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Fracking For Nevada’s Natural Gas

Currently, Nevada lacks even marginal gas reserves, and only a limited amount of natural gas is produced.[i]

According to the Nevada Commission on Mineral Resources, there were five hydraulically fractured wells in Nevada as of April 10, 2017: three wells in Elko County (in northeastern Nevada), one well in Nye County (in central-southern Nevada), and one well in Eureka County. One of these wells currently produces oil, and two others initially produced oil but are currently shut in.

Yet, Natural gas is the primary fuel for power generation in Nevada. Eight of the state’s 10 largest power plants by generating capacity are natural gas-fired, and natural gas fuels seven-tenths of Nevada’s net electricity generation.[ii],[iii]

Nearly all the state’s natural gas is produced from out-of-state oil wells, and production is much less than natural gas consumption in Nevada.[iv] [v]

Interstate pipelines bring natural gas through Utah, California, and Idaho to supply Nevada. Almost three-fourths of the natural gas received in Nevada moves on to other states, with half of the natural gas delivered to California.[vi]

However, most of the giant oil fields on earth, ”elephants,” are deposited in passive margin shelves like the Paleozoic passive margin shelf of the Great Basin of western Utah and eastern Nevada.[v]  Great Basin Thrust Belt

Hydraulic fracturing (also called fracking, fracing, hydrofracking, fraccing, frac’ing, and hydrofracturing).The process involves the high-pressure injection of ‘fracing fluid’ (primarily water, containing sand or other proppants suspended with the aid of thickening agents) into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gaspetroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants (either sand or aluminum oxide) hold the fractures open.[vii]

Hydraulic fracturing is used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas.[viii]

A September 2015 study from researchers at Duke University found that fracking operators used approximately 250 billion gallons of water from 2005 to 2014 to extract oil and natural gas from hydraulically fracked wells. This accounted for less than 1 percent of total industrial water use in the United States. The study’s authors argued, “While fracking an unconventional shale gas or oil well takes much more water than drilling a conventional oil or gas well, the study finds that compared to other energy extraction methods, fracking is less water-intensive in the long run.” Further, the study’s authors found that fracking operations produced approximately 210 billion gallons of wastewater. Specifically, the authors noted that hydraulically fracked oil wells produced half a barrel of wastewater for each barrel of oil produced. This is compared to a conventional oil well, which produced more than approximately three barrels of wastewater for each barrel of oil produced.[ix]

Another 2015 study by the American geophysical Union study by Water Use Rises as Fracking Expands. Oil and natural gas fracking, on average, uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well and putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought.[x]

In December 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final report requested by Congress in 2010 on the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on drinking water resources. The EPA report stated that there was “scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances.” Specifically, the EPA concluded that, in some circumstances, poorly constructed drilling wells and incorrect wastewater management affected drinking water resources, particularly near drilling sites. According to the report, effects on drinking water “ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality to the contamination that made private drinking wells unusable.”

Then there is induced seismicity. The term induced seismicity (or induced seismology) refers to seismic events that occur at higher than normal rates due to human activity. Induced seismic events (e.g., smaller earthquakes and tremors) can be the result of mining, damming rivers, or injecting fluids into underground wells during fracking.

In 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded the following:

Great Basin Fault Lines

“            USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only very rarely the direct cause of felt earthquakes. While hydraulic fracturing works by making thousands of extremely small ‘microearthquakes,’ they are, with just a few exceptions, too small to be felt; none have been large enough to cause structural damage. As noted previously, underground disposal of wastewater co-produced with oil and gas, enabled by hydraulic fracturing operations, has been linked to induced earthquakes.  [xi]

However, in 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey found that wastewater disposal, rather than fracking, was the main cause of an increase in earthquakes throughout the central United States from 2009 to 2013. According to the agency, wastewater disposal wells raise pressure levels more than fracked wells. Larger amounts of fluid are used in wastewater disposal wells than in fracked wells; thus, wastewater disposal wells are more likely to produce induced seismic events than fracked wells.[xii]

Fracking is banned in New York because of water pollution and climate concerns, injects large quantities of sand, water, and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to release trapped oil and natural gas. The process has been found to leak large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the resulting fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change.[xiii]

It is only a matter of time until Nevada’s power producers attempt to develop, through fracking, Nevada’s own natural gas resources and become producers rather than consumers of natural gas.

Endnotes:

[i] U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Reserves Summary as of December 31, 2017, Dry Natural Gas.

[ii] U.S. EIA, Nevada Electricity Profile 2016, Table 2A, Ten largest plants by capacity, 2016.

[iii] 29 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Tables 1.3.B, 1.7.B.

[iv] U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Nevada, Annual, 2017.

[v] U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Nevada, Annual, 2017.

[vi]U.S. EIA, International and Interstate Movements of Natural Gas by State, Nevada, Annual, 2017.

[vii] Gandossi, Luca; Von Estorff, Ulrik (2015). An overview of hydraulic fracturing and other formation stimulation technologies for shale gas production – Update 2015(PDF). Scientific and Technical Research Reports (Report). Joint Research Centre of the European Commission; Publications Office of the European Union. doi:10.2790/379646ISBN 978-92-79-53894-0ISSN 1831-9424.

[viii] Schmidt, Krista Kjellman, “What is Hydraulic Fracturing,” ProPublica, at: https://www.propublica.org/article/hydraulic-fracturing-national

[ix] Duke Today Staff, “How Much Water Does U.S. Fracking Really Use”? at: https://today.duke.edu/2015/09/frackfoot

[x] Magill, Bobby, “Water Use Rises as Fracking expands, 2015 froma U.S. Geological Survey study published by the American Geophysical Union, 2015 quoted at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/water-use-rises-as-fracking-expands/

[xi] https://www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/earthquake-hazards/research

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] Ibid. Magill.

About Author

Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of Nevada-today.com and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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