Having grown up in the grease orchards of Texas, I found it a bit odd that the Elko newspaper found it newsworthy to alert readers that the fire they might see at a Noble Energy oil well site is the intentional flaring of natural gas. But when you think about it, it makes sense. For Elko County that is an unusual sight.
Oil drilling back in the day.
“An open flare is a common practice for disposal of natural gas during the exploration phase in an oil field and is expected to continue until the well stabilizes or gas-holding and production facilities are built,” the BLM is quoted as saying in a statement.
I remember touring the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore years ago and reading about all the gas flares in that stretch of the oil patch. One person commented that there were so many flares that you could read a newspaper at midnight.
Back then I thought it quaint that some people would find that remarkable, since gas flares were so common across North Texas. Perhaps someday a child will come across that same remark and ask: “What’s a newspaper, Daddy?”
There is one species the environmentalists are willing to allow to become extinct — homo economicus.
In its latest salvo in the war on jobs, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a demand that the Bureau of Land Management call off the leasing of 174,000 acres of federal public land near Tonopah and Austin for oil and gas exploratory drilling. The BLM has already cut the lease offer down from 285,000 acres in an effort to protect sage grouse habitat.
Even though the BLM offer only mentions drilling, the CBD screeches that the lease is for fracking, a word the enviros spit out like a vile epithet. Since 90 percent of the wells in this country are hydraulically fractured, they are probably correct in the assumption.
Noble Energy rig in Elko County
“Fracking in other parts of this country has repeatedly shown the practice to be dangerous both for human health and the environment,” skrieks Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center. “It poses an imminent threat to one of Nevada’s scarcest resources — water — as well as clean air and wildlife habitats. And of course it significantly adds to greenhouse gas pollution and exacerbates climate change.”
Though the CBD formal protest says there are no fracked wells in Nevada, there is in fact one. It was fracked in March in Elko County by Noble Energy and was monitored closely by the Nevada Division of minerals. No problems reported. In fact, a spokesman for the division says there has never been a significant harm to groundwater attributable to fracking on record in this county.
Despite this, the CBD warns, “Hydraulic fracturing, a dangerous practice in which operators inject toxic fluid underground under extreme pressure to release oil and gas, has greatly increased industry interest in developing tightly held oil and gas deposits such as those in the proposed lease area. Fracking brings with it all of the harms to water quality, air quality, the climate, species, and communities associated with traditional oil and gas development, but also brings increased risks in many areas.”
Fracking, which has been used since the 1940s, uses a liquid that is 98 percent water and sand. You may read what was in injected in the Elko well at Fracfocus.org — just search for wells in Nevada and Elko County.
The enviros also overstate the amount water used to frack wells, claiming it takes 2 million to 5.6 million gallons. The well in Elko took about 300,000 gallons and 60 percent of that is reusable. Admittedly the Elko well was not horizontally drilled which would have taken more water.
“The recently released National Climate Change Assessment makes it abundantly clear that the climate of the United States is already being hurt by human-induced changes and that that the situation will only get worse with time,” Mrowka bemoans. “It’s human folly of the worst kind to add to the changes through more fracking, simply for the short-term economic gain of a few companies.”
Actually, that 840-page White House propaganda report was 98 percent toxic falsehoods.
As North Dakota and Texas can attest, oil and gas production creates jobs, something Nevada, especially rural Nevada, needs.
Nevada Division of Minerals Administrator Rich Perry talks about fracking at a hearing in Elko this past month. (Elko Daily Free Press photo)
Recently the Nevada Division of Minerals held a series of public hearings across the state to obtain comments on its new rules regulating hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, used in oil and natural gas wells.
At the hearings Division of Minerals Administrator Rich Perry explained how Nevada’s 20-page revised rules will require groundwater testing before and after drilling, pressure testing of equipment, notifications to landowners before fracking begins and abiding by strict engineering standards, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Public comments ranged from the rationally cautious to the histrionic.
“We trusted the Bureau of Land Management to protect and preserve our public land so that future generations of Americans could continue to enjoy them, and now they’ve leased millions of acres to oil and gas companies, turning wilderness into industrial hell holes that can potentially contaminate the land beyond repair,” testified Las Vegas resident Shannon Salter.
Map of Noble Energy leased exploration area. (R-J graphic)
Asked about the potential to contaminate the land beyond repair, the Division of Minerals staff replied, “From our review of existing studies, we can’t find any substantiate contamination of groundwater from the actual hydraulic fracturing treatment.”
Speaking at hearings on behalf of Noble Energy, the primary company doing any major exploration in Nevada, Kevin Vorhaben, Rockies Business Unit Manager, said, “We firmly believe that with good regulation we can have the energy we need, the economy we want and the environment we deserve.”
In a follow-up interview, Vorhaben said his company is leasing 370,000 acres in Elko County and has already drilled two wells. One should be producing oil by the end of this month.
Though many seem to think hydraulic fracturing is some new, untested technology, it has been used extensively since the 1940s. Vorhaben estimates 90 percent of all wells drilled today are fracked. Fracturing methods date back to the mid-1800s when drillers would drop explosives down a well to break open rock formations.
Of the 370,000 acres leased, approximately 63 percent is on private land, while the remainder is largely on BLM land. On public lands a royalty of 12.5 percent is collected on the value of the oil produced, split evenly between the federal and state governments. Vorhaben said owners of private land typically receive a similar royalty.
If the company reaches its anticipated production of 50,000 barrels a day by 2021, and the price remains near $100 a barrel, royalties could amount to more than $600,000 a day.
With that kind of money, one can afford to spruce up the industrial hell hole.
One of the major reasons the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 227 this year — setting up the Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the possible transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada — was the need for economic development.
Pump Jack in Nevada
In a recent interview, Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, chair of that task force, offered an example of the problems being encountered with federal land agencies that deter the creation of jobs and economic development. He said Noble Energy of Houston came into Elko County and did seismic exploration all over the area. They went before the County Commission said they had five hot spots in the world and Elko was one of them, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
“As they were trying to get ready, they figured out that 90 percent of everything north of the freeway in Elko County is off limits for oil and gas. Then they came in and were ready to start setting up a drill rig on the third week of August, but three weeks before that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) said, ‘Oops, we’re sorry but we forgot to consider the viewshed from the California Trail.’” Dahl recounted. “So they said it might take a year to a year and a half to do the EIS (Environmental Impact Study) on the viewshed. …
“You see how progress and development are held up by, for instance, them worrying about the wagon trains, I guess, that’ll be coming down the California Trail right along parallel to the interstate and the railroad. You can’t look off to the right and see a pump jack or something. Those are the kinds of things that are waking people up thinking maybe we really need to make a change.”
In Nevada alone, Considine estimates oil and gas projects on public land could generate tax revenues of as much as $218 million and create as many as 21,797 new jobs — as many as 200,000 jobs in the seven-state region.
Nevadans are about to be dragged into the debate over hydraulic fracturing — fracking to those of us who grew up in the grease orchards.
Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. has announced plans to drill exploratory wells across a 40,000-acre tract of public and private land west of Wells in search of oil and/or natural gas, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press. The company has stated the area may hold up to 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
But that energy is expected to be locked in tight rock formations like the Bakken Shale in North Dakota or the Barnett Shale in north Texas. Profitable production may require drilling horizontally through the formation and then cracking the rock by injecting — under high pressure — water, sand and trace amounts of chemicals — fracking. (See video above)
Environmentalists worry that fracking could contaminate groundwater.
But if the federal agencies that control 85 percent of the land in Nevada try to interfere with drilling plans by claiming a potential impact on groundwater, they may be in for a legal and political fight.
Rep. Mark Amodei, whose 2nd Congressional District covers most of northern Nevada, says he met recently with the state director of the Bureau of Land Management and her district directors to discuss ongoing issues and head off any jurisdictional conflicts.
Amodei said the state engineer is in charge water rights, not the federal government. “I feel like we did a pretty clear and relaxed job of just telling them, under this fracking thing, don’t think you’re now going to be the state engineer.”
Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko websites.