Hydraulic Fracturing of Rock Formations – Part 2

Hydraulic Fracturing of Rock Formations – Part 2

By Jurie Steyn

This is the second of a two-part series of articles on the hydraulic fracturing of rock, also known as fracking. This is a technology that everyone has an opinion on, but few take the trouble to understand what it’s all about.

The two parts are as follows:

In this article, the debate regarding fracking is reopened, the geology and properties of coal beds are reviewed, fracking for coal-bed methane recovery is described, and the potential impacts of fracking are considered.


Coal-bed methane (CBM) occurs as unconventional natural gas in coal seams. CBM was first extracted from coal mines as a safety measure to reduce the explosion hazard posed by methane gas in the mines. Today the methane is recovered from the coal seams and used as a source of energy. Because its combustion releases no toxins, produces no ash, and emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than combustion of coal, oil, or even wood, it is expected that CBM will grow in importance in our energy portfolio over the next decades.

It is estimated that about 85% of the world’s coal resources are unmineable because of economic, geological, environmental, or technical reasons (GTC, 2012). Such coal may be too deep underground, buried offshore, of poor quality, or the coal beds may be too thin. Most coal beds are permeated with methane, to the extent that a cubic meter of coal can contain six or seven times the methane that exists in a cubic meter of a conventional sandstone gas reservoir (Byrer et al, 2014). The CBM in the unmineable coal represents an excellent source of energy that can be recovered by vertical or horizontal wells into the coal seams. Depending on the depth and coal properties, some formations might require stimulation by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to improve the delivery of CBM from such wells.

In this article, I touch upon the debate regarding fracking, review the geology and properties of coal beds, give an overview of fracking for CBM recovery and consider the potential impacts of fracking.

The ongoing debate about fracking

There are many books and articles on the technical aspects and economic benefits of fracking (Thakur, 2017; Robertson & Chilingar, 2017; Thakur, Schatzel & Aminian, 2014).  However, there are probably as many books and articles on the perceived adverse health and environmental consequences of fracking (CHPNY, 2018; Finkel, 2015; Bamberger & Oswald, 2014; Lloyd-Smith & Senjen, 2011).  Both sides make valid points, although the latter group tends to be more emotional in their arguments.

According to Holloway (2017) much negativity toward fracking is attributable to associated processes other than fracking. He postulates that the oil and gas industry has a narrow view of what fracking entails, whereas the general public is more inclined to include many more activities related to fracking (water and sand trucking, product and equipment transport and storage, water disposal). Several of the processes included by the general public are utilised in many, if not all, drilling practices, and are hard to put solely under the heading of ‘fracking’. In fact, many domestic water wells are fracked to improve yield. Be that as it may, emotions can run very high, as illustrated in Figure 1.

The visible face of opposition to fracking

Figure 1: The visible face of opposition to fracking (Johnson, 2015)

The bottom line is that if done irresponsibly, fracking and drilling can lead to many environmental and health problems for those in the vicinity. However, when done with knowledge of the geology and hydrogeology of the terrain, careful planning and engineering, and diligence in the execution of drilling and fracking, no meaningful problems should arise.

Vegter (2012) gives an impartial view of both sides of the debate in his book Extreme Environment and shows how environmental exaggeration can harm emerging economies.

Objectives of fracking

Most vertical wells do not produce gas until the permeability of the coal seam reservoir is enhanced through stimulation treatment. Stimulation of CBM wells is achieved by performing hydraulic fracturing. Fracturing is normally performed only once during the productive life of a well.

Stimulation or fracking of CBM wells is done to achieve the following objectives:

  • Remediate damage to the reservoir caused by drilling and cementing fluids infiltrating the reservoir matrix and natural fracture system;
  • Create new fractures in the coal matrix and prevent these from closing by injecting proppant to better access the natural fracture system of coal cleats and pores;
  • Open natural fractures wider and keep open with proppant to enable flow of gas and water from the cleats and pores to the well; and
  • Extending the life of low producing wells by performing a second and more severe stimulation.

Note that the primary purpose of CBM well stimulation is to connect the well to the natural fractures in the coal.  In the case of shale formations where there are no natural fractures, the objective is to create a fractured rock reservoir to access the shale gas contained in pores and adsorbed onto organic material.

Geology and properties of coal beds


Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock formed from ancient vegetation which has been consolidated between other rock strata and transformed by the combined effects of biochemical decay, pressure and heat over millions of years. This process is commonly called coalification and involves the alteration of vegetation to form peat, succeeded by the transformation of peat through lignite, subbituminous, bituminous, to anthracite coal. The degree of transformation or coalification is termed the coal rank.

Coal occurs as layers or seams, ranging in thickness from millimetres to many tens of metres. It is composed mostly of carbon (55 to 95 %), hydrogen (3 to 13 %) and oxygen, and smaller amounts of nitrogen, sulphur and other elements. It also contains water and particles of other inorganic matter.


All ranks of black coal are noted for the development of its jointing, more commonly referred to as cleat. This regular pattern of cracking in the coal may have originated during coalification. The burial, compaction and continued diagenesis of the organic constituents result in the progressive reduction of porosity and permeability. At this stage microfracturing of the coal is thought to be generated. The surfaces and spaces thus created may be coated and filled with mineral precipitates.

Cleats are fractures that occur in two sets that are, in most cases, mutually perpendicular. Through-going cleats formed first and are referred to as face cleats. Cleats that end at intersections formed later and are called butt cleats. Some of the characteristics of the structure of coal are shown in Figure 2.

The structure of coal

Figure 2: The structure of coal

At surface conditions, cleats are typically <0.1mm in width and are scarcely visible with the naked eye (Laubach et al, 1998). Cleats in coal are much more intensely developed than fractures in adjacent non-coal rocks.

Gas content

CBM is a gas, primarily methane, that naturally occurs in coal seams. It is formed during the conversion of organic material to coal and becomes trapped in cleats and micropores in the coal seam. Coal seams are, therefore, both the source and reservoir for CBM. The CBM is trapped in the coal seam in part by water pressure and in part by weak covalent Van der Waals forces. CBM exists in the coal seams in three basic states: as free gas, as gas dissolved in the water in coal, and as gas adsorbed on the solid surface of the coal.

Sorption is a physical or chemical process in which gas molecules become attached or detached from the solid surface of a material. Desorption is the process that occurs when free gas pressure drops, and adsorbed gas molecules start desorbing from a solid surface.

The amount of gas retained in a coal seam depends on several factors, such as the rank of coal, the depth of burial, the immediate roof and floor, geological anomalies, tectonic forces, and the temperature prevailing during the coalification process (Thakur, 2017). In general, the higher the rank of coal and the greater the depth of coal, the higher is the coal’s gas content. Actual gas contents of various coal seams to economically mineable depths of 1200 m are up to 125 m3/t. Gas content in coal is not fixed but changes when equilibrium conditions within the reservoir are disrupted.

Hydrostatic pressure

Pressure in sedimentary basins has two components, namely lithostatic pressure, which is the pressure caused by the weight of the overburden and hydrostatic pressure, which is an opposing pressure caused by reservoir fluid (Pashin, 2014).  Intrusion of groundwater into coals is a common occurrence, and coal beds act as regional aquifers in some areas.

Water removal from the coal bed is the principal mechanism by which coal is depressurised, and understanding the hydrology of CBM reservoirs and the ways in which coproduced water can be managed is essential for a successful CBM project. Gas and water production over time is illustrated in Figure 3. The produced water often contains high concentrations of salts and other organic and inorganic substances solubilised from the coal bed. The disposal of these waters can present environmental problems.

Gas and methane production over the life of a well

Figure 3:  Gas and methane production over the life of a well

CBM production can take place only when the reservoir pressure is reduced sufficiently to allow the gas to desorb. Gas flow to wells drilled into the coal seam takes place through natural fractures and fractures created by fracking, not through the relatively impermeable coal matrix.

Porosity and permeability

Porosity is the fraction of the total volume of a rock that can hold gas or liquid, i.e. it is the percentage of the bulk volume of the rock that is not occupied by solid matter. The face cleat in coal is the major fracture that stores and conducts gases, with the butt cleat the minor fracture. Most of the porosity of coal comprises the space taken up by these fractures. The porosity of the cleat system in coals ranges from 1% to 5%.

Next to gas content, permeability is the most important coal reservoir property for CBM delivery. Permeability is a property of porous media such as coal, and is a measure of the capacity of the medium to transmit fluids. It depends on the driving pressure differential, the area of the specimen, and the viscosity of the fluid. However, permeability in coal-bed methane reservoirs is a transient property (Thakur, 2017). As gas is produced, the coal matrix shrinks, thereby widening cleat apertures and improving both porosity and permeability.

Permeability continuum

Figure 4:  Permeability continuum (Adapted from Simpson, 2019)

The fracking process

Opening comments

An introduction to fracking was given in Part 1 of this series of articles (Steyn, 2019).  This covered the applications of fracking, described the chemicals and additives used in fracking fluid, and considered a method to classify fracking based on application, severity and impact.

In this section a brief description is given of some of the aspects of the stimulation of CBM wells by hydraulic fracturing.

Well completion and perforation

Vertical well drilling is normally done with small footprint air rigs due to low cost and low environmental impact. Small cuttings pits are necessary to capture returned solids and formation fluids carried back by the air stream.

Casing is installed into the coal bed to total depth and cemented in place. Cementing the casing provides pipe support, zonal isolation to protect against cross contamination, and well control. Once the casing has been cemented in the hole, slotting can commence to gain access to the coal formation. One method involves the use of a jetting tool where friction-reduced water (slickwater) and sand are pumped at high pressure through opposing jets to abrasively remove casing and formation (Rodveldt, 2014). Slots can be cut most efficiently going down by slowly lowering the tool in the hole while pumping. Slot lengths should not exceed 35cm, prevent compromising the integrity of the casing.  Another, more conventional method of gaining access to the coals seam is perforating the casing with explosive jet charges.

Fracking in 4 stages

Stage 1: Acid wash (Optional)

This stage is not required in all cases and depends on the geology of the coal and the extent of blockage of the natural coal cleats by cement.  However. It involves the pumping of a mixture of water and dilute acid such as hydrochloric or muriatic acid into the well and through the perforations in the wellbore into the coal face. This serves to clear cement debris in the wellbore and provide an open conduit for other fracking fluids by dissolving carbonate minerals and opening fractures near the wellbore.

Stage 2: Propagate fractures

This is also referred to as the pad stage and involves the pumping of slickwater or gelled water, without proppant material, into the well. The wellbore is filled with the water solution, fractures in the coalbed are opened and propagated, thereby creating pathways for the placement of proppant. Slickwater has fewer additives than gelled water, and is the preferred option in the USA.

Stage 3: Keep fractures open

Stage 3 is also referred to as the prop sequence stage. It consists of several sub-stages of pumping water with proppant material (mostly fine mesh sand with spherical particles) into the fractures created in Stage 2 to ‘prop’ or keep the fractures open after the pressure is reduced. Proppant material may vary from a finer particle size to a coarser particle size throughout this sequence. The pressure of the fracking fluid is typically around 172 bar for this stage. On completion, the pressure is reduced, fracking fluid returns to the wellbore and proppant is locked in position in the fractures.

Stage 4: Flush

Fresh water is pumped into the wellbore to flush out the fracking fluid, including flowback fluid from the fractures, to surface.  This is normally stored in a lined pit, before disposal.

Potential impacts of fracking

Opening comments

Irresponsible fracking of coal seams has the potential to cause harm to the environment and the health and safety of operators and the community.  I give a brief overview of some of the most mentioned potential impacts of fracking in the sections that follow.

Visual impact

Fracking for the economic recovery of CBM is generally performed at depths of between 250m and 1200m.  Most wells are fracked only once during their operating life of 20 to 30 years, and nobody gets to see the effect underground.  However, the visual impact has to do with the number of wells required to effectively recover the CBM.  Vertical wells are typically spaced at 400m to 500m intervals and this translates to many wells in a small area, as shown in Figure 5.

Visual impact of many vertical wells in a small area

Figure 5: Visual impact of many vertical wells in a small area

The number of wells can be drastically reduced by using directional drilling along the coal beds.  A significantly larger area can then be covered than with a vertical well, thereby reducing the visual impact.  However, horizontal drilling is not applicable in all cases and depends on the number and thickness of the coal seams.


A concern during fracking operations is the potential for spills or releases at the well pad site or during transportation. Prepared fracking fluid or chemical additives in their concentrated form pose a higher risk while being transported or stored on-site than when injected into the subsurface during the fracking process.

Sources of spills at the pad site include mechanical failures at the drilling/fracking rigs, storage tanks, pits, and even leaks or blowouts at the wellhead. Leaks or spills may also occur during transportation of materials, chemicals and wastes to and from the well pad. Soil, surface water and groundwater are the primary risk receptors. According to Holloway (2017), effective containment is a major factor in minimising the impacts on human health and the environment when a spill occurs. This can be further improved by using inherently safe and biodegradable additives in the fracking fluid.

Air pollution

Air pollution can occur during every stage of CBM development, from exploration to construction, operation, maintenance and final closure. Heavy equipment is used during site preparation to clear and prepare the well pad site and to create new roads. Generators are set up, and there are emissions from vehicles and generators if they are diesel powered, as well as increased coarse particulate matter and dust from the new roads and increased truck traffic on the roads.

During normal operation and maintenance activities, methane can be released from pipes and machinery.  Produced water also contains some dissolved gas which can be released to atmosphere.  During exploration and upset conditions, significant volumes of methane is routed to a flare system where the gas is combusted to form carbon dioxide.  All these aspects can be, and must be, carefully managed.

Silica Dust

Silica dust is an emission source that is becoming more of a fracking industry concern. The fracking process requires large volumes of sand as proppant. Therefore, many truckloads of sand must be offloaded and transferred before being mixed with water and other chemicals and pumped down-hole. The dust produced by the handling of sand, which may contain up to 99% crystalline silica, is a health concern due to the risk of silicosis, a progressive and disabling lung disease.  Sand stockpiles must be kept wet to reduce dust, and operators should be required to wear dust masks.

Groundwater pollution

A common concern expressed by potentially affected parties about fracking is that the process creates fractures extending past the target formation to aquifers, allowing fracking fluids to migrate into the drinking water supplies (Holloway, 2017).  This is unlikely because it would require the hydro-fractures to extend several hundred meters past the upper boundary of the coal seam.  After completion of the fracking process, the flow of water and gas is toward the CBM recovery well, and not away from it.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2004) concluded, after a multi-year study, that the injection of fracking fluids into CBM seams poses little or no threat to higher lying aquifers of potable water. In a review of cases of contaminated boreholes, they also found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracking fluid injection or the subsequent underground movement thereof.

Produced water impacts

Produced water from the coal bed, as well as flowback water from the fracking step, is commonly stored in pits or tanks on the wellfield before removal by truck or pipeline for reuse, treatment, or disposal. These options depend greatly on the quality of the water, which can vary from suitable for agricultural purposes to highly saline water.  These pits and tanks are possible sources of leaks or spills.

Produced water may also be stored in evaporation ponds, with or without an HDPE liner system. Current best practice calls for a triple liner system in evaporation ponds with leak detection.  Leaks of saline water into the subsurface will sterilise the soil and pollute upper aquifers in the long run.

Saline produced water should ideally be treated in a water treatment facility.  A policy of zero pollution and waste is recommended.  This implies that concentrated saline streams should be sent to evaporation ponds, or processed in a drying system to remove the salt from the water.  A plethora of options are available, and each should be customised for the unique characteristics of the site and the produced water.  Proper treatment and use of the produced water have proven to be highly beneficial

Gas in water wells

Opponents of fracking love to cite cases of flammable gas in water wells as this makes for interesting reading.  Although there have been many reported cases of gas in domestic water wells in the USA, almost all of these resulted from the unsafe storage of conventional natural gas in underground reservoirs, and none as a result of CBM recovery.

Gas explosions

The lower explosive limit (LEL) of CBM occurs when approximately 5% by volume of gas is mixed with 95% by volume of air. This translates into a serious explosion and fire hazard, especially where the gas can migrate into a confined space such as a room or an electrical vault. These hydrocarbon gases are often the result of leakage from gas pipelines. If the explosion (LEL) limit is met, a spark can quickly initiate a fire or an explosion.

A vast network of pipelines is normally part of any CBM development, and the risk of fires or explosions is always present. For this reason, the pipelines are normally buried underground to protect them from damage and methane detectors are used before any work is done.  However, the risk of an explosion is minimal in open spaces because methane is much lighter than air.

Induced seismicity

Pumping fluids in or out of the Earth’s subsurface has the potential to cause seismic events. Fracking into a moderately sized fault at a sufficiently high rate and pressure may produce enough seismic energy to create measurable signals at instruments very close to the fracking site.

Seismic events, when attributable to human activities, are called ‘induced seismic events.’ Seismic events are dependent upon the sub-surface geology of the site. The biggest micro-earthquakes directly attributable to fracking have a magnitude of about 1.6 on the Richter Scale, which is insignificant (Holloway, 2017).


The risk of subsidence is often mentioned when potential impacts of fracking are discussed, more so in the case of CBM production than for shale gas.  The reason for this is twofold: CBM wells are much shallower than shale gas wells and significant volumes of produced water must be pumped from CBM wells in order to release the gas.

However, no direct correlation has yet been found between CBM wells and surface subsidence. Remember that coal seams suitable for CBM recovery are at least 250m deep and that the coal itself is not removed, but only the water contained in the coal.

Site remediation

The common objective in the site remediation of drill pads and other infrastructure is to restore the site to its former condition and use (Holloway, 2017). Many countries require a mine closure plan which is updated at regular intervals.  The closure plan should make provision for plugging of production wells, the removal of all pipelines, cables, tanks, other equipment on site and the remediation of any contamination.  Closure plans must include an accurate estimate of the anticipated cost of closure and describe how provision is made to finance closure activities.  Well sites and access roads cover a small percentage of a CBM wellfield and will quickly revert to their natural state after closure.

It is normally expected that gas companies continue with groundwater monitoring for a period of at least five years after closure to ensure that there are no latent environmental problems.

Ranking of fracking intensity

Adams and Rowe (2013) proposed a terminology based on some of the physical aspects of fracking to allow clear differentiation between the many different types of hydraulic fracturing operations. This approach was described in more detail in Part 1 of this series of articles.

Based on this terminology, fracking of coal beds for CBM recovery can be classified as Type C(ap), meaning that additives and proppant are used in the fracking fluid.  In comparison, fracking of shale seams for gas recovery would be classified as Type D(ap) because of higher pressures and more intensive fracking.

Closing remarks

CBM reserves represent a major contribution to energy needs. However, gas recovery by fracking, requires responsible management to minimise any environmental effects. The industry is adapting, where possible, to fewer and more benign fracking chemicals to further reduce the impact of flowback and produced waters.

International economic, environmental, and technological advances over the past decade have led to the consideration of CO2 sequestration together with CBM recovery. The idea is to geologically sequester CO2 in coal seams, while at the same time recovering the methane already in them. The CO2 would be injected via wells drilled into the coal, and the CO2 would drive the methane out of the coal through other wells to the surface. This two-in-one idea is feasible because bituminous coal can store twice the volume of CO2 than it stores methane. The net result would be less CO2 in the atmosphere, no significant new methane added to the atmosphere, and enhanced recovery of methane to help pay for the process.


Adams, J. & Rowe, C. (2013) Differentiating Applications of Hydraulic Fracturing. In proceedings of the International Conference for Effective and Sustainable Hydraulic Fracturing (HF2013) which was held 20-22 May 2013 in Brisbane, Australia.

Bamberger, M. & Oswald, R. (2014) The real cost of fracking: How America’s shale gas boom Is threatening our families, pets, and food. Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

Byrer, C., Havryluk, I, & Uhrin, D. (2014) Coalbed methane: a miner’s curse and a valuable resource. In Thakur, P., Aminian, K. & Schatzel, S. (eds.). Coalbed methane: from prospect to pipeline. Elsevier Inc. San Diego, CA.

CHPNY. (2018) Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction), 5th ed. Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility, New York, NY

Finkel, M.L. (2015) The human and environmental impact of fracking: How fracturing shale for gas affects us and our world. Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC), Santa Barbara, CA.

EPA. (2004) Evaluation of impacts to underground sources of drinking water by hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane reservoirs.  Report EPA 816-R-04-003 by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

GTC. (2012) Underground coal gasification: converting unmineable coal to energy. Gasification Technologies Council.

Holloway, M.D. (2017) Fracking. In Robertson, J.O. & Chilingar, G.V. Environmental aspects of oil and gas production. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.

Johnson, A. (2015) Fossil fuels: The key ingredient of environmental protests. Available from https://www.westernenergyalliance.org/blog/fossil-fuels-key-ingredient-environmental-protests. Accessed on 8 October 2019.

Laubach, S.E., Marrett, R.A., Olson, J.E. & Scott, A.R. (1998) Characteristics and origins of coal cleat: A review, International Journal of Coal Geology 35, 175–207

Lloyd-Smith, M.  & Senjen, R. (2011) Hydraulic fracturing in coal seam gas mining: The risks to our health, communities, environment and climate. National Toxics Network, Bangalow, NSW.

Pashin, J.C. (2014) Geology of North American coalbed methane reservoirs. In Thakur, P., Aminian, K. & Schatzel, S. (eds.). Coalbed methane: from prospect to pipeline. Elsevier Inc. San Diego, CA.

Robertson, J.O. & Chilingar, G.V. (2017) Environmental aspects of oil and gas production. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.

Rodveldt, G. (2014) Vertical well construction and hydraulic fracturing for CBM completions.  In Thakur, P., Aminian, K. & Schatzel, S. (eds.). Coalbed methane: from prospect to pipeline. Elsevier Inc. San Diego, CA.

Simpson, D. (2019) Coal bed methane (CBM) and shale. In Lea, J.F. & Rowlan, L. Coal well deliquifaction, 3rd ed. Gulf Professional Publishing (an imprint of Elsevier Inc.), Cambridge, MA.

Steyn, J.W. (2019) Hydraulic fracturing of rock formations, Part 1: Introduction and applications.  Available from https://www.ownerteamconsult.com/hydraulic-fracturing-of-rock-formations-part-1/.  Accessed on 20 September 2019.

Thakur, P., Aminian, K. & Schatzel, S. (eds.). (2014) Coalbed methane: from prospect to pipeline. Elsevier Inc. San Diego, CA.

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Vegter, I. (2012) Extreme environment: How environmental exaggeration harms emerging economies. Zebra Press (an imprint of Random House Struik (Pty) Ltd), Cape Town, RSA.

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Hydraulic Fracturing of Rock Formations – Part 1

Hydraulic Fracturing of Rock Formations – Part 1

By Jurie Steyn

This is the first of a two-part series of articles on the hydraulic fracturing of rock, also known as fracking. This is a technology that everyone has an opinion on, but few take the trouble to understand what it’s all about.

The two parts are as follows:

In this first article, the concept of fracking is introduced, different applications are discussed, the chemicals and additives used in fracking fluid are described, and a method to classify fracking according to severity and impact is considered.


I have been planning an article on the hydraulic stimulation of gas wells in coal beds for a long time.  Hydraulic stimulation improves the delivery of coal-bed methane (CBM) from such wells.  The more I read about hydraulic stimulation, or CBM well conditioning, the more I realised that one first must understand hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Hence this two-part series of articles.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water and sand at high pressure into gas or oil-bearing rock to fracture it and open pathways for the gas or oil to escape to the receiving well. This is far removed from the mid-nineteenth century practice of ‘shooting’ a well, which used explosives instead of water, but the principle is the same. Drillers freed-up non-productive wells by creating underground explosions to loosen rock so that gas or oil could move freely. Fortunately, modern day fracking is far safer, controlled, predictable and environmentally friendly.

In this first article, I introduce the art of fracking, discuss different applications, describe the chemicals and additives used in fracking fluid, and consider a method to classify fracking based on application, severity and impact.

History of fracking

The first recorded case of fracking was in 1857 when Preston Barmore lowered gunpowder into a well at Canadaway Creek, NY, and dropped a red-hot iron down a tube, resulting in an explosion that fractured the rock and increased the flow of gas from the well (Morton, 2013).  Undoubtedly spectacular, but definitely not controlled or safe…

In 1866, Edward Roberts registered a patent, for exploding torpedoes in artesian wells. This fracking method was implemented by packing a torpedo in an iron case that contained 15-20 pounds of powder. The case was then lowered into the oil well, at a spot closest to the oil source. The borehole was filled with water to increase the effect of the blast and the torpedo was detonated from the surface by connecting wires.  This increased oil from the wells by up to 1200% within a week of the blast (Manfreda, 2015)

There was little innovation in fracking technology until the 1930s, when drillers started using acid to make wells more resistant to closing, and thereby increasing productivity. However, hydraulic fracturing of rock only began in the 1940s to stimulate the production of oil and gas from reservoirs that had experienced a decline in productivity. The first application was in 1947 in the Hugoton Field, Kansas, where petrol gelled with palm oil and crosslinked with naphthenic acid were combined with sand to stimulate the flow of natural gas from a limestone formation. Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company obtained an exclusive licence in 1949 for the hydraulic fracturing process. In the first year of operations, 332 oil wells were treated with a combination of crude oil, petrol and sand. The wells increased production rates by 75%, on average.

Water-based fracking fluids was in use from 1953 and many different chemical additives were tried to improve its performance. By 1968, fracking was being used in oil and gas wells across the United States, albeit in less difficult geological formations.  The application of fracking expanded during the 1980s and 1990s, when it was used to stimulate methane extraction from coal beds.

In the mid-1970s, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Gas Research Institute (GRI), in partnership with private operators, began developing techniques to produce natural gas from shale (Smith, 2012). Shale rock presented a challenge because of the difficulty in accessing the hydrocarbons in tight formations. Techniques employed included the use of horizontal wells, multi-stage fracturing, and slick water fracturing. The essential chemical additive for slick water fracturing is the friction reducer.

Mitchell Energy achieved commercial success with the recovery of gas from shale formations using slick water, a low viscous mixture that could be rapidly pumped down a well to deliver a much higher pressure to the rock than before. A merger between Mitchell Energy and Devon Energy in 2002 brought a rapid increase in the use of fracking with horizontal drilling in shale. George Mitchell (1919–2013) has been called the “Father of Fracking”, although he can be more accurately described as the “Father of the Shale Gas Boom” (Morton, 2013).

Applications of fracking

Hydraulic fracking is used far wider than the oil and gas industry (Adams & Rowe, 2013). It is used to great effect in many different applications, including:

  • Water well production enhancement: Just as hydraulic fracking is used to increase the rate and efficiency of recovery for oil and gas, it can also be used to improve the yield of water wells in fractured rock aquifers. A section of the well is isolated using packers and water is introduced to generate pressures up to approximately 200 bar to wash out existing fractures and propagate them to connect with others within the aquifer. No chemical additives or proppants are used. This technique has successfully been done not only in the US, but also in India, Australia and South Africa;
  • Mining Applications: Hydraulic fracking also has mining applications where it can be used to induce controlled rock caving. In the event of a massive, un-fractured ore body, some form of pre-conditioning is needed to initiate caving and to reduce the size of caving materials. Hydraulic fracturing in boreholes drilled into the ore body is the preferred method of performing this preconditioning process. Fracturing pressures can be up to 700 bar. Fracking has also been proposed for uranium mining in which it will be used to inject substances that will dissolve the uranium so that it can then be pumped to the surface;
  • Rock stress determination: Hydraulic fracking can be used by geologists to measures stress levels within the Earth. A section of borehole is isolated between two inflatable packers and the pressure is raised by pumping fluid into it at a controlled rate until a fracture occurs in the borehole wall. The magnitudes of the principal stresses are calculated from the pressure readings. Normally only pure water is used, and pressures are typically a maximum of 400 bar but can be as high as 1050 bar;
  • Conventional oil and gas production: Hydraulic fracking has been used for many years to stimulate production from low yielding wells. Fracture stimulation in this industry typically uses injected fluid that includes chemical additives and proppant. The formations being treated is normally already permeable, and very high injection flow rates are necessary to build pressure in the treatment region. Injection pressures can be as high as 1 400 bar. The total volume of injected fluid is generally more than 1 ML;
  • Geothermal energy production: Hydraulic fracking is used in geothermal systems to enhance heat extraction to produce electricity. Geothermal energy production involves the injection of water in a well, heating the water by geothermal energy, and extraction of the same water as steam or hot water from a second well. Hydraulic fracturing is used to establish a flow pathway between the injection and extraction wells;
  • Carbon sequestration: Carbon capture and storage in suitable geologic formations is one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to atmosphere. The range of suitable geologic formations includes coal basins, depleted oil and gas reservoirs and saline aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing may play a role in this industry in future to improve access to these formations and enhance their carrying capacity;
  • Coal mine methane (CMM) drainage: CMM drainage is performed in coal seams prior to mining for safety and environmental reasons and can create an additional income stream. Hydraulic fracturing is used to enhance the production of methane from the coal. The scale of treatments varies widely, but are normally smaller than CBM stimulation fractures.
  • Coal-bed methane (CBM) extraction:Hydraulic fracturing in CBM wells is performed to open conductive channels and stimulate the flow of methane to the wellbore. The CBM reservoirs are closer to the surface than most conventional oil and gas reservoirs or shale formations, thus requiring lower pressures, less volume and fewer additives in the fracturing fluid. Fracture pressures are up to 350 bar and total injected volume per fracture ranges up to 500 m3.
  • Waste disposal in deep-wells: Hydraulic fracking is used to open op suitable areas in deep rock formations for the disposal of saline liquid waste, so called deep-well injection of liquid waste streams.

As the fracking technology continues to advance, it is likely to become applicable in currently unforeseen ways.

Stages of fracking

There is a range of hydraulic fracturing techniques and several different approaches may be applied within a specific area. Hydraulic fracturing programmes and the fracture fluid composition vary according to the engineering requirements specific to the formation, wellbore and location. A typical hydraulic fracture programme will follow the stages below as a minimum (Fink, 2013; FracFocus, 2019):

  • Spearhead stage:This initial stage is also referred to as an acid or prepad stage. It involves injecting a mix of water with diluted acid, such as hydrochloric acid. This serves to clear debris from the wellbore, providing a clear pathway for fracture fluids to access the formation. The acid reacts with minerals in the rock, creating starting points for fracture development;
  • Pad stage: The generation of the fractures takes place by injecting the pad, a viscous fluid, but without proppants, to break the rock formation and initiate the hydraulic fracturing of the target area;
  • Proppant stage:After the fractures develop, a proppant must be injected to keep them open. When the fracture closes, the proppant is locked in place and creates a large flow area and a conductive pathway for hydrocarbons to flow into the wellbore. Viscous fluids are used to transport, suspend, and allow the proppant to be trapped inside the fracture; and
  • Flush stage:The job ends eventually with a flush stage, in which flush fluids and other clean-up agents are applied. A volume of fresh water is pumped down the wellbore to flush out any excess proppant that may be present in the wellbore.

Components of fracking fluid

Opening comments

Fracking fluid is made up according to many different recipes, according to the preferences of the driller and the characteristics of the rock that is being fractured. In fact, op to 750 different components have been identified in fracking fluid. The natural gas industry supports the disclosure of what is used in the hydraulic fracturing process to interested and affected parties. The only proviso is that proprietary fracking fluid composition and business information is kept confidential.  Depending on the application, between 3 and 12 chemical additives are used in fracking fluid with a median of 10 additives (US EPA, 2015).

Nowadays, most fracking fluids are water-based. Aqueous fluids are economical and, if used with chemical additives, can provide the required range of physical properties. Additives for fracking fluids serve three purposes, namely:

  • They enhance fracture creation;
  • They enable proppant to be carried into the fractures; and
  • They minimize damage to the rock formation.

Although different compositions of fracking fluid are used for the different stages of fracking, a typical composition of such a fluid is shown in Figure 1.

Fig 1 Chemical composition of typical fracking fluid



Figure 1:  Typical composition of fracking fluid

Ninety percent of fracking fluid is made up of water, and another 9,5 percent is proppant. The remaining 0,5 percent of the fracking fluid is made up of chemical additives.  Although their percentages may be small, chemicals play a crucial role in fracking. The different components of fracking fluid are discussed below.


Hydraulic fracturing creates fissures in the rock, but when the pressure of the fracking fluid is reduced the newly created fissures and cracks will close again.  Proppants are introduced into the fracking fluid to penetrate and keep the fractures open, thereby forming conductive channels within the rock formation through which hydrocarbons can flow.  A proppant is a hard and solid material, typically sand, small diameter ceramic materials, or sintered bauxites.  Sand has a relatively low strength, which can be improved by resin coating.

The proppant must stay in position and prop open the conductive channels for the productive life of the well.  The flowback of a proppant following fracture stimulation treatment is a major concern because of the possible damage to equipment and loss in well production rate. Proppant related degradation of the fracture conductivity can be caused by flowback, mechanical failure of the proppant grains, chemical damage or dissolution from the additives, and proppant embedment.

The shape and size of the proppant is important because shape and size influence the final permeability through the fracture. A wide range of particle sizes and shapes will lead to a tight packing arrangement, reducing permeability/conductivity. A controlled range of sizes and preferential spherical shape will lead to greater conductivity. Typical proppant sizes are generally between 8 and 140 mesh (106 µm to 2.36 mm), although a much narrower range is normally specified, say a 10/50 or 20/40 cut.

For the fracking fluid to be able to carry the proppant into the fractures, the fluid must be viscous enough to prevent the proppant from settling out before it has been carried to the desired position.

Chemical additives

The following is a list of the primary groups of chemical additives used in fracking fluid recipes:

  • Acids: Acids, like hydrochloric or muriatic acid, are used in fracking fluids to dissolve the minerals in the rock, soil and sand below the ground. This helps to initiate cracking and crack propagation.Typical acid concentration used is 15%. Acid also cleans out cement and debris around the perforations in the wellbore to facilitate the ingress of subsequent fracking fluids into the rock formation. Acid reacts with minerals to create salts, water and carbon dioxide.
  • Gelling agents: Gelling agents, such as guar gum or hydroxyethyl cellulose, are added to the fracking fluid to increase the viscosity; it effectively thickens the water. This enables the fracking fluid to accept higher concentrations of proppant, reduces the fluid loss to improve fluid efficiency, and improves proppant transport. The chemical structure of some gelling agents also allows for crosslinking. Gelling agents are broken down by breakers and returns with the flush water;
  • Crosslinkers: Occasionally, a cross-linking agent is used to enhance the characteristics and ability of the gelling agent to transport the proppant. These compounds may contain boric acid or ethylene glycol. When cross-linking additives are added, a breaker solution is usually added later in the frack stage to break down the gelled solution into a less viscous fluid;
  • Breakers:Breakers, like ammonium persulphate, allows for the breakdown of the gel polymer chains. Breakers can also be used to control the timing of the breaking of the gelled fluids to ensure enough time for proppant to be transported into the fractures. The gel should be completely broken within a specific period after completion of the fracking process for ease of flushing. Breakers react with gel and crosslinkers to form ammonia and sulphate salts which are flushed out;
  • Friction reducers:Friction reducers, like polyacrylic acid, polyacrylamide or mineral oil, are used in the production of slick water and minimises friction between the fracking fluid and the pipe, thereby reducing the pressure needed to pump fluid into the wellbore. Friction reducers remain in the rock formation where they are broken down by micro-organisms. A small amount may be returned with the flush water;
  • Clay stabilisers: Rocks within water-sensitive shale and clay formations absorb fracking fluid, which causes the rock to swell and drastically reduce formation permeability, as well as lead to wellbore collapse. Potassium chloride is a temporary clay stabiliser in freshwater-sensitive formations and helps prevent this swelling. Alternatives are choline chloride and choline bicarbonate, both of which are biodegradable;
  • Surfactants: These additives are used to decrease liquid/surface tension and improve fluid passage through pipes in either direction.Surface active agents, like isopropanol, are included in most aqueous treating fluids to improve the compatibility of aqueous fracking fluids with the hydrocarbon-containing reservoir. Surfactants are usually returned to surface with the flush water;
  • Scale inhibitors: Scale control prevents the build-up of mineral scale that can block fluid and gas passage through the pipes.A scale inhibitor, such as ethylene glycol, is used to control the precipitation of certain carbonate and sulphate minerals in pipelines.Most of the scale inhibitors will be returned to surface with the flush water;
  • Corrosion inhibitors:Corrosion inhibitors are required in acidic fracking fluid mixtures because acids will corrode steel tubing, well casings, tools, and tanks. Corrosion inhibitors, such as n-dimethyl formamide, and oxygen scavengers, such as ammonium bisulphite, are used to prevent degradation of the steel well casing. Most of the corrosion inhibitors will be returned to surface with the flush water;
  • Iron control agents:Iron control or stabilising agents such as citric acid or hydrochloric acid, are used to inhibit precipitation of iron compounds by keeping them in a soluble form. These agents typically react with minerals to create salts, water and carbon dioxide;
  • Biocides/Bactericides:Biocides/bactericides such as quaternary amines, amides, aldehydes and chlorine dioxide, are added to prevent enzymatic attack of the polymers used to gel the fracturing fluid by aerobic bacteria present in the base water. In addition, biocides and bactericides are added to fracturing fluids to prevent the introduction of anaerobic sulphate reducing bacteria into the reservoir; and
  • pH buffers: pH buffers, such as sodium or potassium carbonate, sodium hydroxide, monosodium phosphate, formic acid and magnesium oxide, help maintain the effectiveness of other components. Buffers adjust the pH of the base fluid so that dispersion, hydration and crosslinking of the fracking fluid polymers can be engineered. Because some buffers dissolve slowly, they can be used to delay crosslinking for a set period to reduce friction in the tubing.

Ranking of fracking intensity

Different applications of fracking technology have much in common, but can be differentiated based on some of the physical aspects of fracturing, namely:

  • Fracture Creation/propagation:This deals with reason for performing the frack. Are we simply trying to determine the strength of the rock formation, are we trying to propagate fractures, or simply open and clean existing fractures?
  • Volume of Injectate:Here we consider the total volume of fracking fluid used, as well as the injection flow rate;
  • Nature of the Injectate:The composition of the injected fluid is regarded as one of the major differentiating characteristics;
  • Hydraulic Pressure:Here we consider the maximum hydraulic pressure applied to the rock formation during fracking;

Adams and Rowe (2013) proposed a new terminology based on these aspects to allow clear differentiation between the many different types of hydraulic fracturing operations. Unfortunately, this approach is not in widespread use, but could enable practitioners, regulators and the general public to make a distinction between the many different operations.  The terminology and approach for ranking the intensity of fracking is presented in Figure 2.

Terminology for ranking the intensity of fracking


Closing remarks

Hydraulic fracturing isn’t new, and has been practiced for more than 100 years. It’s been improved upon and renovated over long periods of time. The application of fracking to gas resources in shale formations and coal beds is a factor of rising energy cost.

There is continual progress in minimising the impact of fracking on the environment. The use of acids in the fracking process is being reduced, or stopped altogether. Hydrocarbon additives to water-based fracking fluid is being phased out and replaced by more environmentally acceptable alternatives.

Current research into fracking and the use of fracking fluids focuses on the use of cryogenic fluids such as liquid carbon dioxide and liquid nitrogen. Work on the use of supercritical carbon dioxide is also at an early stage.


Adams, J. & Rowe, C., 2013, Differentiating Applications of Hydraulic Fracturing.In proceedings of the International Conference for Effective and Sustainable Hydraulic Fracturing (HF2013) which was held 20-22 May 2013 in Brisbane, Australia.

Fink, J.K., 2013, Hydraulic fracturing chemicals and fluids technology. Gulf Professional Publishing, Waltham, MA.

FracFocus, 2019, Hydraulic fracturing: the process. Available from http://www.fracfocus.ca/en/hydraulic-fracturing-how-it-works-0/hydraulic-fracturing-process. Accessed on 1 September 2019.

Manfreda, J., 2015, The real history of fracking.Available from https://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/The-Real-History-Of-Fracking.html. Accessed on 31 August 2019.

Morton, M.Q., 2013, Unlocking the Earth –  a short history of hydraulic fracturing, Available from https://www.geoexpro.com/articles/2014/02/unlocking-the-earth-a-short-history-of-hydraulic-fracturing. Accesses on 30 August 2019.

Smith, T., 2012, Is shale gas bringing independence?Geo ExPro Vol. 9, No 2, p47.

US EPA, 2015,Analysis of hydraulic fracturing fluid data from the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry 1.0. EPA/601/R-14/003, United States Environmental Protection Agency.


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Introduction to Constructability and Constuctability Programmes

Introduction to Constructability and Constuctability Programmes

By Corne Thirion


Constructability is a project management technique for reviewing the whole construction process before commencing with project implementation. Constructability reviews will reduce or prevent design errors, delays, and over expenditure by identifying potential obstacles to construction.

A constructability programme refers to integrating engineering design, and executive knowledge and experience to better achieve project objectives. The main obstacles to its implementation include partial comprehension of construction requirements by designers, and resistance of owners to constructability due to extra cost. An effective constructability programme will begin during the planning phase and will continue to the end of construction.

Many of the problems related to constructability are due to a lack of communication among the owner’s engineers or designers and the construction companies before starting the project. Architects, engineers and designers are not normally experts in construction methods.  By integrating constructability in the design process in the early stages of the project, construction disputes will be reduced, and as a result, project delivery will be more secure.

This article focuses on the benefits of constructability, and implementation of a constructability programme in companies, at both corporate and project level.

Constructability in perspective

The Construction Industry Institute (CII) released guidelines for constructability in 1986, in which constructability is defined as optimum use of construction knowledge and experience in planning, design, provisions and implementation to achieve project overall objectives (O’Connor, 2006). Various studies have been done to explain constructability and to resolve the obstacles to its implementation in the interim years.

Improving constructability during project execution will thus improve the achievement of project objectives in the areas of cost, schedule, quality, safety, risk management, and the impact on the environment.  After completion of the project, the facility should also meet requirements in areas of reliability, maintainability and operability.

The definition of constructability implies that constructability should be considered from the planning (feasibility) phase of a project.  Considering constructability during project development is only possible if it is owner driven, because the construction company is normally not yet on board.

Constructability during project development and implementation improves cost performance by 6,1% and schedule performance by 7,1%, according to the latest benchmarking done by CII (CII, 2019). In terms of value addition from constructability reviews, the cost benefit ratio is in the range of 1:10, additional cost of constructability: project benefit.

Figures 1 illustrates the benefit on project schedule and cost to the owner of applying constructability practices, in comparison to other practices.


Figure 1:  Owner benefit of practice use(Garcia, 2009)

Figures 2 illustrates the benefit on project schedule and cost to the contractor of applying constructability practice.  The perceived impact and benefits for contractors are much more significant than for owners.


Figure 2: Contractor benefit of practice use  (Garcia, 2009)   

Implementation of a constructability programme in an organisation

Implementation roadmap

A company should ideally implement both corporate- and project constructability programmes. The CII developed an implementation roadmap, consisting of six stages as shown in Figure 3, which can be used by owners, designers and construction contractors.

The implementation covers constructability at a corporate level (the first two stages, with some overlap into the third stage), as well as at a project level (stages three to six).  Stage six deals with the evaluation of the performance of the constructability programme which may result in changes being required at the corporate or the project level.

Each of these six stages of the implementation of a constructability programme is described in detail in the following sections.  The bulleted lists above each of the stages in Figure 3 summarise the main elements of that stage.


Figure 3:  Constructability Implementation roadmap (Adapted from O’Connor, 2006)

Commit to implementing constructability

The existence of a formal constructability programme at corporate level, supported by a strategy and managed by an empowered sponsor, ensures that the infrastructure exists to support constructability programmes at project level.

All levels in the organisation should be aligned and have a good understanding of the model, objectives, methods and concepts of constructability. The alignment will be a top down approach and senior leaders should set the pace.

A self-assessment to determine the current in-house construction abilities and practices will be done and the outcome will be used to benchmark the current status (maturity) of constructability in the company. It will also help to define the programme objectives and improvement areas. The elimination of barriers that inhibit the implementation programme is of utmost importance. Barriers must be identified and eliminated by appropriate initiatives and programmes.

The benefits of a constructability programme should be assessed and goals (based on benefits of the programme) defined which focus the programme’s implementation effort. Company targets, to be achieved at project level, can be summarised at corporate level to track progress and performance. Qualitative targets include improvements in team relationships, site layouts, budget- and schedule accuracy, as well as safety. Quantitative targets are reduction of overall project cost (say 7%), schedule improvement (say 8%) and a constructability cost benefit ratio of 1:10.

The last element is about the corporate profile of constructability, and involves the development of a Constructability Policy. The policy is signed by the president/CEO of the organisation and includes elements such as level of commitment by management, name of corporate executive sponsor, programme goals for the organisation and a link to the implementation of constructability on project level. During the first year of implementation, reference should be made to the implementation programme, but constructability should be integrated with other programmes, and become part of “the way we do things” in the organisation.

Establish a corporate constructability programme

The first element of this stage is to identify, appoint and empower a constructability sponsor that has the full support of the executive team. The sponsor is directly accountable for the success of the constructability programme.

The constructability programme on project level needs functional support and procedures. A programme manager role, that functions as a centre of excellence, is created to facilitate implementation of constructability at project level. The programme manager is responsible for day-to-day company-wide constructability coordination, selection and functioning of project constructability coordinators, functioning of a lessons-learned database and tracking of company programme goals.

The last element of this stage is the creation and maintenance of a constructability lessons-learned database.  This database is of the utmost importance as it is used as an input during the “plan constructability implementation” phase in the project programme.   The format of the database should facilitate retrieval for application to new projects, selecting areas such as discipline, functionality and project phase.

The implementation of constructability on a project has three logical steps, obtain constructability capabilities (supported and enabled by the corporate level programme), followed by planning for implementation, and implementation of the constructability programme.

Obtain constructability capabilities

The owner project team members are pivotal to the success of constructability in the project, as they set the pace and drive successful completion. The (owner) project manager must be committed to constructability and be able to lead the team in 1) creation of a supportive project environment, 2) drive cost effectiveness 3) improve other project objectives by constructability and 4) ensure team involvement in construction. The rest of the owner team members will be selected on their work and construction experience, communication and teamwork skills, open mindedness and good evaluation skills.

The project team will define the project objectives in terms of cost, schedule and quality, as well as safety. It is also important to prioritise objectives, as it will improve decision making and potential trade-off studies. The project constructability objectives will be derived from the project objectives, with participation by design- and construction members.

The selection of the project contracting strategy impacts on the timing and application of constructability and affects the level of the formality of the constructability process.

It is important that the owner, in selecting a contracting strategy:

  • Assesses in-house constructability competence to lead or enhance the constructability process;
  • Understands the impact of different contracting strategies on constructability; and
  • Selects a construction contractor during the early stages of the project.

Owners can consider incentives which are related to constructability performance. It is important to incentivise designers and constructors for common deliverables such as quality and final completion. The incentives must be aligned to ensure that the two companies are dependent upon each another to be rewarded.

Plan constructability Implementation

Timeous and thoughtful planning is very important to ensure effective constructability implementation. Constructability must start during the feasibility stage of a project lifecycle and continue through to the planning- and delivery stages. Three constructability reviews sessions are recommended, as illustrated in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Duration of constructability and timing of constructability reviews

The team members that will lead the constructability effort should have construction experience, be co-operative team players and be committed to the project schedule duration to minimise turnover.

The organisation structure of the constructability team will vary from project to project. All project team members participate on a part-time basis in the constructability team. The Constructability Coordinator may be a full-time position on big projects, but on smaller projects this role could be part-time and filled by the construction manager or other team members. The Constructability Coordinator reports to the owner Project Manager.

The Constructability Coordinator is responsible for:

  • Orientation and team building of the entire project team;
  • Integration of constructability into the project execution plan;
  • Review of the constructability lessons-learned database;
  • Assurance of adequate consideration of constructability concepts;
  • Planning and scheduling of constructability studies;
  • Gathering of constructability input from various ad hoc specialists;
  • Maintenance of a constructability suggestion logbook;
  • Evaluation and reporting on constructability progress;
  • Solicitation of appropriate feedback; and
  • Forwarding of new lessons learned to the corporate database.

Any constructability programme is more successful when the team is aligned and communicates openly. This need is addressed by a facilitated team building exercise where barriers are identified, and strategies implemented to break barriers.

Constructability teams can improve their effectiveness by reviewing lessons learnt from previous projects.  The creation- and maintenance of such a database is discussed earlier in the article under Establish a corporate constructability programme.

The next step is to conduct the constructability planning workshop.The planning workshop will be scheduled after feasibility analysis. The focus of the workshop is to develop a plan for constructability implementation during project execution, list deliverables and compile a schedule for completion (aligned with project schedule) to support decision making (regarding constructability goals) during planning and delivery stages (refer to Figure 4).

CII identify 11 activities (O’Connor, 2006) that should be included in the agenda of a planning workshop.  The purpose of the workshop is to identify constructability opportunities and concerns, prioritise constructability concepts to be implemented and the drafting of concept application plans for deliverables, required during the decision-making process to promote constructability.

Constructability activities (input) need to be planned for application during the different stages of the project. The Constructability Coordinator needs to integrate constructability activities and deliverables into the project schedule. It is important that constructability input is given during development of project deliverables and not at the review stage, as it will impose rework.

Implement constructability

The constructability plan and initiatives will be integrated with the project work process as the project proceeds through the planning and delivery stages. Implementation will be executed in three steps: put concept application plans into action, monitor and evaluate implementation effectiveness and document lessons learned.

Concept application plans are key in implementation of concepts, but it is important to remember that the implementation is an iterative process during planning and detail design. (less so during construction).

Constructability concepts are high-level lessons learned. Inclusion in the project constructability manual stimulates the application thereof. If these concepts are compiled as check lists and arranged by planning activities or design disciplines, it can be put to good use during planning and review sessions.

Constructability team members provide constructability input and follow constructability procedures, detailed in the concept application plans, when required.  The constructability effort is initiated during the feasibility stage and continued till the end of the delivery stage (refer Figure 4).  The Constructability Coordinator is the main interface with the project team and is the focal point for overseeing and coordinating the constructability effort.  The constructability team will meet on a regular basis to discuss concepts, share lessons learned and provide input to designs.  Constructability reviews will be done by the constructability team on design packages before release, with the focus on confirming that approved concepts have been incorporated.

The Constructability Coordinator keeps a log of constructability suggestions and studies, and coordinates cost and schedule estimates for these suggestions. Feedback on constructability objectives may be made available at an agreed frequency to report on performance at project level.  The performance of the constructability team is also monitored, and corrective actions implemented.

The final element under the implementation of constructability is the documentation of lessons learned. Feedback on the constructability programme performance needs to be documented as the project develops. Quality of design documents from contractors should be assessed. Lessons learned sessions should be conducted during all stages of the project, and summarised at the end of the project. It is also important to evaluate design aspects for inclusion in future projects.  

Update corporate/project programme

The effectiveness of the constructability programme at corporate level, as well as at project level should be evaluated to identify areas for improvement. The three focus areas are: evaluate programme effectiveness, modify organisation and procedures and update the lessons-learned database.

The review of constructability programme effectiveness should evaluate if the programme objectives and goals are met and if it should be revised or changed. A very important aspect is to review the level of support to the project level constructability programme, as the performance at project level is dependent on support from corporate level. The constructability barriers should be re-assed, as well as the effectiveness of the barrier-breaker initiative.  Successes at both the corporate and project level should be recognised, rewarded and announced at relevant levels. Recognition should also be given at the annual company reward ceremony (when due).

The company and programme organisation structure should be evaluated for effectiveness and adjusted/modified, if needed, via update loops (refer Figure 3).  Rotation of incumbents should also be considered and updating of the succession plan for these positions. The effectiveness of procedures and tools used for training, communication, reviews and evaluation should be reviewed and adjusted as required, with focus on communication of lessons learned at project and inter project level.

Updating the lessons-learned database may be the last step in the constructability programme, but is one of the most important activities. The database should be updated with lessons learned from every project. New contributors should be identified and added to the system. The environment should be scanned for new or emerging constructability concepts on a continuous basis. Ensure that contributors always get constructive feedback and recognition for their contributions.

Closing remarks

Constructability is not about adding more activities to an already overloaded project team, but a formalised process that sensitises and enables the team to start thinking about construction of the project as early as during the feasibility stage.

The project team is rewarded for utilising the constructability programme with a reduction in construction cost, direct field labour hours, construction schedule and design rework hours. The project team further benefits from improvements in lost time incident rate, ease of personnel and material accessibility during construction and maintenance, labour productivity, improved security and, improved teamwork.

Owner benefits will include reliability, maintainability and operability.


O’Connor, J.T.,2006, CII Constructability Implementation Guide (SD34-1), revision 2, Construction Industry Institute, University of Texas at Austin.

CII (Construction Industry Institute), 2019, CII’s Impact, https://www.construction-institute.org/membership/ciis-impact.Accessed on 19 July 2019.

Garcia, M.A.,2009, Introduction to CII practices, Special presentation to American Council for Construction Education, Jacksonville, Florida on 20 Feb. 2009. Pdf file available at https://www.acce-hq.org/images/uploads/CIIBPFORACCE20Feb091.pdf.Accessed on 22 July 2019.

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Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility for Projects

Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility for Projects

By Davida van der Walt


Before we consider strategic corporate social responsibility, let’s first look at corporate social responsibility in broader terms.  The most common terms that refer to social responsibility are ‘corporate social investment’ (CSI) and ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR).  These terms are commonly used interchangeably.

According to the World Bank (Petkoski & Twose,2003), CSR is the commitment of businesses to contribute to sustainable economic development by working with the local community to improve the quality of life in ways that result in benefit to the business and the community.

Investment in local communities where projects are implemented can occur in one or more of the following four primary ways:

  • Job creation;
  • Skills development;
  • Small enterprise development; and
  • Infrastructure development, e.g. water supply to communities.

These categories are not mutually exclusive.  For example, in the event of setting up a small enterprise in the local community, such an opportunity will also make provision for skills development and job creation. A single initiative may involve numerous aspects of social upliftment.

In this article, an attempt is made to provide an integrated view of strategic CSR on projects.  A stronger focus will be given to strategic CSR in the context of developing countries.  We’ll start by looking at the objectives to be achieved by CSR, before discussing strategic CSR on projects.

Objectives with CSR


Before engaging in any form of CSR, whether as a running concern or for a new project, it is important to consider why you wish to follow this road.  If done for the right reasons, it can be of benefit to all concerned, and if done badly, can do more harm than good. Kapelus (2002) emphasizes the need to consider underlying motivations for business to engage in and embrace the CSR concept.

CSR can be a vehicle to achieve any, or a combination, of the following five objectives:

  • Philanthropy;
  • Reputation building;
  • Socio-economic development;
  • Skills development; and
  • Enterprise development.

The five objectives are shown graphically in Figure 1 as being interrelated and overlapping.  Sustainable CSR can be found where most of the objectives overlap.

CSR Objectives


Figure 1: CSR Objectives

Each of these objectives is discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.


Philanthropy is an unselfish concern for, or devotion to, the welfare of others, expressed especially by the donation of money to good causes.  Here the stated objective is not to seek any benefit for the business or the project. Very few businesses can afford this type of altruism in their early years, let alone new projects.  In some cases, philanthropy can be construed as an attempt to indirectly ‘bribe’ government officials for favours in return.

Reputation building

For any business to be successful, good relationships with stakeholders and a strong reputation of caring for the environment, the communities, and the people therein greatly contributes to business success and sound business practice.   Strong relationships with local communities, unions, government departments, media and investors (amongst others) can significantly impact business operations, and are to be actively sought.

Socio-economic development

Socio-economic development is aimed at improving the social status of the communities, and addressing the needs of the poor, vulnerable and those with special needs.

Socio-economic development thus seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life of communities by creating and/or retaining jobs, and supporting or growing household incomes and community living standards.  Economic development may involve job opportunities and income growth, sustainable increases in the productivity of individuals, businesses and resources to increase the overall well-being of residents and maintaining or even enhancing the quality of life. Economic development thus refers to the enhancement of economic activity in the community, which in turn leads to social enhancement.

Skills development

Skills developmentis aimed at providing community members, who are disadvantaged, poor, or illiterate, with skills and competencies which can be transferred to other areas once the project has been completed. Once again, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

Simple skills can be transferred to enable the recipients thereof to be employable by the project.  With further training, the local communities can be the source for many of the operators for the new facility.

The main reason for engaging in corporate social responsibility projects is to contribute towards sustainable economic development.  This is done to facilitate desirable economic and social changes and improvement of the social environment within which a business is operating.

Enterprise development

Enterprise development is a huge opportunity when it comes to CSR. Any project and or operation calls for multiple small business requirements.  Examples could include a tuckshop, or a refuse removal company. Partnering with existing local suppliers to support the development and coaching of new small business enterprises from local communities can greatly support job creation and socio-economic development.  Projects should creatively consider such opportunities and capitalise on them in support of local community development.

Strategic CSR


Strategic corporate social investment on a project can be, and should be, beneficial to all stakeholders.  Let us consider the typical requirements for strategic CSR on projects.

Strategic CSR should be all the following:

  • Sustainable;
  • Aligned with country requirements and/or legislation;
  • Benefits the community affected by the project;
  • Benefits the project owner;
  • Fair, ethical and transparent;
  • Seamlessly integrated into the project; and
  • Underpinned with ongoing communication.

The CSR requirements are illustrated in Figure 2, and each of these is discussed in more detail below.

Requirements of strategic CSR on projects


Figure 2: Requirements of strategic CSR on projects


According to the Cambridge Dictionary (2019), sustainable means “the quality of being able to continue over a period of time”.  This is a loaded statement.  It is perhaps best to describe with some examples.

CSR in the form of handouts is not sustainable and should be avoided. For instance, if a project decides to build a school and then steps away, the school is likely to become deserted within a year as no one will take ownership for ensuring its maintenance. An example of sustainable CSR is investment in skills development. If local unemployed youth are, for instance, provided with paving skills whilst the project is producing paving, these skills can empower them to find other work. Instead of giving them fish to eat, teach them to fish.  That is the basic definition of sustainability.

If CSR is done purely for brand promotion, it is likely that short-term, non-sustainable investment opportunities may be pursued. The World Bank (Petkoski & Twose, 2003) warns against CSR simply being used as a brand promotion tool.

Aligned with country requirements and/or legislation

Before engaging in any form of CSR, it is of vital importance to understand the legislative and cultural requirements and/or idiosyncrasies of the country in which a project is planned.  Some questions that can help to plan CSR initiatives include:

  • Are there any legislation and/or policies that guide or direct CSR?
  • What is the country’s strategic direction, and could CSR contribute to the country achieving its strategic goal?
  • What is unique about the country’s culture?
  • Are there any customs you should know about?
  • Who are the key stakeholders to engage, such as local, regional or national government structures, tribal authorities, etc.?
  • Who are the pressure groups that could negatively impact your project?
  • Who are the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that can support your cause?
  • Are there any funds available in country to support CSR initiatives? and
  • Does the owner company have an established relationship with any of the above which could be capitalised on?

Having answers to the above will set the foundation for strategic CSR.

As an example, when executing a project in Botswana, the book entitled Culture and customs of Botswana (Denbow & Thebe, 2006) is invaluable as it describes the history of the country and relevant information in culture and customs that could greatly support effective stakeholder engagement. Make an effort to learn about the country where you wish to develop a project.

Benefits the affected community/ies, as well as the project owner

Note that this section covers two of the requirements listed in Figure 2.

Fundamental to strategic CSR is that the affected communities, as well as the project owner should benefit.  This does not mean the owner should only focus on reputational benefit.  This means real, tangible benefit.   Let’s illustrate through an example. If your project needs catering services, it makes sense to empower a local small business to fulfil this role.  The project owner may invest in some extra equipment to support the small catering business. In return, the project owner receives a service which is required by the business on an ongoing basis.  Everyone concerned benefits: on the one hand the local community is empowered, and on the other hand the project, or ultimate business, owner receives a required service.

Handouts, as has been said before, are not sustainable.  However, skills development and small business support that would also benefit the project or business, are sustainable.

Fair, ethical and transparent

CSR must always be executed in a fair, ethical and transparent manner.  This obviously holds true for strategic CSR on projects. Transparency and fairness can be achieved by working through existing structures in the community where the project is being executed.  Where tribal authorities are present, they normally provide for the necessary structures whereby training or job opportunities can be directed, via the tribal authorities. They also tend to integrate well with local municipal structures.

For example, the project may approach the tribal authority with a list of skills required on the project.  The tribal authority will through their meetings engage the people in the community to get nominations for the jobs advertised.  They will ensure that nominations conform to the criteria specified by the project and will submit these via the tribal authority.  Nominations will be considered by the project, and feedback will be provided to the individuals as well as the tribal authority to confirm if they conformed to requirements.  This process is fair, ethical and transparent.

Where such civil or tribal structures do not exist, it is crucial that every effort is made to ensure a fair, ethical and transparent process is put in place. Bribery and corruption should be avoided at all cost.

According to Bacio-Terracino (2007), transparency in all business transactions guarantee a certain degree of fairness and permit the participation of different interested parties. These parties, such as civil society, the media, and labour unions, will each strive for their own interests, which will consequently result in better CSR conditions overall.  He says that if corruption is not addressed at the early stages of any CSR effort, the work of CSR practitioners will be built on quicksand (Bacio-Terracino, 2007).

Seamlessly integrated into the project

CSR actions that are seamlessly integrated into your project is the most effective form of strategic CSR. Again, he easiest way to explain is through a few examples.

If your project calls for paving, engage your paving contractor to employ one or two people from the local community and train them in paving skills. The same goes for brick laying.  If you need holes to be dug for fencing, use local labour.  If you have any work to be done that can be done by local contractors who are skilled to do so, make use of local contractors.  If your project and ultimate business calls for the support of small businesses such as catering, waste removal, etc, empower local small businesses with the knowledge and skills to fulfil these roles.  This is a true win-win.

Underpinned with ongoing communication

Open and transparent communication with affected stakeholders with regards to CSR initiatives cannot be over emphasized. This is specifically relevant in the case of mining related projects, where large tracts of land are required.  People directly affected by land purchases and loss of family farms or houses require ongoing communication to alleviate fears and uncertainties (Narula, Magray & Desore, 2017).

Impacts on communities include environmental impacts resulting from the project, such as noise, odours, water and air pollution and health.   The processes employed can be as fair, ethical and transparent as possible, but one still must go to great lengths to communicate possible impacts on local communities, as well as any opportunities, or positive impacts, arising from the project.  The environmental impact assessment processes normally make provision for such engagement with interested and affected parties prior to, and during, project implementation.  However, ongoing, regular interfacing with the community through their established structures is a major success factor.

Concluding remarks

CSR does not have to be your worst nightmare. If done for the right reasons, in collaboration with local community structures and relevant government structures, it can help you forge relationships with local communities that can contribute to the success of your project.  Consider how training and employment opportunities for local communities can be integrated into the project.  Look for opportunities to empower small local businesses to support the project and ultimate business.

The objective is to create win-win relationships.


Bacio-Terracino, J., 2007, Anti-Corruption: The Enabling CSR Principle. Available from https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/reports-and-materials/Bacio-Terracino-Anti-Corruption-The-Enabling-CSR-Principle-Apr-2007.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2019.

Cambridge Dictionary, 2019, Definition of sustainability. Available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sustainability. Accessed on 25 June 2019.

Denbow, J & Thebe, P.C.,2006, Culture and customs of Botswana. Greenwood Press, London.

Kapelus, P.,2002, Mining, Corporate Social Responsibility and the “Community”: The Case of Rio Tinto, Richards Bay Minerals and the Mbonambi. Journal of Business Ethics, September 2002, Volume 39, Issue 3, Pages 275–296.

Narula, S.A., Magray, M.A. & Desore, A., 2017, A sustainable livelihood framework to implement CSR project in coal mining sector.  Journal of Sustainable Mining, Volume 16, Issue 3, 2017, Pages 83-93.

Petkoski, D. & Twose, N.(eds.), 2003, Public Policy for Corporate Social Responsibility. Pdf version of document available from http://web.worldbank.org/archive/website01006/WEB/IMAGES/PUBLICPO.PDF. Accessed 25 June 2019.

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Comparison of Coal-bed Methane to Other Energy Resources

Comparison of Coal-bed Methane to Other Energy Resources

By Jurie Steyn


Our team has been working on a coal-bed methane (CBM) to power project in Botswana for many months.  The other day, a colleague asked me just how clean an energy source CBM really is.  A simple enough question, but perhaps not so easy to answer.

The only way to do this, is to compare the environmental and social impacts of CBM to that of other, non-renewable, energy resources.  Even then, one must keep in mind that every energy project is unique in terms of scope, location and impact.  Any direct comparison of energy resources will thus depend on some level of generalisation.

Although there are many different energy resources, I’ve decided to limit my comparison to the following five:

  • Coal and coal mining;
  • Oil extraction from reservoirs;
  • Coal-bed methane (CBM) from coal seams;
  • Shale gas (SG) from shale formations; and
  • Conventional gas (CG).

In this article, I’ll describe each of these resources briefly, consider some energy predictions, give an overview of the approach followed for the comparison, and present the findings.  Having spent 40 years in the petrochemical and energy industries, I feel confident that I have the experience to attempt a comparison of this nature.

Energy predictions

Global economic growth is partly supported by population growth, but is primarily driven by increasing prosperity in developing economies, led by China and India (BP plc, 2019).  BP plc (2019), in their latest Energy Outlook, predicts a steady growth in primary energy consumption to fuel this growth over the next 20 years, in what they refer to as the Evolving Transition scenario, as shown in Figure 1.

Note: 1 toe = 1 ton oil equivalent = 1 metric ton of oil = 1.4 metric tons of coal = 1270 m3of natural gas = 11.63 megawatt-hour (MWh) = 41.868 gigajoules (GJ).

Figure 1:  Primary energy consumption by fuel (BP plc, 2019)

Coal consumption is expected to decline by 0.1% per annum over the period, with its importance in the global energy system declining to its lowest level since before the industrial revolution.  This is supported by the fact that it is extremely difficult to obtain finance for energy projects based on coal.

BP plc (2019) estimates that renewables and natural gas will account for almost 85% of the growth in primary energy.  Renewable energy is expected to grow at 7.1% per annum and is the fastest growing source of energy.  Natural gas, at 1.7% growth per annum, grows much faster than either oil or coal, and overtakes coal to be the second largest source of global energy by 2040.  Oil consumption is expected to increase at 0.3% per annum over the next 10 to 15 years, before plateauing in the 2030s.

Calculating the percentage, or share, contribution of each or the energy sources of the total energy demand, allows one to generate Figure 2. Figure 2 more clearly shows the actual and anticipated decline in the share of total primary energy of coal and oil. Figure 2 also shows the actual and anticipated rise in the shares of natural gas and renewable energy.  The natural gas share represents the total of conventional gas, coal-bed methane and shale gas.

Figure 2: Shares of total primary energy (BP plc, 2019)

Description of energy resources

Coal and coal mining

Coal is a solid fossil fuel that was formed in several stages as the buried remains of land plants that lived 300 to 400 million years ago were subjected to intense heat and pressure over many millions of years. Coal is mostly carbon (C) but contains small amounts of sulphur (S), which are released into the air as sulphur dioxide (SO2) when the coal burns. Burning coal also releases large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and trace amounts of mercury and radioactive materials.

Coal can be mined from underground mines using a bord and pillar approach, where pillars of coal are left standing to support the roof structure, or with a continuous miner, where all the coal in the seam is extracted and the roof is permitted to collapse behind the mined-out area.  Coal can also be mined from open-cast mines where the covering layers of topsoil and rock are removed by drag-lines to expose the coal seams for blasting and collection.  An alternative to the latter approach is strip mining, where the coal is sequentially exposed in narrow bands, to reduce the environmental impact.Geological conditions determine the most cost-effective method of mining. 

Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Coal miners are exposed to noise and dust and face the dangers of cave-ins and explosions at work.  Note that in this comparison, only the environmental and social impacts of the mining, preparation and storage of coal are considered, not including the downstream impacts of coal utilisation.

Oil extraction from reservoirs

Crude oil is found in underground pockets called reservoirs. Oil slowly seeps out from where it was formed millions of years ago and migrates toward the Earth’s surface. It continues this upward movement until it encounters a layer of rock that is impermeable. The oil then collects in reservoirs, which can be several thousand meters below the surface of the Earth.  Crude oil is frequently found in reservoirs along with natural gas. In the past, natural gas was either burned or allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

Drilling for oil, both on land and at sea, is disruptive to the environment and can destroy natural habitats. Drilling muds are used for the lubrication and cooling of the drill bit and pipe. The muds also remove the cuttings that come from the bottom of the oil well and help prevent blowouts by acting as a sealant. There are different types of drilling muds used in oil drilling operations, but all release toxic chemicals that can affect land and marine life.  Additionally, pipes to gather oil, roads and stations, and other accessory structures necessary for extracting oil compromise even larger portions of habitats. Oil platforms can cause enormous environmental disasters. Problems with the drilling equipment can cause the oil to leak out of the well and into the ocean. Repairing the well hundreds of meters below the ocean is extremely difficult, expensive, and slow. Millions of barrels of oil can spill into the ocean before the well is plugged.

Sulphur is the most common undesirable contaminant of crude oils, because its combustion generates sulphur dioxide, a leading precursor of acid rain. ‘Sour’ oils have more than 2% of sulphur, while ‘sweet’ crude oils have less than 0.5%, with some of them (especially oils from Nigeria, Australia and Indonesia) having less than 0.05% S.

Most oil spills are the result of accidents at oil wells or on the pipelines, ships, trains, and trucks that move oil from wells to refineries. Oil spills contaminate soil and water and may cause devastating explosions and fires. Many governments and industry are developing standards, regulations, and procedures to reduce the potential for accidents and spills and to clean up spills when they occur.

CBM from coal seams

Methane recovered from coal beds is referred to as CBM and is a type of natural gas that is trapped in coal seams. CBM is formed by microbial activity during coalification and early burial of organic rich sediments (biogenic process) and by thermal generation at higher temperatures with increasing depth of burial (thermogenic process). Methane is held in the coal seam by adsorption to the coal, combined with hydrostatic pressure of water in the coal cleats (cleats are natural fractures in coal). Production is accomplished by reducing the water pressure, allowing methane to be released from the cleat faces and micro-pores in the coal.

Coals have moderate intrinsic porosity, yet they can store up to six times more gas than an equivalent volume of sandstone at a similar pressure. Gas-storage capacity is determined primarily by a coal’s rank. Higher-rank coals, bituminous and anthracite, have the greatest potential for methane storage. CBM is extracted by drilling wells into the coal bed of coal seams of up to 500 m deep, that are not economical to mine.

Concerns over CBM production stem from the need to withdraw large volumes of groundwater to decrease coal seam hydrostatic pressure, allowing release of methane gas.  This water may contain high levels of dissolved salts and must be treated. In some cases, the coal seam is stimulated by limited hydraulic fracturing in order to improve methane movement to the well. Surface disturbances, in the form of roads, drilling pads, pipelines and production facilities impact regions where CBM extraction is being developed.  Subsurface effects from typical CBM extraction practices must also be considered. Because of the shallow depth of many CBM basins, the potential exists that well stimulation may result in fractures growing out of the coal seam and affecting freshwater aquifers.

Proper environmental management practices can minimise the effects of CBM production and make it more socially acceptable.  Innovative drilling technologies reduce damage to the surface. Better understanding of the surrounding rock properties improves stimulation practices. These options, plus responsible management of produced water, will lessen the impact of CBM extraction on existing ecosystems.

SG from shale formations

Shale gas (SG) is a form of natural gas found in sedimentary rock, called shale, which is composed of many tiny layers or laminations. Gas yield per well is low compared to conventional gas wells and many more wells are typically required for the same volume of gas production. 

SG is extracted from shale formations of between 1 and 4 km below the earth’s surface.  Because of the low permeability of shale rock, SG wells are drilled horizontally along the shale beds and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the shale is always required to liberate the gas and create channels for it to flow through.  Fracking involves the injection of fracking fluid (water, sand, gel, enzyme breakers, surfactants, bactericides, scale inhibitors and other chemicals) at high pressure down and across the horizontally drilled wells.  The pressurised mixture causes the shale to crack.  The fissures so created, are held open by the sand in the fracking fluid. 

Fracking of shale rock requires much larger volumes and chemical loading than the hydraulic stimulation of CBM seams.  The vertical growth of fissures can be up to 100m, compared to 4 to 10m for CBM. However, SG is typically extracted significantly deeper than CBM and, provided the geology and hydrogeology of the region is understood and considered in the fracking process, this need not have any detrimental effects on the surface or the potable water aquifers.

Surface disturbances in the form of roads, drilling pads, pipelines and production facilities, impact regions where SG extraction is being developed. The expected life of an SG well is much shorter than that of a CBM well.

Conventional gas

Natural gas obtained by drilling into gas reserves, is referred to as conventional gas (CG), to distinguish it from CBM or SG (unconventional gases). CG is trapped in porous and permeable geological formations such as sandstone, siltstone, and carbonates beneath impermeable rock. Natural gas was not formed in the rock formations, but has migrated and accumulated there. Conventional natural gas extraction does not require specialized technology and can be accessed from a single vertical well.  It is relatively easy and cheap to produce, as the natural gas flows to the surface unaided by pumps or compressors.

Natural gas deposits are often found near oil deposits, or with oil deposits in the same reservoir. Deeper deposits, formed at higher temperatures and under more pressure, have more natural gas than oil. The deepest deposits can be made up of pure natural gas. Natural gas is primarily methane, but it almost always contains traces of heavier hydrocarbon molecules like ethane, propane, butane and benzene. The non-methane hydrocarbons are generally referred to as ‘natural gas liquids’ (NGL), even though some of them remain gases at room temperature. NGL are valuable commodities and must be extracted, along with other impurities, before the gas is considered ‘pipeline quality.’

The benefit of CG is that it is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels. The combustion of natural gas produces negligible amounts of sulphur, mercury, and particulates. Burning natural gas does produce nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are precursors to smog, but at lower levels than fuels used for motor vehicles.

Approach followed for comparison

Parameters for comparison

The different energy resources were compared using 12 different parameters divided into two categories.  The first category consists of environmental parameters, as follows:

  • Air Pollution: This covers dust generation, greenhouse gas emissions during production and contribution to acid rain;
  • Water pollution: This considers the potential impact of the operation on surface waters and the effect on water users;
  • Groundwater impacts:The potential for cross contamination of water aquifers and the depletion of groundwater sources and its impact on current users;
  • Soil pollution: Potential impact of the operations on soil quality and use.  Does it impact the ability of the soil to be used for irrigation and livestock farming;
  • Visual impacts: This considers the overall size, longevity, lighting and dust impact of the operation on passers-by;
  • Biodiversity: The potential impact of the operation on the surrounding ecosystems, flora and fauna.

The second category consists of social, and socio-economic parameters, as follows:

  • Health risks: Are health risks to the workers and community due to the impacts the operation, identified and properly understood, and can these be mitigated;
  • Noise impact: Is noise from the operation expected to be a nuisance to the surrounding communities
  • Worker safety: What is the safety performance of similar operations elsewhere in terms of worker fatalities and disabling injuries;
  • Cultural impacts: What is the potential of the operation to impact on areas of high cultural significance to indigenous people;
  • Infrastructure: What infrastructure (roads, schools, clinics, fire station, etc.) is required to support the operation and what will it contribute to the community; and
  • Job creation: How many direct and indirect jobs will result from the operation and how sustainable is it.  In this case, more is better.

Forced ranking

An approach of forced ranking was used, whereby the different energy sources were ranked from best to worst for each of the 12 parameters described above. The best performer for each parameter was given a score of one and the worst performer a score of five.  Those in between, were given scores of two, three and four, depending on their rank.

In exceptional cases, where the impact of two, or more, of the sources were considered to have comparable impacts, the individual scores in question were totalised and averaged.  In other words, if energy sources ranked in positions two and three were considered to have almost identical impacts, each would be allocated a score of 2,5.

Elimination of bias

In any comparison, the elimination of bias is essential.  One way to reduce bias is to evaluate the different options against many parameters, as was done with the 12 parameters described above. 

Another way is to use several assessors, say four to six, when doing the evaluation, and reaching consensus on the ranking.  However, in this case it was not done and therefore I’m the only one to blame if my findings do not correspond with your opinions.  I have tried to be as fair as possible in ranking the energy sources.

Discussion of findings

The results of the evaluation of the energy sources against the environmental parameters are presented in Figure 3 as a 3-D column chart.  Remember that the impacts are not given absolute values, but results based on the ranking process.

Figure 3: Environmental impact assessment for various energy sources

From Figure 3, it is obvious that coal and oil score badly in terms of impact on the environment.  This is followed by natural gas from different sources, with conventional gas assessed as having the least impact.  CBM has a lower environmental impact for most parameters than SG, but because it is accompanied by high yields of mostly saline water from relatively shallow wells, the impact on the water and soil could be greater.

The results of the evaluation of the energy sources against the social and socio-economic parameters are presented in Figure 4. From Figure 4, the picture is not so clear.  Coal and oil again score the highest for most of the parameters considered.  However, in terms of number of jobs created and associated infrastructure requirements, they score the lowest, which means they require more personnel (a positive) and infrastructure.  CG is considered more dangerous than CBM and SG, because of the higher operating pressure and the known cases of blowouts.

The cumulative impacts of the energy sources are presented in Figure 5. In this case, the total score for the six environmental parameters for each of the energy sources was calculated and plotted. Similarly, for the six social parameters.  Lastly, the total score as shown by the grey column in Figure 5 reflect the totals for the environmental impacts’ score plus the social impacts’ score.  Coal is shown to be the least desirable source, followed by oil, SG, CBM, and CG.

Figure 4: Social impact comparison for various energy resources

Figure 5: Cumulative impacts of energy sources

Concluding remarks

Natural gas remains the energy source with the lowest negative social and environmental impacts.  Therefore, natural gas, is estimated to grow at 1.7% per annum, i.e. much faster than either oil or coal, and overtakes coal to be the second largest source of global energy by 2040 (BP plc, 2019).  Natural gas is a combination of CG, CBM and SG.  CG recovery is the overall winner in this comparison with the lowest social and environmental impacts.  In the second position we have CBM, followed by SG.  Even though SG is normally recovered at greater depths than CBM, the extent of fracking required to release the methane in shale is significantly more extensive.

Next in line is oil recovery from geological reservoirs. This is understandable when one considers the oil-related environmental disasters we have witnessed.  Associated gas is also continuously flared from drilling operations.  However, low yielding (i.e. nearly emptied) oil reservoirs can be used as a suitable geological formation for storage of carbon dioxide.  The action of injecting carbon dioxide into a low yielding well will temporarily boost oil production from such a reservoir.

It comes as no surprise that coal is the energy source with the greatest negative impact on the environment.  In terms of negative social impact, it also rates the highest, but by a very small margin.  This result helps us understand the current furore over coal and the difficulty to obtain finance for coal-based projects.


BP plc, 2019, BP energy outlook, 2019 edition.  Electronic document available from https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/news-and-insights/reports-and-publications.html.Downloaded on 10 April 2019.

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Can Anybody be a Project Manager?

Can Anybody be a Project Manager?

By Koos Taljaard

Opening remarks

Can anybody be a project manager?  The easy answer is yes, everyone can be a project manager, and probably already is: everyone uses project management skills in their day-to-day personal and working life as they are doing ‘projects’ all the time.

The more pertinent question is, if everyone can be an effective project manager, and do they require a different set of skills to manage projects?  To answer the question, it is important to understand what a project is and in so doing better understand what project managers are required to do, their required skill sets and knowledge attributes.

The objective of project management is to complete projects which comply with the client’s business objectives. According to the PMI PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2017) a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. A project is thus temporary in that it has a defined start and finish date, and therefore defined scope and resources (including cost). A project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. Project teams often include people who don’t usually work together, people from different organisations and across multiple geographies, bringing their own systems, cultures and aspirations.

Projects and project management

Examples of projects can include the development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market, and the establishment of a new petrochemical complex. This stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services.

Project management then, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet specific project requirements. Projects must be expertly managed to deliver results on-time and on-budget, with minimal or no scope changes, whilst still meeting the original strategic intent or business need.

Many tend to think of project management as a new approach for growth and development. However, project management has been around for thousands of years and was involved in the planning, coordination, and construction of the Ancient Wonders of the World. Throughout the history of project management, the basic principles of project management have always remained the same. In the late 19th century, the need for more structure in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors gave rise to the modern project management tactics we use today. However, it must be remembered that although project management has always been practiced informally, it only began to emerge as a distinct profession in the mid-20th century.

In today’s fast-paced business world, the need for effective project management has become a necessity rather than a luxury. Any formal project, unlike a random set of tasks, requires professional management, and implies teamwork and accountability to finish on time, on budget, and meet quality requirements. Therefore, we have at least two essential roles: the people doing the actual project work and delivering the required outcomes, the team members, and the person directing and leading the project work whilst ensuring that management goals are met, the project manager.

The project manager function

Though specific responsibilities vary depending on industry and project type, a project manager is broadly defined as someone who leads the larger-scale projects, doing everything from ensuring clarity around the scope of work, to onboarding and educating other individuals essential to the project, to project coordination, managing the timelines, scope and budgets associated with the undertaking.

Project managers work closely with individuals of different organisations, ranks, departments and stakeholders, thereby ensuring effective planning, coordinating the efficient and flow of information among all project stakeholders. Depending on the industry and organisational structure, projects managers may either focus on a single project at a time or manage multiple projects with their respective timelines and responsibilities.

As you can probably tell by the description, this role is essential in nearly all industries and fields of work, meaning the actual types of projects managed can take nearly any shape and form. Most project managers, however, choose to specialise in a specific industry to ensure they’re equipped to handle its unique challenges.

The job of a project manager includes three broad areas:

  • Assuming responsibility for the project as a whole;
  • Employing relevant project management processes; and
  • Leading the team.

Skills required

To understand what an effective project manager is, we need to unpack the skills and attributes of a project manager. The key and most important skills required to be an effective project manager are:

  • Strong leadership: Effective project management means having strong leadership qualities such as being able to motivate the team and other stakeholders and lead /direct them to maximum performance, so that they can achieve challenging project goals;
  • Competence:Good project managers can initiate new projects as well as face the challenges that come with it.  They follow a formal stage-gated process and are fully competent with the requirements of all project steps during the different project stages;
  • Project management technical expertise:Since project management software systems, procedures and other related programs are essential in accomplishing the project goals, an effective project manager needs to have sound technical project management knowledge to understand the issues that are related to the technical aspect. You need good processes and project systems to be effective as your projects get larger;
  • Communication skills: Good project managers are good communicators so that they can connect with people at all levels inside or outside their organisation. The project manager must clearly explain the project goals as well as each member’s tasks, responsibilities, expectations and feedback. By some estimates, more than 50% of a project manager’s time is spent in some aspect of communication. This includes meetings, status reporting, emails, phone calls, coordinating, talking to people, and completing documentation. Some studies have even suggested that verbal and written communication takes up 80% of the job;
  • People and team-building skills:It is necessary that a team works in unison, otherwise the project will undergo various relationship challenges that might hinder its success. Project managers must make each of their team members realise the importance of their contribution and focus on their positive traits. He must be fair and just in the way he treats team members. If you prefer to stay in your office and focus on your own work, you may not have the collaborative ability to be a good project manager. Effective project managers need to spend a lot of time with clients, stakeholders, and team members;
  • Decision-making skills: An effective project manager needs to have decision-making skills because there will always be decisions that need to be acted on, often with time constraints;
  • Coordination and delegation skills: Many people like to work on the project details. We need people like that. But when you’re a project manager, you must rise above the details and become more of a delegator and coordinator. You must be able to rely on others for much of the detailed work, but must still be able to do the mundane and detail work when required;
  • People management skills: To be a good project manager, you need to be able to manage people. You won’t have 100% responsibility for staff members, but you will need to show leadership, hold them accountable, manage conflict, etc. Some project managers say they could do a much better job if they didn’t have to deal with people. If that’s how you feel, project management is probably not for you;
  • Planning and execution skills:When a client gives you a project, what is your immediate inclination? If your first thought is to get a team together to start executing the work, you may not have a project management mindset. If you don’t want to spend enough time to be sure you understand what is required, and what is the best approach to achieve results, the role of project manager is likely a bad fit for you;
  • Organising skills:People who have poor personal organisational skills and techniques usually don’t make good project managers. If you’re going to manage multiple people over a period, you must be organised, so you can ensure that everyone is doing what they should be doing as efficiently as possible; and
  • Reporting skills:You don’t have to love reporting status and progress to be a good project manager, but you can’t hate it either. Most, if not all, aspects of project management require extensive documentation and document control, including project charters, execution plans, status reporting, communication plans and scope change management.

The process of becoming a project manager is unique because there isn’t one single prescribed path to becoming one. Some decide they want to be a project manager and take classes and get a project management qualification, while others, with unrelated degrees or experience, find themselves taking on the responsibilities of a project manager with no formal project management training.

Attributes required

Over and above skills which can be learned, developed and improved, effective project managers require specific inherent attributes. Here are some attributes of good project managers:

  • Get to know their team and how they work: Understand that a project isn’t about the project manager. He understands that knowing how to communicate with the project team and establishing a system that works for everyone is crucial to the project’s success. With a structure that accommodates the team, he gets everyone on board to focus on what’s important;
  • Inspire a shared vision:An effective project manager understands the project’s vision very well and can articulate the vision to his team members and other stakeholders. A visionary person can lead his people to the right direction as well as easily adapt to the changes that come along the way. They are good at enabling people to experience the vision as their own;
  • Keep stakeholders in the loop: The project manager continuously communicates with all stakeholders verbally and in writing. He looks forward to coordination sessions with his team to talk about what’s happening, what has been accomplished, and what steps to take next;
  • Identify and establish parameters: The project manager makes sure that everyone understands the project objectives and works within the agreed and approved scope of the project. This way, he can set reasonable expectations, feasible tasks and goals;
  • Present and prepared for anything: As deadlines approach, the project manager checks in regularly to see if the team will be able to deliver on time and if there are questions or problems that need to be addressed. He is ready to deal with the pressure of delivering on time, even if it means realising mistakes have been made, and doing everything possible to correct them;
  • Confidently speak on behalf of the team: Clients will want the project manager on the phone or at a meeting at any time to discuss progress, updates, and changes that need to be made. Because the project has a well-defined scope and the project manager has checked in with his team on a regular basis, he will be able to take those calls or attend client meetings with the relevant information to share;
  • Not easily swayed: A client, partner, or team member may approach and present the project manager or team members with new ideas, requirements, or questions. The project manager needs to be open to hearing these new ideas, but make sure to keep in mind the original scope of work and project requirements. If they align or improve on the original scope in terms of safety performance, he is willing to discuss things further. If not, he is not afraid to turn down those ideas and present valid reasons for doing so;
  • Seek out and consult with subject matter experts: Effective project managers know their own limitations. They know that when clients have specific concerns, to seek out knowledgeable people and consult with them. The project manager thereby acknowledges that, with their level of experience and knowledge, the subject matter experts are the best people to answer those questions; and
  • Encourage and congratulate others for a job well done: The role as a project manager goes beyond monitoring progress and checking in on deadlines. He “owns and supports the process” of putting together and bringing the project to fruition. He cheers his team members on and congratulates them for every successful milestone achieved, yet at the same time he is not afraid to ask questions or raise issues that he may anticipate.

Thus, project management is far more than just management. If you haven’t already guessed it, these attributes show that project management isn’t solely about managerial skills and know-how.

Comparing Project Management and General Management

There are strong views that any good general/operational/technical manager will always be a good project manager and vice versa. This is not true, and it is a rarity for a person to have the skills and attributes to be able to effectively manage both types of work.

A general/operational/technical manager has a wider scope of responsibility than the project manager, and the operations/technical role is permanent while the project manager role is temporary. Operational management is an ongoing function in an organisation that performs activities that produce products or services. Operations are ongoing; some examples include accounting and human resources. An organisation needs those roles no matter what initiative(s) they may be working on.

The very fact that the role of a project manager is temporary implies that a project team is basically a ‘short-term’ association. In a fixed operations/technical management team, the team members report directly to the manager who leads that team and those member roles in the team will generally be long-term. The manager is responsible for creating good team work and setting the norms and behaviours of the team. He/she needs to build trust and respect in the team, encourage the sharing of information, opinions and feelings for the benefit of the team, and set targets to appraise the performance of the team members.

A project team will consist of people from different departments across different sites of the organisation and/or contracting establishments. Sometimes, project team members may still report to their functional departmental manager, as well as reporting to the project manager. As the priorities of the other departmental managers change, the project team’s stability can waver, but it should never compromise the project outcomes. Where team member report to more than one manager, appraisal of his or her work may pose problems. Here the project manager needs to find the right balance between constructive team building initiatives with an emphasis on open and honest communication.

The skills needed by the project manager are different to those needed by operational managers. General differences between general/operational/technical management and project management are shown in Table 1.  Simply put, project management is unique and highly planned, yet unpredictable. The principal difference between project management and operational management is that the project manager has a temporary role, which leads to some specific differences and difficulty in the case of team building effort.

Insight 061 - Table 1

Table 1: General/operational/technical management vs. project management

Personality types best suited to project management

What personality type fits best into project management? It will depend largely on the type, scale of the project and the experience of the project team. There are many models used to describe personalities. One of the most prevalent is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2019). Based on the answers to the questions on the questionnaire, people are identified as having one of 16 personality types. The goal of the MBTI is to allow respondents to further explore and understand their own personalities including their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, possible career preferences, and compatibility with other people. 

The questionnaire itself is made up of four different scales, namely:

  • Extraversion – Introversion: Projects are about people and teams, so good project managers tend to be at least somewhat extroverted. Introverted project managers may find their projects wandering out of control because they are insufficiently engaged with the people responsible for the work;
  • Sensing – Intuition: A second scale considers the dichotomy between a preference for observable data and a preference for intuitive information. Projects are best managed using measurable facts that can be verified and tested;
  • Thinking – Feeling: A third scale relates to whether decisions are based on logical objective analysis or on feelings and values. Projects, especially technical projects, proceed most smoothly when decisions are based on consistent, analytical criteria; and
  • Judging – Perceiving: The fourth MBTI scale is the one most strongly aligned with project management, and it describes how individuals conduct their affairs. On one extreme is the individual who plans and organises what must be done, which is what project management is mostly about. On the other extreme is the individual who prefers to be spontaneous and flexible. Projects run by these ‘free spirits’ tend to be chaotic nightmares and may never reach completion.

Project managers need to be ‘technical enough’. For small, technical projects, it is common for the project leader to be a highly technical subject matter expert. For larger programs, project managers are seldom masters of every technical detail, but generally they are knowledgeable enough to ensure that communications are clear and that status can be verified. On small, technical projects, the project manager may be a technical guru, but that becomes much less important and often problematic as the work grows. Large-scale projects require an effective leader who can motivate people and delegate the work to those who understand the technical details.

Finally, good project managers are upbeat and optimistic. They always need to be liked (mostly not, however) and trusted by project sponsors and upper management to be successful. They communicate progress honestly, even when a project runs into trouble. Retaining the confidence of your stakeholders in times of trouble also requires communicating credible strategies for recovery. Effective leaders meet challenges with an assumption that there is a solution. With a positive attitude, often, they find one.

Closing remarks

Although the processes of effective project management have only been recognised for around 50 years, project management has been around since the dawn of mankind. From amazing feats of engineering and construction in ancient times to the complex projects we see today, the history of project management is vast, extensive, and ever-growing.

It can clearly be seen that the project manager requires a very wide skills base to be effective, making them more of a generalist than a specialist. Many of these skills cannot be taught and are revealed more naturally in the person. Training will enhance and improve these skills. However, project management is not for everyone. Many people have some of the traits to be a good project manager, but they may also have qualities that make them a bad fit for the position.

Project management, especially for larger projects, is a highly demanding and a time-consuming job. The project manager needs to be skillful and experienced in a wide sphere of the working environment, from very strong leadership, communication and people skills to very strong project and technical skills.

Effective project managers have a lot in common with all good managers. Good project managers are people oriented and will quickly establish effective working relationships with their team members. However, the skills required is very wide ranging and somewhat different from normal management.  Project management is definitely not for everybody.

A quote to consider when contemplating this career path is the following by Tom Kendrick (2011): “Everyone cannot be an effective project manager, and not all project managers will be successful in all types of projects, but if you believe you have the traits described above go for it. It will be very challenging and most times rewarding”.


Kendrick T.,2011, 101 Project management problems and how to solve them. Published by AMACOM.

Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2019, MTBI basics. Available from https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1.Accessed on 28 April 2019.

PMI, 2017, A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide), 6th edition, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA.  


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