million cars from the road for one year.
MYTH: Energy companies are using too much of an increasingly scarce resource, water, and natural gas drilling operations will sharply reduce our supply.
FACT: The amount of water sold to gas drilling operations in fiscal year 2006 only accounted for 0.25% of the total water Tarrant Regional Water District sold that year. The percentage has likely increased since then as drilling activity has intensified. Research is now being conducted to determine how much public water was used in 2007. Freshwater must be used in natural gas drilling because saltwater corrodes wells and drilling equipment and it isn’t compatible with the additives that are used in drilling and fracturing operations.
According to David Burnett, a professor at Texas A&M’s Global Petroleum Research Institute, industry has an incentive to recycle more water used because of the expense and impact of hauling it to off-site disposal locations. The energy industry and researchers at Burnett’s Institute are studying techniques for recycling wastewater for use in fracturing operations as well as other applications.
Devon Energy Corporation is a forerunner in this area, and is using distillation technology to recycle water produced at several drilling sites in its Barnett operations. Each of its four recycling sites treats 200,000 gallons of water per day. In the very near future, it may be possible for companies to recycle about a third of the water used in natural gas operations, according to Burnett. In another two or three years, about 50 percent of the wastewater may be recyclable due to advances in the technology.
MYTH: Salt-water disposal wells leak wastewater into our clean groundwater supply.
FACT: Disposal well operations are inherently safe when they are monitored and operated according to permit. A very small risk exists where there may be an old, improperly abandoned well deep underground and no public record to reveal its location. In these very rare instances it is possible for wastewater to leak into the fresh groundwater supply until the situation is discovered and corrected. The Railroad Commission of Texas and energy companies are designing disposal wells to be dug so deep that they are far beneath the fresh groundwater supplies used by the public for drinking and other uses.
MYTH: Pipeline incidents are a significant risk where natural gas drilling occurs.
FACT: According to government statistics, less than 1/100th of one percent of all transportation incidents are attributed to pipelines. National Transportation Safety Board statistics show that pipelines are indisputably the safest way to transport natural gas and other energy products, both for the public and the environment.
Nationwide, the leading cause of serious pipeline incidents is outside damage, typically a contractor, landscaper, farmer or do-it-yourself homeowner who hits the pipeline while digging.
Texas law requires contractors and homeowners to call 811, the One-Call Center, to have the location of underground utilities marked before starting an excavation project.
MYTH: Pipeline safety is not a top priority for energy companies — they are only out to make a profit.
FACT: Pipeline companies follow strict regulations and standards to ensure pipeline safety. Pipeline personnel check for visible signs of leaks or corrosion during regular aerial and foot patrols. They use special equipment to inspect and clean the inside of pipelines; they routinely test valves and test gas samples to identify early signs of corrosion.
MYTH: Sound emissions from compressor stations are a major noise disruption in urban neighborhoods.
FACT: Recent technologies have made great strides in minimizing sound emissions from station facilities. Many energy companies operating in the Barnett Shale use acoustical control buildings to house compressor stations. These buildings decrease the sound from compressor stations and blend in with the surrounding landscape.
MYTH: Pad sites that serve as the base for drilling rigs require the removal of all vegetation, which companies will never replace.
FACT: Before, during and after the drilling process, producers in the Barnett Shale are diligent about minimizing the environmental footprint. Once the drilling and completion processes are completed, all fluids are removed and either reused, or disposed of, and the drill site is fenced. If the well site is located in an urban area, landscaping is added around the site according to local ordinances.