KPMG Research Highlights Commonsense Water Management Efforts Across the Marcellus Shale

A new KPMG analysis released this week – entitled “Watered-Down: Minimizing Water Risks in Shale Gas and Oil Drilling” – highlights the commonsense practices and technologies related to natural gas development from the Marcellus Shale aimed at ensuring water quality and the environment are protected and kept safe.

Interestingly, while some continue to suggest that hydraulic fracturing, a tightly-regulated well stimulation technology, is “new”, the researchers state this about fracturing: “First used commercially in the U.S. in 1947, the technology has been continuously improved upon since that time, but can be traced back to 1890s.” This predates Ford’s Model T, in fact.

Below are several key excerpts from the analysis, underscoring not only the enormous natural gas resources in the United States, but also the use of “state-of-the-art environmental protections,” a top Marcellus Shale Coalition Guiding Principle (see also the MSC’s Recommended Practices).

  • While there are water risks to be managed, studies by the United States Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), a not‑for‑profit association of state regulators, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have found no significant environmental risks as a result of proper hydraulic fracturing.
  • The estimated shale gas resource for the continental United States doubled from 2010 to 2011 to about 862 TcF. From 2006 to 2010, annual shale gas production in the United States nearly quintupled—from 1.0 to 4.8 TcF. … Shale gas production is projected to grow to nearly 50 percent in the United States by 2035.
  • Improvements in technology have also enhanced the development of this resource and the environmental considerations associated with the hydraulic fracturing process. Digital technology advances allow companies to view geometry and flow properties of the fracturing process in three dimensions, making it easier to gather data and optimize the design of treatment simulations. These technological innovations enable the drilling of more shale wells with increased attention to potential environmental effects.
  • While these volumes [of water needed for hydraulic fracturing] may seem large, they generally represent a small percentage of total water use in the areas where fracturing operations occur.
  • Well casings provides a protective barrier from potential contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluid, oil and natural gas flowing from the well.
  • Hydraulic fracturing does not require water that is of potable (drinking water) quality. Recycling wastewater helps conserve water use and provide cost-saving opportunities. In Marcellus, there are examples of companies reusing up to 96 percent of their produced water.
  • The Marcellus Shale also employs vapor recompression technology to reduce the cost of recycling fracturing water by using waste heat. The unit produces water vapor and solid residue that is disposed of in a waste facility. In addition, to reduce contamination risks during shale operations, many gas companies in the Marcellus Shale are reducing the amount of chemical additives used in fracturing fluid while producing shale gas.
  • In Western Pennsylvania, one oil and gas company has reduced its truck traffic by installing water pipelines to minimize the need to haul water to fracturing sites. The use of GPS navigational systems to optimize trucking routes can also assist in reducing the truck traffic and flow.