Fracking Is Dividing Texas: Can Oil and Gas Companies Use ELNs to Help Change This Contentious Climate?

ELN, Petrochemicals

oil and gas companies
Fracking has divided the nation. Can oil and gas companies use ELNs to usher in the era of “green fracking?”
Image Source: Flickr user Department of Energy and Climate Change

One cannot imagine the American energy industry without considering Texas, its home. In 2013, the state led the nation in crude oil production and as of January 2014, accounted for 29 percent of total U.S. refining capacity. But in the Lone Star state another war is brewing, namely one waged for or against the controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Denton became the first Texas city to ban the practice and hundreds of others have passed ordinances against it. And on Monday, none of this will matter when new legislation comes into effect that “effectively wipes out individual city rules on hydraulic fracturing.” According to NPR, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said he needed to protect the oil and gas industry from “the heavy hand of local regulation.” Ironically, his solution requires that he employ the heavy hand of state regulation against local voters.

What’s the big idea?

To understand why voters and environmental activists are so opposed to this new technique, one must return to science. Fracking promises to deliver “less polluting energy at lower costs;” however, some evidence suggests that the process threatens dwindling water sources. The process involves using hydraulically pressurized fluid to fracture rock through which natural gas, petroleum and brine can flow more easily. But consider this: each year two million people die from a lack of safe drinking water, while in 15 years half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress. And it’s already starting: California is heading into its fourth year of record-breaking drought and will likely run out of water in three years. The fear some environmentalists and local governments have with the process, which uses both significant amounts of water and can threaten ground supplies of water, is not irrational.

Oil and gas companies consider “green fracking”

Interestingly, more oil and gas companies are creating solutions that might decrease people’s aversion to fracking and more can be developed if oil and gas companies continue to rely on electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs), through which they can carefully record their successes, failures and new compounds. As Danny Durham, manager of Global Upstream Chemicals, said, “Some people will tell you that to use green chemistry it costs more, but really, that’s not the case…You have to be knowledgeable of what to select. You can have your cake and eat it too in terms of sustainability, cost and performance.”

Here are specific areas of active research where oil and gas companies can use ELNs to improve processes and also increase public (which is ultimately) consumer support:

  • Improve the chemicals used: Protecting groundwater supplies is of utmost importance to many consumers. Scientists for oil and gas companies can thus use ELNs to consider how to replace the chemicals used in fracking fluids including “sand, biocides, mineral-dissolving acids, and more.” Indeed, representatives from oil and gas companies came together last year to discuss safer alternatives. ELNs improve the organization of data and results, which can then be easily searched by people granted access to this information. In the search for cleaner fluids, ELNs can thus serve an essential role in developing new compounds.
  • Decrease the extent of water used: Tens of millions of gallons of water is used in fracking, a major concern of many. Some oil and gas companies, however, are moving beyond water. James Hill, chief executive of a Canada-based services firm GasFrac, uses no water in his fracking procedure and other innovative oil and gas companies can similarly look toward replacing water. ELNs can assist researchers in this context by making collaborations easier; as individuals from different parts of the company interact and discuss new ideas, this synthesis can be easily recorded and translated into usable data through the use of ELNs. Similarly, researchers can use ELNs to record the quality of used water and determine if, after treatment, this water can be reused in any way.
  • Machinery: Currently, diesel-powered drilling equipment is used in the energies or motors used in fracking and companies can begin to think of alternative machinery that is less polluting. ELNs can enable oil and gas companies to keep track of the amount of pollution a machine is creating and thus determine if less can be produced, or if servicing a machine might enable it to function more “greenly.”

In general, oil and gas companies would benefit from the development of “green fracking” technologies, as these technologies are often more sustainable in the long-run. As well, some solutions do not require new technologies, but just a reapplication of old ones. To determine how the BIOVIA Notebook can help oil and gas companies reapply old technology, or to discover how the ELN can help your business, please contact us today.

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