Category Archives: Hydraulic Fracturing
by Karen Boman Rigzone Staff
The liquefied natural gas (LNG) division of Calgary-based Ferus LP successfully completed in October what the company believes to be the first-ever hydraulic fracturing operation utilizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) as engine fuel in North America.
Ferus’ LNG Division was engaged by a major oil and gas service company in the United States to conduct the pilot project, which involved six dual-fuel 2,250 horsepower pressure pumper units, powered by LNG, to stimulate well performance in the south Texas Eagle Ford shale.
The dual fuel systems allow for natural gas and diesel to be consumed simultaneously with no decrease in performance, Jed Tallman, manager of market development for Ferus LNG, told Rigzone. Approximately 10,000 gallons of LNG was used in the pilot project, which took place in the southwestern portion of the Eagle Ford play.
While the company cannot discuss the plans of the operator involved in the pilot project, Ferus LNG has been contacted by numerous operators and service companies regarding LNG as a low-cost, environmentally superior alternative fuel, Tallman said.
The increase in interest by operators and service companies in using LNG for hydraulic fracturing has been dramatic.
“Because of the large amounts of diesel consumed in fracturing fleets, the use of LNG as an alternative fuel will result in cost savings for the operator or service company, not to mention a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” Tallman commented.
“LNG offers significant environmental and cost-saving advantages and is quickly becoming the alternative fuel of choice for heavy-duty high horsepower on-road and off-road applications in North America,” said Ferus President and CEO Dick Brown in a Nov. 28 statement. “We were very pleased to play such a critical role in this ground-breaking project, and we intend to be at the forefront of this growing industry as more and more diesel consumers make the switch to North America’s abundant supply of natural gas.”
It is difficult to estimate the specific size of the market for LNG in hydraulic fracturing and in other areas such as railroad transportation and trucking moving forward, Tallman commented.
“But given the economic benefits, improved emissions profile, and increased gas production, we feel that LNG will make up a considerably larger percentage of our domestic energy consumption in the future.”
While the use of LNG for hydraulic fracturing is not being specifically done to alleviate criticism of hydraulic fracturing, the improved emissions profile of natural gas certainly is a benefit, Tallman said.
To complete this project, which marks a significant milestone in the adoption of natural gas as an alternative engine fuel, Ferus managed the entire supply chain on behalf of its client including LNG supply, transportation, and on-site storage and vaporization using specialized equipment and highly-trained personnel.
In addition to being a cleaner-burning and less expensive fuel alternative, LNG is non-toxic, non-combustible, non-flammable as a liquid, and dissipates into the atmosphere in the event of a leak or a spill, making it safer than diesel and gasoline, the company said in a statement.
The use of LNG requires specialized fuel handling equipment and additional training for individuals involved in the LNG supply chain.
“As a leading provider of cryogenic liquids for the energy sector, Ferus is uniquely qualified for the undertaking,” Tallman said.
The increased use of natural gas to fuel not only hydraulic fracturing but transportation has grown thanks to the abundance of shale gas in the United States.
The use of natural gas over diesel is becoming more widespread, likely due to the cost benefits associated with fuel switching, according to a Nov. 28 analyst report from GHS Research. GHS referenced Baker Hughes‘ Nov. 26 announcement that it would convert a fleet of its Rhino hydraulic fracturing units to bifuel pumps as a way to improve operational efficiency, lower costs and reduce health, safety and environment impacts. Bifuel is a mix of gas and diesel.
The new pumps use a mixture of gas and diesel, reducing diesel use by up to 65 percent with no loss of hydraulic horsepower. The converted fleet, which meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards, can also reduce a number of emissions including nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and particulate matter.
Baker Hughes first converted a small fleet of its units in Canada; the success Baker Hughes saw with this endeavor prompted to company to convert an entire fleet in the United States. The company is converting several more fleets of Rhino trucks to Rhino Bifuel equipment. Baker Hughes also has a test program in Oklahoma, where a number of light-duty vehicles have been converted to natural gas.
Westport Innovations, which manufactures natural gas-powered truck engines, recently reported it is building a railroad locomotive engine that can run on LNG. During 2012, the company saw “broad consensus” for the first time that natural gas will take material market share in every global transportation market within the next five years, said David Demers, chief executive officer for Westport, during the company’s third quarter 2012 earnings update Nov. 8.
Demers noted that consensus suggests that the company will see 7 percent to 15 percent of the North American trucking industry run on natural gas in 2017.
Westport Innovations will also introduce new natural gas-powered versions of the Ford F-450 and F-550 Super Duty trucks in mid-2013, the company said in a Dec. 3 statement.
“Although current demand for natural gas used in vehicles is minor relative to the demand associated with power generation, industry and residential heating, it is catching on and may soon reach a tipping a point where growth rapidly accelerates, with or without government intervention,” GHS reported.
- Baker Hughes using natural gas in fracturing jobs (fuelfix.com)
- Baker Hughes Converts Fleet of Hydraulic Fracturing Units to Bifuel (maritime-executive.com)
- USA: Waller Marine to Develop LNG Terminal (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Natural gas exports are in near future, Exxon says (star-telegram.com)
Joshua W. Mermis Friday, June 22, 2012
A “gas rush” is revitalizing the domestic petroleum exploration industry, and the legal ramifications could be felt for decades. Through hydraulic fracturing (fracking), petroleum companies access once cost prohibitive shale gas formations by creating fractures in underground rock formations, thereby facilitating oil or gas production by providing pathways for oil or gas to flow to the well. These pathways are commonly referred to as the “fractures.” The legal consequences of fracking could impact more than half of the Lower 48 states.
Background of Hydraulic Fracturing
The basic technique of fracking is not new. In fact, fracking has been used in wells since the late 1940s. The first commercial fracking job took place in 1949 in Velma, Oklahoma, however, sequestered layers of shale gas were inaccessible until 1985, when pioneers such as Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation combined fracking with a newer technology called directional, or horizontal drilling in the Austin Chalk. Directional drilling gave producers access to the shale gas because it allowed them to turn a downward- plodding drill bit as much as 90 degrees and continue drilling within the layer for thousands of additional feet. The positive results were soon transferred to the Barnett Shale in North Texas. To date, more than one million wells have been fractured.
The “hottest” shale plays are as follows:
- Bakken (Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota)
- Barnett Shale (Texas)
- Eagle Ford (Texas)
- Haynesville (Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas)
- Marcellus Shale (New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia)
- Utica (Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia)
Confirmed and/or prospective shale plays are also found in Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming. Shale plays have been confirmed in countries around the world, but the US is the leader in shale gas exploration.
More Money, More Problems
The new application of an old technology made it possible to profitably produce oil and gas from shale formations. Domestic and international companies quickly rushed to capitalize on the large reservoirs of shale gas. But unlike the preceding decades, where new oil and gas exploration had occurred offshore and in deepwater, oil and gas drilling started to occur in areas that were not accustomed to oil and gas activity. Overnight ranchers became millionaires as landmen leased large swaths of property to drill. The media started reporting about enormous domestic supplies of oil and gas that could be profitably produced from shale formations and politicians touted energy independence that could alleviate the country’s demand for foreign reserves. But with the increased attention came increased scrutiny.
Environmental groups have criticized the industry for fracking. The chief concern is that fracking will contamination of drinking water. Movies such as “Gasland” and “Gasland 2” fueled the public’s concerns that the drilling caused polluted water wells and flammable kitchen faucets. Additionally, the industry received criticism for the engineering process that involved high-rate, high-pressure injections of large volumes of water and some chemicals into a well to facilitate the fracking. The EPA and state regulatory bodies have become involved in the discussion and new regulations are likely to follow. In the meantime, some lawsuits have already been filed.
Pending Hydraulic Fracturing Litigation
Plaintiffs have filed approximately forty shale-related lawsuits across the country. These lawsuits include: (1) tort lawsuits; (2) environmental lawsuits; or (3) industry lawsuits. As the shale boom accelerates more suits are anticipated.
1. Tort Lawsuits
Tort lawsuits have been brought by individuals and as class actions. Typically the claimants assert claims for trespass, nuisance, negligence and strict liability. Their complaints involve excessive noise, increased seismic activity, environmental contamination (air, soil and groundwater), diminution in property value, death of livestock/animals, mental anguish and emotional distress. The plaintiffs seek actual damages and, in some instances, injunctive relief. A few parties have even sought the establishment of a medical monitoring fund. The majority of these lawsuits have been filed in Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. The first wave of lawsuits has established new law in the respective jurisdictions as the appellate courts weigh in with published opinions on issues that range from oil and gas lease forfeiture, consequences of forged contracts and contract formation.
2. Environmental Lawsuits
Environmental organizations and some citizen groups are seeking to enforce environmental laws and regulations in an effort to protect the environment and the public from what the litigants perceive to be negative consequences of fracking. In some instances they are even seeking to restrict the use of hydraulic fracking until it is proven to be environmentally safe. A popular target among these litigants is federal and state regulatory bodies, such as the EPA, and federal statutes, such as the Clean Air Act.
3. Industry Lawsuits
The final category of lawsuits includes those brought by the industry against the government. Claimants have sought to challenge federal, state and local government actions that have impeded the industry’s ability to drill.
Fracking Lawsuits 2.0 – Transportation, Construction, Personal Injury and Beyond
The survey of current fracking lawsuits does not take into account the claims that will spin out of the new shale plays. In fact, the engineering and logistical side of the fracking process – not fracking itself – will lead to many more attendant claims.
- Transportation: The survey of current fracking lawsuits does not take into account the claims that will spin out of the new shale plays. In fact, the engineering and logistical side of the fracking process – not fracking itself – will lead to many more attendant claims.
- Commercial: Lessor involved in mineral disputes will lead to commercial claims. Many lessors will feel they were shorted, or want a better deal as those now positioned to lease their rights sign a more lucrative mineral-rights lease. Company-to-company disputes will also rise as the price of natural gas fluctuates.
- Construction: The contractors and design professionals building the midstream facilities, among others, will lead to construction-defect and delay claims. Many states have recently adopted anti-indemnity statutes that will impact claims that arise during construction of midstream facilities, pipelines and other infrastructure-related construction projects.
- Insurance: Coverage issues will arise as parties file first- and third-party claims for myriad reasons. Issues including comparative indemnity agreements, flow-through indemnity and additional insured endorsements, among others, will need to be analyzed.
- Personal Injury: Additional workers drilling and working the wells will lead to an increase in personal injury and work-place accident claims. Many of the shale plays are located in what have traditionally been considered “plaintiff friendly” venues. A claim in Pennsylvania will have a different value than one located in Webb County, Texas.
- Product Liability: The products and chemicals used to drill and extract the oil and gas will lead to product liability claims involving both personal and property damage. The BP Deep Water Horizon well-blowout in the Gulf of Mexico will not be lost on those involved in domestic oil and gas exploration.
How To Reduce Future Fracking Litigation Risk?
Parties can act now to discourage litigation or better position themselves in the event they are named in a suit.
1. Institute electronic records protocol
The proliferation of email and increased retention and archival capabilities means that emails never die. A potential defendant would be well served with a protocol in place that outlines to its employees what are acceptable electronic communications.
2. Strictly comply with fracking fluid disclosures
For those parties who could be exposed to claims regarding the fluids used during drilling, it is important that they minimize the public’s suspicion that they are withholding information about the fluids. The best way to neutralize that misconception is to strictly comply with the state-mandated disclosure rules where applicable. It may even behoove them to voluntarily disclose the fluids’ contents through the
3. Be prepared for a fire-drill
A party must be ready to quickly assert its position when a claim is brought. The best way to do so is to track current litigation. Following the cases will provide the company a preview as to what claims it may be subject to, and it also allows them to evaluate defenses. It may also enable the company to insulate itself from suit by avoiding certain actions. Along those same lines, knowing the facts, documents, emails, fact witnesses and expert witnesses will work to a party’s advantage. Some industry leaders have proactively retained experts even though they have not been sued.
4. Know your neighbors
Parties should view their neighbors as allies and potential jurors. To that end, it makes sense to open a dialogue about fracking with the regulators on a local, state and federal level. It would also benefit the parties to engage the community and publicize information about the benefits associated with fracking, e.g., jobs, lower energy prices, cleaner energy, energy independence, etc. Certain midstream players have rolled out a public education campaigns aimed at that very goal.
Articles on shale gas and fracking adorn the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 60 Minutes runs stories on shale-gas drilling and the faux pundit Stephen Colbert discusses fracking’s impact on his tongue-and-cheek news show. The promise of profits, domestic jobs and energy independence has the country talking about the gas shale plays that dot the landscape. Fracking and all that it encompasses will serve as the backdrop for a variety of legal issues during the foreseeable future.
Joshua W. Mermis is a partner at Johnson, Trent, West & Taylor in Houston, Texas, where he primarily practices in construction and energy litigation. He received his B.A. from the University of Kansas and J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. This article previously appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of USLAW magazine.