Gas and oil remain the significant sources of energy in different parts of the globe despite extensive criticism from various sectors. These two commodities usually lie deep under the ground, and their exploration can be challenging due to multiple factors. Fracking is one of the methods used for oil and gas exploration, but the technique can be dangerous.
Many drilling companies believe that the process of fracking can help recover trillions of cubic feet of shale gas underneath different parts of the UK. However, fracking is controversial due to earth tremor fears, and the process is also costly.
Instead, new technology like gas sniffing drones can play a significant role in the surveying of land for these precious commodities. This technology can help prevent things like dangerous gas explosions as well as unsafe working conditions. If you have an interest in the field of gas and oil exploration, there are certain things that you should know.
Fracking: What Is It?
Fracking is a process that involves drilling down the into the ground before directing high-pressure water mixture into the rock. The mixture contains chemicals, sand, and water, and the aim is to make the rock release the gas inside. The process allows the gas to flow out to the opening of the well.
The process involves vertical or horizontal drilling of the rock layer to create new pathways that can enhance the release of gas. In other words, fracking refers to the process by which a rock fractures apart as a result of the high-pressure mixture forced into it.
There are reserves of shale gas across different parts of the UK, particularly the Northern region. However, fracking is still in the phase of exploration. The government has since awarded more than 100 licenses for companies to pursue a variety of gas and oil exploration activities in other places.
Companies should get planning permission from responsible authorities in the local council. Cuadrilla is so far the only firm to get a nod from the government to start fracking. However, it suspended its test fracking operations in 2011 after earthquakes measuring 1.5, and 2.2 magnitudes hit the area.
According to a subsequent study, shale gas drilling caused the tremors. The government-appointed panel also ruled the possibility of more earthquakes due to fracking though they might cause little structural damage. The government, however, recommended the operators to observe the traffic light system in their exploration of gas and oil.
Under this system, all the companies would halt the operations following the appearance of a red light indicating tremors about 0.5 magnitudes. However, the process of fracking remains controversial due to various reasons.
Why Is Fracking Controversial?
In the US, fracking is widespread in the energy industry, but there are also some environmental concerns about its use. For instance, fracking requires enormous amounts of water which should be transported to the site. The transportation process of water comes with a significant cost to the environment.
Fracking is also responsible for earth tremors which are a cause for concern to the safety of citizens. The environmentalists also suggest that fracking can lead to an escape of carcinogenic chemicals during the drilling process. These chemicals can contaminate groundwater within the surround places.
The contaminated groundwater may no longer be safe for use by people. Some industrialists, however, suggest that incidents of pollution are a result terrible practice rather than the method used. All the same, the issue of contamination of water is a matter of concern.
The other controversy surrounding the technique of fracking is that it promotes continued use of fossil fuels. There are growing calls by different campaigners for governments and firms across the globe to invest in renewable sources of energy. Fossil fuels impact on the environment, and it is for this reason why some campaigners are against the idea of fracking.
Shale gas, for example, cannot be the solution to the energy challenges in the UK. An energy revolution that with focus on renewable power and efficiency is essential to solving the problems. The continued use of fossil fuels can only contribute to climate change. The issue of climate change is topical across the whole globe, and the idea of fracking can add to the controversy.
Advantages Of Fracking
Apart from the glaring challenges of fracking, the technique has some benefits to governments, especially in the USA and UK. The process of fracking helps the companies involved in the exploration of oil and gas to access these resources that are difficult to reach.
The process of oil drilling is costly, and it requires sophisticated equipment. Therefore, the fracking method is advantageous in that it significantly boosts domestic oil production. For instance, the technique boosted the local production of oil in the US while also helping to drive the prices of gas down.
The technique also offered both the US and Canada gas security of about 100 years. The other issue is that gas can generate electricity at a level that is nearly half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. Many industrialists believe that fracking of shale gas can significantly contribute to the future energy needs of the UK.
The other important aspect is that shale gas fracking can cause a positive economic impact on UK’s economy. It has the potential of creating thousands of jobs that can also improve the welfare of the people.
On top of energy security, shale gas fracking can also help the country to save a lot of money through reduced imports of gas. Fracking can also lead to a significant reduction of bills among the citizens in the UK and the US. Gas is cheaper than electric power obtained from the main grid.
Gas can also play an essential role in promoting a transition to a future with a low carbon footprint. Shell gas extraction is significant because it has a little impact on the environment compared to other sources like coal.
Apart from these benefits of shale gas fracking or hydraulic-fracturing process, the technique has some issues that need redress. The main problem with the method pertains to the release of methane which escapes from the drill hole into the surface. However, there is new technology in the form of methane sniffing drones designed to address the challenge.
Significance Of Methane Sniffing Drones
Hydraulic fracturing seems to be increasing in the US since gas is a viable source of energy. The primary challenge is that of the release of methane, a form of gas that is abundant in oil shale reservoirs. The gas can also burn out through the process called “flaring.”
This gas can escape from different positions within the gas and oil production infrastructure. For instance, methane can escape through loose pipe connections, outdated equipment as well as inefficient compressors.
The release of methane gas into the atmosphere is increasingly gaining recognition as a pollution problem in the US. It accounts for about nine percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the whole country. Methane can trap more heat by up to 30 times more than carbon dioxide. As a result, methane can lead to an increase in climate change.
Apart from causing an impact on the environment, the process of flaring can also be a waste of this byproduct that is valuable. Methane burns more cleanly compared to coal which produces loads of greenhouse gases. The product is another better source of energy if put to proper use.
Due to its high value, it seems there is a growing interest to control the leaks of methane during hydraulic fracturing operations. In the US, the government introduced plans to reduce emissions of methane from various activities including gas and oil production.
Colorado is the first state to limit the emissions of methane from gas and oil operations in the US. Other states like California are also following suit and are currently revising their regulations. On top of that, various stakeholders are considering new technology such as methane sniffing drones to address the problem.
Methods of Identifying Methane Leaks
There are close to 500,000 gas wells across the US that use hydraulic fracturing technique and other huge networks of connecting pipelines. The gas wells also have links to other infrastructure across the whole country. The aspect of reducing methane emissions seems to be a daunting task due to the vast network of the gas industry.
The other problem is that methane emissions also seem to be costly to tackle, but there is hope to find a solution. The key to addressing this problem involves devising a method of surveying and identifying the leaks of methane. The technique should cover the entire industry-wide network, and it should also lead to correction of methane leaks.
The drilling and processing of gas have a considerable impact on the economy of the US. Therefore, it is imperative for the players in this vital industry to find other alternatives to address the challenges of methane leakages.
Other operators in this particular sector use helicopters that have laser spectroscopic systems. These systems can identify the concentration of methane in the atmosphere. The system works by emitting an infrared laser signal into the atmosphere.
The moment the beam comes into contact with methane gas, part of the light in the beam is deflected resulting in a distinctive signature. The amount of methane identified in the air is directly proportional to the difference between the received laser and emitted laser.
Other methods of identifying methane gas in the atmosphere include infrared cameras in satellites as well as aircraft. These methods have been effective in identifying leaks of methane gas over large areas.
However, the challenge with these methods is that they are costly. Other smaller operators in the gas industry may not be able to use these methods to detect methane gas in their operations. All the same, all the players in this field are compelled by law to track their activities for any leaks of methane.
Methane Sniffing Drones
Methane-sniffing drones seem to be cost-effective and faster in the identification of methane gas leaks. The land surveying drones can detect methane gas over hydraulic fracturing operations. Developers of this crucial technology say that the payload weight can be a significant challenge.
A drone can only stay in the air for about 30 minutes while carrying a heavy load of methane sensor or big camera. However, the problem is that the flight time of the drone is limited since it cannot screen the whole shale play during that period.
In other countries like Australia, scientists are developing small drones with optical sensors. These sensors can detect and measure greenhouse gases from three dimensions. The optical sensors that are highly sensitive can play crucial roles in monitoring gas emissions over critical areas. Such places include gas pipelines, drill sites, landfills, and municipal operations. These places are likely to have a higher concentration of methane than others.
Drones With Improved Methane Sensors
The researchers are continuing to develop methane sensors that are more sensitive for the detection of methane gas leaks. The new sensors use cavity ring- down spectroscopy (CRDS), a system that provides real-time measurement of methane leaks.
The sensor is installed on the drone, and it can differentiate between gas and oil-related emissions of methane. The sensors can also detect methane emissions that come from biogenic sources like cattle. These gases differ somehow though they belong to the same category.
The new improved sensors have many advantages over other drones that for identifying methane emissions. The new sensors have a simple design, and they are less complicated which make them easy to use. The other notable aspect is that the sensors have lightweight which helps to improve the drone flight time.
The new drone is also cost-effective regarding its price as well as maintenance. More importantly, these features make it possible to deploy the drone over a large scale. The drone works in both crewless aerial vehicle and stationary systems. The sensors function well in fast-moving vehicles, and they save time in carrying out the monitoring exercise.