Understanding The Shale Revolution: Q&A With Rick Strittmatter

We read about the challenges in the media, but it is with the help of innovations in the chemical industry that hydraulic fracturing becomes efficient, safe and sustainable.

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I discussed fracking and the “shale revolution” with Rick Strittmatter, the global research and development director for Dow Microbial Control. Rick is responsible for innovation growth strategies delivering sustainable microbial control technologies used in shale development.

We chatted about the controversy surrounding fracking, the global energy infrastructure and the future of the industry.    

Bridget Bergin (BB): What is the shale revolution, and how is it changing the global energy infrastructure?

Rick Strittmatter (RS): In the United States we have abundant hydrocarbon resources including crude oil, methane, ethane and propane trapped in shale. These resources exist one, two or even three miles below the surface of the earth where sedimentary rock with organic matter was deposited eons ago. It is only through shattering shale rock that the hydrocarbons can be unlocked, a process known as hydraulic fracturing. It is not news that the resource exists. 

What is new is the technology that has come together in the last 10 years or so that allow us to unlock the natural resource. Today, we can develop reliable, affordable and abundant natural gas, natural gas liquids and crude oil–this has led to the shale revolution. In 2014, the Federal Reserve reported that lower natural gas prices have boosted the output of American manufacturers by 3 percent since 2006, while raising investment by 10 percent and jobs that stay by 2 percent.  

BB: What are the benefits of focusing on shale development?

RS: The first benefit is a domestic source of energy. Secondly, the industry is realizing that there is tremendous value in the natural gas liquids and crude oil, which can be used as feedstock for the chemicals industry. This allows us to develop high-value jobs at home and spur a manufacturing renaissance–a third and important benefit of focusing on shale development.

BB: What are some of the challenges facing the fracking industry today?

RS: It comes down to ensuring the industry continues innovating and using best practices. We advocate strongly for adhering to several best practices in monitoring and water management, including acquisition, treatment, reuse and disposal. It is important to ensure proper monitoring of water quality, seismic activity and air quality and to use water of the least societal value for the hydraulic fracturing process.

A lot of investment goes into setting up a hydraulic fracturing operation. Advanced sustainable microbial control helps preserve the assets and the quality of the hydrocarbons by combating corrosion and preventing the formation of bacteria and biofilm. 

BB: How has the supply potential of shale gas affected the chemical industry?

RS: It has been a tremendous benefit for the U.S. chemical industry in new, high-value manufacturing jobs and manufacturing projects. Natural gas and natural gas liquids from shale can be converted into plastics, advanced materials and other items, bringing five to eight times more value than consuming or exporting them as fuel.

BB: What is the future of shale and fracking in the U.S.?

RS: The future of fracking depends on the continued use of three critical innovations that had to come together to make this happen—hydraulic fracturing itself, horizontal drilling and the enabling chemistry that drives down the costs and drives up the efficiency of the industry. As I mentioned earlier, innovations like the ones in microbial control help prevent pipeline and injection material corrosion, as well as protecting hydrocarbon quality. We see a bright and long future for hydraulic fracturing.   

BB: Do you have anything to add? 

RS: We read about the challenges in the media, but it is with the help of innovations in the chemical industry that hydraulic fracturing becomes efficient, safe and sustainable. There aren’t just challenges—there are solutions being generated regularly. It is a really exciting time to be engaged in fracking in the U.S. 

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