Penn State researcher named to Colombian commission on shale energy development

Francisco Tutella
April 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The National Hydrocarbon Agency of Colombia appointed Dave Yoxtheimer, assistant research professor in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute and extension associate with the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, to a commission of experts tasked with providing an independent and objective analysis of shale energy development in the country. The commission delivered its report at a public meeting in Bogota in February.

“Colombia has a conventional oil and gas industry, but as production drops off and the population continues to grow, government officials are seeking alternatives, including developing the country’s shale resources,” Yoxtheimer said.

Yoxtheimer, a hydrogeologist, brought insight on lessons learned from hydraulic fracturing development in the United States to the 13-person commission.  

“Colombia is able to learn from what happened with U.S. shale energy development and avoid some of the pitfalls that can occur during the early stages of exploration and development,” he said. “They get the benefit of what we have already learned and are better poised to minimize the various potential risks.”

The commission looked at the various issues that often surround energy development and some that are unique to shale energy development. Those issues include environmental concerns, energy security, positive and negative economic impacts, the institutional capacity to oversee a shale energy development program, and health impacts, Yoxtheimer said.

The commission worked on an aggressive, three-month deadline to produce the report for the government and issued recommendations for potential shale energy exploration work in Colombia. Exploration work involves drilling a small number of assessment wells to understand the geologic setting and properties of the shale and then deciding whether to pursue full-scale shale energy development, Yoxtheimer said.

Some stakeholders raised concerns over the brief amount of time the government gave the commission to complete its report. Yoxtheimer said the commission’s goal was to look at the available literature and data from around the world and base its recommendations off that information, and they achieved this goal.

Dave Yoxtheimer pictured atop Monserrate, Bogota, Colombia

Dave Yoxtheimer pictured atop in Monserrate, Bogota, Colombia.

IMAGE: Dave Yoxtheimer

“The other American on the commission and I come from states that had conventional oil and gas industries, and when the opportunity for drilling into shale formations came, it just started to occur,” Yoxtheimer said. “The regulations did not match the field practices, so it took several years for the regulations and the regulators to catch up with the unique issues that the shale energy industry presents and how to close those gaps. Colombia is identifying the necessary regulations first and allowing initial exploration work to take place. Then they will determine how to adjust the regulations if the country decides to go with full-scale production.”

The commission recommended that Colombia proceed with initial exploration work on a controlled level. However, they recommended officials monitor the environment, collect baseline data, keep the public informed, and be transparent in order to proceed. The commission said once the country has completed that initial phase, the government can decide whether to allow the industry to proceed and what policies are needed to minimize the environmental impacts and maximize the social benefits.

Yoxtheimer said it is important to share lessons learned from shale drilling in the United States with other countries.

“The market is global, and whatever is emitted in one country will blow around the world and end up here,” he said. “We are all in it together. Penn State is a global university and positioning itself to become the energy university. If we can help another country do something better, if countries can develop their own resources, generate their own incomes, provide jobs, and ensure a level of economic and political stability for their people, it keeps the world a little more peaceful and is better for everybody.”

The U.S. government funded Yoxtheimer’s travel.

Last Updated April 08, 2019