scientist 44: the entrepreneur – water and fracking for oil and gas (2013)

Fracking was once uneconomic, but today’s energy crisis has led to new options. As the government has issued licences to drill in the UK, there have been protests in the UK. This podcast wises-up on what ‘fracking’ is by looking at the USA experience where 95% of the oil and gas wells are hydraulically fractured. (See also scientist 10 – the entrepreneur for a related angle on this process) 

There are issues around our topic … green issues, sustainability issues … but today we look at how the process works. It used to be, at least from the movies we’ve seen, that people would find oil, drill a hole and oil would gush to the surface. Using oil to power machinery started the industrial revolution. Getting oil then was relatively easy. It’s long been known that a type of rock called shale holds amounts of oil and gas. Shale is a rock formed from mud silt, clay, and organic matter. The grain of shale is fine so it’s not very permeable. To get the gas from it, it needs to be cracked open to make it permeable. That’s achieved by pumping millions of litres of water underground.

You’ll hear from Matt Bruff formerly of Altela Incorporated when he visited Cambridge. Matt works in the industry concerned with purifying the water that comes back out of the oil well. His company processes the water as he’ll explain – letting solids settle and then desalinating the water. 

There are valid objections to ‘fracking’ in our countryside. One concern is that water used is contaminated by chemicals and picks up other substances on its way through layers of earth. Another is that the cement pipes which protect the ground water might leak. Another is that maybe the rock fractures might make their way to the surface. Or their might be small earthquakes. Another concern is that in having a fresh source of energy, we might take our eye off the target for developing alternative energy solutions and being frugal with our use of carbon based fuels.

formerly: Altela Inc


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