August 31, 2012

Nation and Oil Industry Don’t Need a ‘Fracking’ Czar

by Donald G. Mashburn

An accumulation of ignorance is never a good thing. When ignorance accumulates at the federal level, it can do great damage. Which brings us to the Obama administration’s proposal to extend its bureaucratic incompetence into the oil industry’s practices of treating prospective producing rock formations with a process called “hydraulic fracturing.”

The mainstream media add its own ignorance to the general ignorance of what’s involved in the process of fracture treating a rock formation that can be two to three miles (10,000 to 15,000 feet) or more below the earth’s surface. The media have settled on the term “fracking” for the treatment of tight rock formations, a treatment that for tight formations requires treatment to create fractures in the rock through which oil and gas flow to the wellbore.

“Fracking” is understood by few media types, and probably by none in the mainstream media. One writer described it as a “natural gas drilling process called fracking.” However, the process to hydraulically fracture the producing formation has nothing to do with the drilling. It’s a treatment to create small fractures in the rock formation so that oil or gas can flow to the well in commercial quantities. It’s done in formations that don’t have sufficient natural permeability (flow channels through which fluid can move) for commercial flow rates of oil and gas.

In the early history of oil well stimulation, explosives, such as nitroglycerine, were detonated down hole to fracture the productive interval of the formation. Later, the process of pumping fluids at high rates and pressures was developed, in a process called “hydraulic fracturing,” or fracture treating, a much more descriptive term than “fracking.”

In very fine-grained rock, oil producers found that the induced fractures closed off quickly and the fracture treatments did not produce long-term results. They realized that a “proppant” (a propping agent) was needed to prop the created rock fractures open and to make the induced permeability effective over longer periods.

The most widely used proppant since the early days of hydraulic fracturing has been sand. In more recent times, producers have employed manmade proppants, such as high-tech ceramic proppants that are much stronger, and naturally more expensive.

However, critics of the petroleum industry – and, it seems, opponents of U.S. becoming self-sufficient in energy – aren’t interested in such things as successful reservoir rock treatments that unlock valuable hydrocarbons for the nation’s energy supply. They just want to see the U.S. oil industry hamstrung by over-regulating it, with the regulators being avid environmentalists with no experience or interest in helping this country weaned from imported oil.

Some of them see the hydraulic fracturing of low permeability rock formations as an opening for more stringent controls on a process they want controlled by environmentalists in government. It should be made clear that the fracturing is confined to the producing formation, and occurs thousands of feet below the surface. The overlying rock is protected from pressure, and fracturing fluids, by steel casing extending all the way to the surface.

Because the treatments occur at the depth of the reservoir rock being treated, well operators can’t state precisely define the vertical and lateral extent of the induced fractures. Nor can their detractors define such limits, or produce any proof of damage to ground water or land surface.

The anti-frackers have made several claims regarding the dangers of fracking, but they have no proof that the treatments are not safe. But their effort to hamstring American oil operators no doubt will continue.

The anti-fracking propaganda supplements the Obama administration’s slow-down policies for reducing or delaying drilling permits and keeping huge prospective areas off limits to drilling exploration and production.

The anti-oil crowd will continue to work up public sentiment against oil drilling by using scare stories and false claims about oil producing practices. Hydraulic fracturing is a practice that lends itself to unfounded claims and scare stories. The detractors don’t understand it, and most of those they wish to recruit to their cause don’t understand it.

But petroleum industry technology is led by researchers and engineers who understand what they are doing. Over decades of developing, testing, and improving new products and techniques they have managed to make a difference in the way we view our chances for energy independence. We have some sharp people working for our U.S. oil companies. They’re not only sharp, but they’re honorable scientists and engineers who won’t do anything they know is going to harm the land or water we all depend on.

This nation and its citizens will be much better off depending on these knowledgeable “oil country hands” than relying on the politicians and their anti-oil supporters. The nation can ill afford more governmental intervention and control of the vital oil and gas industry.

To paraphrase the bandit chief from the movie, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “We don’t need no stinkin’ Frackin Czar.”

State Department May Not Have Enough to Do

by Donald G. Mashburn

In the Obama administration it seems there is no limit on how much time and money can be spent on things that are useless or that amount to foolishness. It’s hard to determine which of these categories describe a recent column in “State Magazine” by the State Department’s Chief Diversity Officer John Robinson, in which Robinson advised readers that several common phrases could be “negative and racially offensive.”

It’s one thing to warn against the use of phrases and language that are widely held to be offensive to certain groups. It quite another to pick out expressions that have been part of our language for hundreds of years, or which came into use in regions and in ways unknown to Robinson, and whose meaning Robinson apparently knows nothing about.

A good example is the phrase, “Hold down the Fort.” Robinson claims that asking a fellow worker to “hold down the fort,” could be offensive to Native Americans who think the expression refers only to frontier soldiers and settlers wanting to protect their “fort” against the savage Indians.

Robinson let his penchant for political correctness substitute for actual research or common sense. The concept of a “fort” goes back as far as the ideas of fortification, stronghold, or fortified refuges. The word “fort” itself goes back to at least the mid-15th century, and grew out of the Middle English and Middle French terms for stronghold or fortified stronghold.

The idea of “holding the fort” came from the practice of a commander leading a force out of the “fort” (camp, stronghold, fortified position, refuge), but taking the precaution of leaving part of his forces under a subordinate officer to guard or hold the fort or camp in case it came under attack.

Robinson, according to a Fox News article, explained, “To hold down the fort originally [emphasis added] meant to watch and protect against the vicious Native American intruders” in the territories of the West. Robinson is obviously in error by claiming to know the “original” meaning of the term. But even a cursory study of the origin of the term would have cleared away Robinson’s ignorance. First, he would have learned that the original term was “hold the fort,” and that “hold down the fort” was a bastardization of the original. Neither form was derogatory to Native Americans or anyone else.

In most cases it meant only to guard the camp, fort, or stronghold, till the main force of the garrison returned. In modern terms, it’s the familiar equivalent of, “Look after things while I’m gone (or out to lunch, at the meeting, etc.)

Robinson, who apparently doesn’t have enough to do as chief diversity officer, picks out another “old saying” to spread his PC message. He wrote that “rule of thumb,” to women activists, might be a reference to “an antiquated law, whereby the width of a husband’s thumb was the legal size of a switch or rod allowed to beat his wife.”

Rather than repeating the old, unsubstantiated, canard, Robinson could have become enlightened by picking up any reputable dictionary. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary would have done the trick (no offense intended), since it says a Rule of Thumb means, “A rule suggested by a practical rather than a scientific knowledge.”

That’s it. No wife beating; no threat to women. Nothing racist, or politically incorrect. Just a statement of the application of an everyday use of estimating that’s not intended to be accurate.

Robinson’s column goes on to warn of the risks of using other common phrases, and their “possible historical context.” The examples above show clearly that there is no “historical context” to the PC treatment – or mistreatment – he gives them.

They show only poor research. And perhaps an agenda to keep the victimhood pot stirred, while straining at meanings everyday expressions don’t have, never had, and are never intended in our everyday conversations. Robinson and others should quit straining to find imagined and potential offense in common English phrases.

Our language is continually evolving, and our usage should not be dictated by those who promote victimhood, and to satisfy their appetites for dissension and protest. They should not be allowed to dictate which words are acceptable, as long as those words have no direct relation to them, and are not aimed at them.

As taxpayers, Robinson’s penchant for political correctness makes one wonder: Just what is it that a Chief Political Officer does? And it raises the question: Is this all our State Department has to do?