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FROM THE EDITOR
NEW WAYS TO
SKIN A CAT
With apologies to cat lovers everywhere, time and again we see proof that there is more
than one way to skin a cat. One example
is in the innovative way new technologies
have redefined oil production and the
Until recently, the price of oil was controlled by the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries, which gave a handful of oil-producing nations geopolitical
leverage over the rest of the world. But
several new occurrences, including the
shale oil revolution in the United States,
have dramatically altered the global
energy landscape. For now, there is a
“new oil order” spurred by technologies
that have proven to be transformational.
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have pushed U.S. oil output to its
highest level since the 1980s.
OPEC now is afraid that demand for its
crude will keep falling as North American supply grows and makes its way to
the global markets as U.S. export barriers fall.
Hydraulic fracturing is one reason
for the shift—and some of the leading
experts on the technology will convene
at ASME’s Hydraulic Fracturing 2015
conference in Houston this month (visit
asme.org for details)—but the process of
extracting oil this way has not been met
with universal endorsement.
Critics mostly worry about water. Contributor Mark Crawford points out in this
month’s cover story, beginning on page
30, that a typical hydraulic fracturing job
requires between 2 million and 5 million
gallons of water per well. The problem
that emerges from this is twofold. First
there’s the issue of depleting groundwa-
ter resources, and then there is the fear
that the chemical alchemy that is poured
into the water to reduce friction and the
growth of bacteria and corrosion will pol-
lute local aquifers.
A solution may be in sight as some
companies have found ways to “frack”
with less water or no water at all. But
Crawford reports that less than 3 percent of the fracturing jobs in the U.S.
are waterless. That could change if U.S.
companies take a page out of Canada’s
playbook, where about 25 percent of the
fracturing jobs use waterless processes.
Technologies such as hydraulic fracturing are evolving as engineers continue
to search for better ways to extract oil,
build up supply, and reduce reliance on
OPEC. To me that’s an example of using
technology innovation to re-skin a timeworn economic model.
A sad note…
Robert E. Nickell, the long-time chair
of the Mechanical Engineering Magazine
Editorial Advisory Board, an ASME past
president, a devoted and engaged volunteer of the Society, and a friend, passed
away due to complications related to a
recent battle with cancer.
Nickell’s contributions to ASME and
to global safety standards cannot be
overstated. He was a man whose intellect
was matched only by his leadership, his
wisdom, and his passions. He was passionate about his family and his friends,
as well as his beloved profession and
It is often a cliché to say that one
individual truly touched many lives. In the
case of Bob Nickell, the statement could
not be more fitting. Those of us who
knew him feel a deep personal loss. To
read more about Bob visit asme.org. ME
Tell me what
you think about
John G. Falcioni