When done right, natural gas development can be relatively clean. The practices of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing are opening up more natural gas deposits that were previously thought inaccessible. But are new gas extraction practices safe?
A Colorado resident of fifteen years, I've seen how quickly development of the state's energy resources has changed the landscape along the western half of the east-west Interstate-70 corridor. About two years ago I drove through this part of the state at night and I was struck by what appeared to be small cities dotting the landscape, both near and far. Of course, those weren't skyscrapers illuminated in a nighttime cityscape, they were drill rigs — and in 2008 Williams Energy drilled some 8,000 wells across Colorado, the vast majority of which were in the Piceance Basin.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Piceance Basin of western Colorado and tour the natural gas development operations of the state's largest natural gas producer, Williams Energy.* From closed-loop water systems to directional drilling and remote fracturing, there are things that can be done to reduce the environmental impact of gas development on the West Slope of Colorado and elsewhere. But after seeing it done 'right', it's also important to think about how — and how often — it is done 'wrong.'
If we are to accept that some natural gas and fossil fuel development will continue for the foreseeable future — which, arguably, not everyone does accept — the next major consideration is how should it be done in a way that doesn't foul the water, increase air pollution, spill copious amounts of CO2, and piss off the neighbors in the process. And judging by my day touring the Williams facilities, they seem to be doing most of this pretty well.
See more coverage of my tour of the natural gas fields of the Piceance Basin at Celsias.
Images: © Timothy Hurst
*Thanks to the American Petroleum Institute for providing lodging and support for this tour. You might also check out the following websites to see what my compatriots had to say: Andrew Kear, The Oil Drum - Bob McCarty, Bob McCarty Writes - Brad Jones, Face the State - Maria Surma Manka, Maria Energia - Judith Kohler and David Zalubowski, Associated Press, Denver bureau - Dennis Webb, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel - Josh Nichols, Grand Junction Free Press - Guntis Moritis, Oil and Gas Journal - Susan Klann, Oil and Gas Investor