Sunday, 28 September 2014

Image of the Day: Zombie Images

This image of the day showcases what I sometimes refer to as "zombie" images. No matter how many times they are debunked, these zombies keep rising from the dead to stumble forwards once more, leaving a trail of mis-information in their wake.

This first image, or variants thereof, is an aerial shot of the Jonah gas field, Wyoming. This zombie is usually summoned to show the potential cumulative impact of shale gas development, the sheer number of wells, pads and roads required. 

The only problem is, this isn't a shale gas field - this is a conventional gas field. It was drilled in the early 1990s, before the widespread use of horizontal drilling. Without horizontal wells, lots of vertical wells, closely spaced together, are required, as we can see at Jonah. Horizontal drills allow an operator to reach a much larger area from a single pad. 

With horizontal drilling, only one pad would be required for the whole area shown in the photo. A modern shale gas development would look nothing like this image. Any time you see this image being used, you can be sure that the user either doesn't know what a shale gas development looks like, or knows but is wilfully scaremongering.

The next zombie is a very common one: this image can even be found on the BBC's website, although similar ones can be found everywhere. You'll note that the depth of the well is approximately twice that of the drilling rig. This implies that the well extends to a depth of about 50-60m, when in fact most shale gas wells will extend to depths of more than 2,000m. This is an error in scale of 4000%.

In a way I sympathise with the makers of such infographic, because these wells are so deep that drawing them to scale is actually quite challenging - you need a long piece of paper. However, at the very least this zombie should come with a nice clear health warning - the vertical scale is extremely misleading.

For a better idea of the true scale, this image by Ground-Gas Solutions does a reasonable job:

Update (29.9.2014): I should add that this second zombie is a pervasive zombie indeed. He even appears on UKOOG's website.

Carbon capture and storage faces the same issue - it can be difficult to demonstrate in true scale the depths at which CO2 is buried for storage. Again, opponents can easily make out-of-scale images showing the gas a few metres below the surface ready to burst out at a moments notice. Another good true-scale image was put together by the operators of the Aquistore CCS project, Canada:


  1. There can be no excuse for the BBC's deliberate misrepresentation of the vertical scales.

    Every single 'ratio' is designed to be adversely misleading:

    The ht of the above-ground apparatus.

    The depth of the water table.

    The depth between water table and shale.

    It is little more than propaganda, and it's creator & the picture editor who chose it should both be reprimanded.

  2. Errrr that's an unconventional field. The resource is trapped in shale and it needs to be stimulated with fractures. It's not all in one big pocket - literally the definition of unconventional gas. Stop telling lies plz :)

    1. "The resource is trapped in shale" - no it isn't. Read the links to this article. The Jonah gas field is a tight sandstone.

      "It's not all in one big pocket" - this is true of almost every oil and gas field, conventional or otherwise. Natural geological features, such as faults, impermeable layers or other sedimentary structures, often break up the productive intervals. If "it's not all in one big pocket" is a criteria for "unconventional gas" then almost every oilfield is unconventional.

      "it needs to be stimulated with fractures" - again, true of a huge number of conventional oil fields. Fracture stimulation (using explosives) was first developed in 1865. Hydraulic fracture stimulation was first developed in 1947. If hydraulic fracture stimulation, regardless of volume or type of well, is a definition of unconventional gas, then we have been producing unconventional gas since the dawn of the oil industry.

      The new technologies that have led to the unconventional gas boom are: 1 - drilling into and producing gas from shale rocks. Jonah is not a shale reservoir. 2 - using horizontal drilling. Jonah does not use horizontal drilling. 3 - using larger water volumes with reduced chemical concentrations (so-called "slick water"). Which Jonah does not do.

      More to the point, anti-fracking groups use this image to scare people about what shale gas fracturing would look like if it were to develop in the UK. This is scaremongering, and if they know what they are doing, it is a lie.

      Because Jonah doesn't use horizontal wells, a large number of verticals are needed, which takes up a large amount of land area, hence what you see in the photo with well pads as far as the eye can see. Instead, with horizontal wells the gas could all be extracted with a single well pad, so instead of the many pads you see there using modern unconventional gas technology, instead of the conventional tech used at Jonah, there would just be a single well pad in that photo.

    2. I find your article valuable, but something key is missing: the Jonah Field IS a fracking site. Ok, fracking is not new. OK, there is no shale gas here. But tell your reader that this landscape they see is the direct result of hydraulic fracking, and that this is the reason for such a small spacing between drillings. Then you will convey the full info and the reader will learn and form an opinion.