An Ivy League professor has rejected Tamboran's claims that they can use a chemical free frack fluid to extract gas in West Cavan, writes Damian McCarney.
Speaking to The Anglo-Celt this week, Tamboran CEO Richard Moorman repeated claims that the company will use a chemical free frack fluid in its work in the Lough Allen basin which spans counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim.
Mr Moorman insisted: "In the event that we should one day have approval to drill, possibly by early 2013, then we will only conduct our fracture stimulations with water and sand - absolutely no injected fracture fluid chemicals."
Mr Moorman described the move as going "back to basics" to the original methods of fracking "pioneered back in the '40s". When asked for a specific example including date, location and company involved, for when this method was successfully utilised, he could not provide it.
Dr Anthony R Ingraffea, a professor of engineering at Cornell University in New York, with 30 years experience in rock fracture mechanics, and who worked directly for the world's leading oil and gas completion company, Schlumberger, rejects Mr Moorman's claims.
"It is highly unlikely that there could be an economically produced shale gas well of the scale that is commonly being used in the United States, using only water and sand," he told The Anglo-Celt. "Highly unlikely.
"Everybody else is using a so-called slick water combination, or a hybrid slick water and gel combination that requires at least four or five chemical species to be successful.
"That [claims just sand and water was used in the 1940s] does not wash. He is either being glib or being ignorant because he's talking about a shale gas well. The history of hydraulic fracturing was not done on shales. It was carried out in sandstone and limestone for the development of oil, not the development of gas. The first experiments in getting gas out of shales date back to the 1990s in Texas in the US. There was 10 years of experimentation, so we are not talking '40s and '50s."
Dr Ingraffea says that the water based fracturing fluid must at "bare minimum" include an anti-corrosive, a bacteria-cide, an anti-scaling chemical, an acid treatment and a friction reducer.
Mr Moorman said that the move to chemical free frack fluid was to put residents' minds at ease after campaigners - whom he describes as "anti-developers" - had raised concerns over the frack fluid.
"While eliminating chemicals will make the process slightly more expensive for Tamboran, and the well productivity could be slightly lower, it is the right thing to do to demonstrate the safety of the process."
He denied there was any contradiction between Tamboran's stand now and his comments to the Anglo-Celt in July when he accepted 'A whole truckload of stuff going down' in the frack fluid, and the use of chemicals implicit in the statement: 'The exact chemical make-up that we use depends upon the exact chemical make-up of that rock'.
He clarified: "I said we wouldn't know until we completed the analysis of the 'exact chemical make-up of the rock' because each project across the world is different as a result of rock composition.
"We had to wait until we had compositional analysis - given the excessive concerns, I didn't want to wait until we had collected our own samples (due in the next two weeks), so we pushed ahead with the analysis of drill cuttings from prior operators. Our analysis of those rock chippings obtained by prior operators over the past 50 years confirms that we have very clean rock: no excessive mineral fine particles like iron, no mobile radioactive particles (shales only very rarely have mobile radioactive particles), and normal salt levels. Hydraulic fracturing originally started out with just water and sand before the chemical companies became involved, so we are going back to the basics."
Mr Moorman said that in the coming weeks Tamboran intend to publicise declarations, signed by the board of directors that outline all of the operating practices they will utilise, "that will go above and beyond all regulatory requirements as well as our commitment to zero injected fracture fluid chemicals.
"If water and sand don't work we're not going to proceed with the project," vowed Mr Moorman.
Asked if he had anything to say to the people of West Cavan, Dr Ingraffea noted that there is currently a moratorium against fracking in New York, where he lives, and said:
"The trade off here is between wealth and health, there will be a few people who will derive very high wealth from this and everyone else bears the risk of human health concerns."