Tioga County, New York - Douglas Camin / Wikimedia Commons

What Is Gel Fracking?

In Binghamton, a group of irate anti-fracking protestors has voiced concern over gel fracking, an alternative to hydro-fracking that experts call a greener approach to energy extraction. 

What Is Gel Fracking?

In traditional hydraulic fracturing (commonly shortened to “fracking” to make it sound nastier), a jet of water is shot down a well under extreme pressure. The highly-pressurized water slams into rock deep in the Earth, breaking it up and releasing oil and gas.

Invented in 2008 by a company called GasFrac, gel fracking works in much the same way as traditional fracking, but with one big difference. In gel fracking, propane gel replaces water.

Utilizing a combination of propane gel (which already occurs naturally in the Earth) along with other non-toxic chemicals in place of water, gel fracking produces the same result as the alternative, just without the use of fresh water required in typical fracking. 

Shortly after gel fracking began trials, one consultant explained, “The main advantage of the gelled propane is that once the gel is broken the propane flashes and mixes with the gas. Since the propane becomes part of the reservoir flow, the generated fracture is completely cleaned up … In addition, a water-based fracture has an efficiency of around 20 percent, while propane has 100 percent efficiency.”

The applications of this method have exciting implications for the future of oil and gas extraction.

The Situation in New York

Unfortunately, a group of anti-energy protestors in New York doesn’t see it that way. The state has maintained a very public ban on fracking since 2017; the legislation, however, doesn’t strictly prohibit gel fracking. As a result, a group of local landowners in Tioga County want to put the green fracking alternative into action.

In their submission to the state, the newly formed Tioga Energy Partners explained, “Waterless hydraulic fracturing was first performed in Canada in 2008 and since then has been used to successfully treat more than 2,600 zones at over 800 sites in North America.”

That record of excellence isn’t good enough, however, for a band of protestors opposed to the project. The anti-energy advocates argue that the state should implement a moratorium on gel fracking until a lengthy environmental study can be conducted.

The Future of Fracking

Perhaps the biggest mistake gel fracking ever made was simply relating itself to “fracking” at all. Although oil and gas continuously innovate fracking to make it more environmentally friendly, the term itself has become venomous. 

Does it matter that gel fracking uses no water at all, or that it works at an astonishing 100 percent efficiency? Does it matter that gel fracking has operated without major incident for 11 years? It doesn’t seem to.

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BLM Move Draws Mixed Response

In the coming weeks and months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will officially move its headquarters from the nation’s Capitol, Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, Colorado. The ambitious move has drawn praise and criticism in equal measure.

‘A Victory for Communities in the West’

Longtime fan of the move Colorado Senator Cory Gardner was effusive in his praise of the decision. “The problem with Washington is too many policymakers are far removed from the people they are there to serve,” he said in a statement. “Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is west of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters.”

As with every other move executed by the Trump administration, the BLM’s announcement has drawn criticism, as well. Democratic officials claim the decision was a thinly-veiled ploy to move the majority of policymakers in the BLM away from the Capitol (where they are) and closer to oil and gas company operations.

Of course, there’s no secret about it. The BLM is undoubtedly moving to get closer to the oil and gas fields that it needs to govern. That’s not political bias; it’s just logical. Fortunately, the dual magic of email and video conferencing should effectively remove any concern over politicians being able to reach BLM employees.

More Than a Hundred Longterm Jobs in the West

When it comes time to move, 27 BLM employees will make the transition to the new headquarters in Grand Junction. Another fifty-eight employees will transition into an existing BLM office in nearby Lakewood, Colorado. The rest will be spread throughout the Western states to have a closer eye on the lands they manage.

“We are thrilled to death,” said Robin Brown, director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. “It’s a huge boost to our economy; they’re great jobs. And, again, the name recognition that will come from being BLM’s Western headquarters is huge for us.”

Not Moving, Just Cleaning Up

Though the formal announcement of a shift in headquarters sounds monumental, it’s just the official announcement of a transition begun long ago. Of the nearly 10,000 BLM employees spread across the country, only about 400 were stationed in Washington, DC as of the announcement. After the move, the BLM will only have about 60 employees left in the nation’s Capitol.

As Sen. Gardner explained, more than ninety-nine percent of the BLM’s purview is west of the Mississippi River. At that percentage, 60 employees in one city on the east coast still sounds like a lot.

Bbean32 / Wikimedia Commons

Weld County Puts SB 181 to the Test

Earlier this year, Colorado governor Jared Polis signed into law SB181, a controversial bill that sought to hand oil and gas decision-making power over to the communities living among energy projects. That was the bill’s stated intention, at least, but new actions from one of Colorado’s most energy-friendly counties is putting lawmakers to the test.

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United States Methane Emissions Aren’t as Drastic as Previously Reported

On Thursday, a new study from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that the levels of United States’ methane emissions are nowhere near as high as they were previously reported. The bombshell study casts doubt on years of attacks from anti-energy protestors and could undercut new legislation from Democrats in the US House of Representatives.

The Fight Against Methane

Anti-oil and gas activists have long used methane as one of their primary weapons in the fight against US energy output. The general claim was simple: oil and gas operations expel methane into the environment, and methane is the second biggest contributor to climate change. Take, for example, a study published in Science last June that revealed US oil and gas methane emissions were 60 percent higher than the numbers reported by the EPA.

Environmental Defense Fund Chief Scientist Steven Hamburg (and co-author of the study) proclaimed, “Scientists have uncovered a huge problem.”

No matter what your opinion of the oil and gas industry, that information sounds terrifying. Opponents of domestic energy have done little to squash that fear, too, painting a picture of an industry that pumps clouds and clouds of methane into the atmosphere with gleeful ignorance. 

Thursday’s study, however, portrays the oil and gas industry in another light entirely. 

A Groundbreaking Study

After examining methane emissions results at 20 US drilling sites for the better part of a decade, researchers at NOAA reported, “Our estimated increases in North American [methane emissions] are much smaller than estimates from some previous studies and below our detection threshold for total emissions increases …”

Put plainly, US oil and gas production has increased by 46 percent in the last decade; in roughly the same period, US methane emissions have increased “approximately 3.4 ± 1.4 % per year,” approximately 10 times lower than some previous studies

Nobody Likes Escaped Methane

Two days before the release of the NOAA report, two Democrat Representatives introduced the Methane Waste and Prevention Act of 2019, a proposal that would use federal law to compel oil and gas companies to cut methane emissions to the bone.

Never mind the fact that earlier this year, Erik Milito, a rep from the American Petroleum Institute revealed that between 1990 and 2017, natural gas production rose an astounding 50 percent. Meanwhile, methane emissions from natural gas projects dropped 14 percent. In Milito’s words, “During a period of significant production growth … methane emissions went down.”

Getting on the Same Page

In their conclusion to the report, NOAA researchers explained that it was a single incorrect mathematical assumption that led prior researchers to their inflated conclusions. It wasn’t a political ploy (like the grandstanding that comes after the publication of a report of this kind), it was a simple mistake.

The NOAA report also serves as further proof that in spite of the repeated attempts to hold up oil and gas as the nation’s biggest climate offenders, the industry itself is committed to creating a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly product year after year.