It’s only barbaric when Americans do it

A few more comments on Putin’s latest foray through tight formations. But first, a look back at his remarks in April 2013:

Furthermore, extracting shale gas and shale oil, which is also possible, is tied to enormous – I want to stress this – enormous environmental costs. Many people living in regions where shale gas is produced have black slush pouring from their taps instead of water. At the very least, these technologies require serious development.

Extracting shale oil has proven more than merely “possible”: since April 2013, the US has added 5.6 mmbpd, or more than 75%, to its oil output. This increment equals more than half of Russia’s crude production in 2013 and about half of its current production.

Somehow this fact failed to impress Russia’s president as deeply as the image of black slush oozing out of an overseas faucet. Fast forward to November 2019:

The fact is that today’s technologies of shale oil and shale gas production are, without any exaggeration, barbaric and bad for the environment. In some areas of shale oil production people get black slurry instead of tap water in their homes. We will never use such production technology no matter how lucrative it may be.

Black slime again: a phobia perhaps, a sign of senility possibly, or – most likely – an argumentum ad metum when there’s nothing better to say.

As for this dictum, “We will never use such production technology,” it doesn’t seem to make much sense at all. Hydrofracking is widely used in Russia, at a rate of about 6,000 frac jobs per annum (compared with around 8,000 well completions). Multistage fracs are becoming more common and horizontal drilling footage is growing. In terms of water and proppant volume, of course, the difference in scale between American and Russian fracking is an order of magnitude. Russian companies haven’t yet figured out how to produce from the country’s largest unconventional formations on a large enough scale but they are doing what they can. Wood Mackenzie summed it up in 2017:

There is already around 1 million b/d of production from unconventional Tyumen and Achimov ‘hard to recover’ reservoirs that require horizontal drilling and fracking.

The Bazhenov… and Domanik… have huge potential resources of 16 billion barrels of oil, comparable to the Bakken or Eagle Ford. The Bazhenov has the advantage of underlying the existing West Siberian infrastructure. However, EU/US sanctions are hindering technology transfer and the speed of development.

The sanctions aren’t the only impediment. As Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, wrote in the 2017 statistical review:

Perhaps the most important thing is that there is no such thing as the behavior of ‘US tight oil’: the Permian is very different to Eagle Ford which is different to Bakken. So beware generalizations.

Geology could be the ultimate obstacle, in other words. At any rate, the smart way is to keep trying to monetize the shales in well-developed regions instead of diverting enormous investment to the Arctic. With proper water disposal/recycling and the use of sand rather than polymers, fracking on a larger scale shouldn’t be a major polluter in Western Siberia, which is sparsely populated and poorly suited for human habitation anyway.

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