Reducing Fracking Risks

Last year’s $1 billion settlement between the federal government and more than 40 Native American tribes marked a turning point in how oil and shale gas drilling sites are handled. In addition to bringing an end to years of litigation over alleged mishandling of trust funds and resources by the government, it opens the door to vast improvements in environmental protection and drilling technology.

Many mom-and-pop drilling sites operate the same way they did 80 years ago. On many sites, truck drivers working on the oil rigs would simply jot down the number of barrels on a hand-written receipt and leave it in a mailbox or mason jar. This lack of monitoring can not only be potentially expensive on the accounting books, but also could result in an even more expensive environmental disaster when it comes to fracking and the production systems used.

The technology behind oil drilling and harvesting hasn’t changed much over the decades. Similarly, hydraulic fracturing is a little more than 60 years old. But horizontal slickwater fracturing, or “fracking,” only dates back to 1998. This economical method of extracting shale gas and oil may be newer than the other technologies, but the monitoring processes have not changed.

Fracking is one of the more complex and divisive technologies used in drilling today. Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel. Compared to the average amount of pollution produced from burning coal, natural gas results in half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third nitrogen oxide and only 1 percent as much sulfur oxide. While it only makes sense to continue the research into renewable sources of energy, recent discoveries of large shale deposits in the United States point to a supply that could last a century, taking pressure off green engineers and scientists.

However, fracking does have its dangers. The fear of contaminating groundwater if one of the steel shafts containing the high-pressure mix of water, proppants and chemicals shatters is the one most often raised by anti-fracking groups. In addition, there is danger presented by the collection and disposal of the above mixture. With multiple holes created in the rock and the large amount of slurry to collect from all of the various outlets, there is a high risk for the collected mixture to spill and run back into and onto the ground, with disastrous effects on the environment and water supplies for people and animals.

Another concern is the potential for accidentally releasing methane, a primary component of natural gas, that has 72 times the 20-year global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This could occur if the natural gas is not burned completely or leaks during transit.

Risks Require Modern IT

The nation’s natural gas and oil deposits are too valuable to simply ignore, so the question now becomes how to make the drilling and production process as safe and error-free as possible in terms of public health and safety and threats to the environment. Serious concerns such as these require serious technology.

Sophistication Necessary

The old-fashioned ways of monitoring drilling and production, such as having a man watching an analog gauge, simply won’t do. Greater and more sophisticated oversight is needed at every stage, from drilling the horizontal wells and shafts and putting the casings in place to pumping the high-pressure slurry and extracting the natural resources.

Dealing with and minimizing these risks demands intense data gathering and analysis related to daily operations, risk assessment, and refining regulations and techniques.

A Wireless Solution

The answer to these dangers is provided by the Wireless Automation Group. Its wireless technology, coupled with remote sensors, provides constant real-time monitoring and instant feedback via any mobile device hooked up to the Internet. WAG’s systems collect steady streams of live data from sensors associated with all aspects of the fracking process, from underground drills and fluid pressures to above-ground pumps and storage tanks.

Cloud-based processing of all this data allows WAG’s system to provide continuous oversight and send real-time alerts to operators, supervisors and inspectors whenever abnormalities occur. The rapid transmission of alerts is especially critical in being able to adjust or suspend production, limiting the environmental risks that can be just as expensive—if not more— as the production interruption itself.

All of WAG’s wireless platforms offer the ability to manage both production and security. They support traditional SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) implementations, as well as voice, data and video applications. They also keep a log of system status for management and regulatory reports.

In short, WAG’s near-real-time wireless delivery is vital to overseeing complex, technically challenging fracking operations and mitigating their risks during production. It assists operators in making timely decisions, resulting in greater safety and security, and avoiding lengthy and expensive cleanup and repairs. WAG’s offerings include design engineering, construction, installation and maintenance, database records and storage, and instrumentation and electrical solutions. It also provides systems integration of PLCs, SCADA, wireless networking and custom control panel fabrication. Clients include municipal, public works, private and industrial applications. EMI

Mark Patton is responsible for NexGen City and patent companies IPCo and SIPCO. He joined WAG as president in 2012 . For more information, visit www.wireless-automation-group.com.

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