oil rig - anthony jones/pexels.com

Oil Bust Fears Diminish Amid Surging US Production

In recent weeks, a handful of timid investors have stirred up controversy in the oil markets by suggesting that the international price of oil was due to crash in the coming months. That prediction may prove true for some countries in the coming months, but the strength of the United States’ production power shows no signs of letting up or crashing down.

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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.

Frans Berkelaar / Flickr.com

Gulf of Oman Attacks Underscore Stability of US Oil

Earlier this week, explosions aboard two oil tankers traveling through the Gulf of Oman forced crews to evacuate ship and leave the vessels floating, abandoned. The attacks mark a third such instance of violence in the region in recent months. Those worried the tense situation would upset the price and availability of oil and gas throughout the world, however, have noticed little longterm fluctuation in oil prices, thanks in large part to the stability of the US energy industry.

‘Nobody Wants to See War in the Gulf’

On Thursday, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair or the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous experienced explosions while traveling through the Gulf of Oman. The United States wasted little time in accusing Iran of the attacks. A source inside the UK Foreign Office told the BBC, “We strongly agree with the US assessment.”

Iran has, predictably, denied any involvement with either attack.

Those declarations aside, the attacks mark a temporary disruption in the international oil trade. As to further escalation, several nations, including China, have declared that war isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

The International Oil and Gas Highway

Long-term disruption in the Gulf of Oman has severe implications for oil; around 16 million barrels move through the area each day. The area is also a hotspot for liquefied natural gas shipping, as well. If oil and gas is unable to move quickly through the Gulf of Oman, every energy industry in every country in the world is affected. 

Thursday’s attack alone drove up oil prices 4 percent almost immediately.

Fortunately for general consumers, however, this increase in oil prices was much more muted than it would have been in previous years. “The rally is not particularly impressive. In other years, this would be a 5% to 10% move,” said energy analyst Tom Kloza.

Experts agree that the abundance of readily available refined oil continues to outweigh any concerns about the overall safety in the Gulf of Oman. 

A Concerted Communal Effort

With the global need for oil sated thanks to a consistent US effort, the companies and countries with interests in the Gulf can turn their attention to security. This third round of attacks has spurred several nations to partner with businesses in the region to heighten security measures throughout the Gulf of Oman. 

As one Saudi official explained, “The key thing now is to find a way to deal with those type of attacks in the future and assure everyone that those routes are still safe.”

Varodrig / Wikimedia Commons

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.