On the 11th of October, Rhonda Pope of ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company gave a “Transforming Energy Lecture” at University of MD in College Park. A large fraction of the audience turned out to be opponents of fracking, including 3 activists from Chesapeake Earth First! and folks from across the area, one of them in an anti-fracking T-shirt.
Most of the hard questions were simply ducked. There was effectively no answer to Louise Thundercloud’s questions about the effects of oil and gas production on Indigenous communities. Both this question and a question concerning the “fugitive gas” issue (gas that leaks from wells into the air) drew the same response. That response was that these questions would require “further study” to be answered at some later time.
The Exxon representative boasted that fracked gas has created a lot of jobs in manufacturing, due to cheap gas outweighing other expenses. Left unsaid was that proposals to export gas as LNG would also re-export those jobs back to sweatshop countries, where some ofthe gas would also go.
After ducking questions for over half the session, a presumably pro-fossul fuel production student “suggested” all questions be held to the end, and the Exxon spokeswoman readily agreed to that. The lecture then quickly went on to the techincal details of exactly how gas is fracked.
There was no mention of how bad cement work around the outside of casings is often the source of leaking gas, as it was when a 50,000 psi gas pocket caused BP’s famous Macondo offshore oil well to blow out. Instead it was stressed that the gas bearing shale can be as much as 14,000 feet down. Just filling a vertical pipe that long with water would make about 10,000 psi by gravity alone, I don’t know how much higher the pressure is pumped. There have been reports of earthquakes generated by fracking, however. Fracking wells may target these deep strata, yet fracking chemicals (like benzene) and even gas have been found in water wells just 300 feet down after fracking.
The speakers made no mention of the pressures used in fracking, nor of the stress on the cement jobs that seal the multiple sections of well casing, even though this was supposed to be an engineering speech, held in the chemical and nuclear engineering building. In short, the engineering issues were glossed over nearly as badly as the social justice and environmental issues associated with fracking.