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Will fracking industry be powered by same gas it extracts?

There’s a new circular logic to North America’s energy economics.

The hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – industry has flooded markets with so much natural gas that the fuel is now dirt-cheap. So cheap, in fact, that fracking operators are now using it to power their own operations.

“It's the latest way for drillers to become consumers of the product that they are making broadly available in large amounts,” the Associated Press reports.

At shale gas operations across the continent, big diesel-powered engines inject huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep underground. The brute force of those injections splits apart rock formations containing natural gas.

In America alone, the industry consumes more than 2.6 billion litres of diesel each year, according to Apache Corp, a Houston-based firm that's developing major shale gas plays in B.C. and Alberta.

Apache is one of several shale gas producers now implementing technology that will allow its operations to be powered by natural gas instead.

“You're going to see this spreading quite rapidly across the industry,” one shale gas executive told the Associated Press. “As the technology evolves, you'll see more companies across the country doing more natural gas fueling of this equipment.”

The fuel price savings may be irresistible: it’s roughly 6.5 times more expensive to power a fracking operation with diesel right now than it is with natural gas, estimates Universal Well Services, an industry contractor.

The Tyee recently ran a major four-part series on the “Myths and Realities” of fracking for shale gas (click here to read it).

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate change for The Tyee.

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