Yuzivka: between fakes and the truth of Ukraine’s gas independence

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When it comes to gas production in the Donbas, Russia, usually completely indifferent to environmental issues, suddenly demonstrates a heightened ecological thinking. And it begins to frighten with all sorts of disasters. The goal of these horror stories is the same – to preserve Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy resources.

In Ukraine, the largest gas fields are already depleted by 80-85%. At the same time, it still has significant undiscovered gas reserves located in hard-to-reach areas or solid rock. In particular, the exploitation of the Yuzivska gas field in the Donetsk and Kharkiv Oblasts in the future will provide a large amount of investment, create new jobs, and replenish local budgets with taxes. However, Russia is trying to prevent this, because it is interested in Ukraine being weak and dependent.

It has its own helpers in Ukraine. So, on December 13, the OPFL issued a statement on its official website that claimed that “the Donbas is threatened with an environmental catastrophe due to river pollution in connection with shale gas production.”

In addition to the fact that shale gas is not yet produced in the Donbas, according to data, the release of toxins occurred in the Kharkiv Oblast, above the city of Izium. Therefore, it is not related to the extraction of gas from dense rocks. However, this does not prevent pro-Russian politicians from spreading panic by speaking out against the production of gas that Ukraine needs so much.

“Condemn the Slavs to slow extinction”

How did the war in Donbas begin? In objective reality, it began with the capture on April 12, 2014, by a group of militants under the command of former FSB colonel Igor Girkin (Strelkov). Of course, this could not be a private initiative: the armed conflict on the border with Russia with the participation of its citizens could not begin without the Kremlin’s command.

But Moscow propaganda made up incredible stories about it. On the one hand, to cover the direct guilt for unleashing the war, and on the other, to turn the local population against Ukraine.

One of these stories was already ready. Even when the team of fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych was looking for alternative ways to get gas, and to do it they signed contacts with Shell for the production of dense rock gas in the Donbas, pro-Russian forces in Ukraine launched a protest campaign, which in 2013 was held under slogans like “Shale gas will kill the Donbas.”

This campaign could compete with horror stories related to vaccination against COVID-19 in a contest for the most absurd horrors. For example, one of the manifestos claimed that the true purpose of these treaties is to “poison the ground, surface waters, the Siversky Donets River and the Sea of Azov” to “condemn to the slow extinction of several million Slavs: residents of the Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk Oblasts, the Lower Don as potential opponents of the future confrontation of the China–Russia empires against America.”

After the beginning of the aggression in the Donbas, this fake was used again. And it was broadcast in different variations.

“In 2013, in Davos, Yanukovych signed an agreement with Shell on “the Yuzivskyi project,” that is, on shale gas production in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. During shale gas production, Ukraine can be provided with 50% of its own gas… Mass protests of residents of the Southeast against Shell began a year ago, work was suspended. However, after the director of the CIA visited the Kyiv authorities, the Ukrainian leadership launched a military operation against the Southeast of Ukraine. The war against the DPR, especially the brutal shelling and bombing of settlements, is only a way to destroy and evict one hundred thousand residents of Donbas who are protesting against the poisoning of groundwater, soil, and air of their native land.” (A. Shoykhet, a Russian-speaking Israeli publicist. July 2014)

“Viktor Yanukovych, while he was president of Ukraine, sold the land of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts to world giants, Chevron and Shell, for shale gas production. As a result, it is important to simply clear the territory of the population so that it does not get in the way, and no one gets compensation. People cannot live where shale gas is extracted, which means that entire cities would have to be resettled in the Donbas. War is cheaper.” (Giulietto Chiesa, now a deceased Italian communist, closely associated with the USSR, and then with Russia. September 2014)

According to this logic, if we stick to the facts, Yanukovych, who signed the agreement, was an American agent. Also, an American agent was Girkin (Strelkov), who created casus belli, a pretext for war. And the Kremlin, it turns out, is also full of American agents, because without a direct invasion of Russian troops, the war in Donbas would have ended before it began.

“A surprise twist”

At the same time, Russia Gazprom took an entirely different view, rejecting the idea that the war in Donbas is somehow connected with gas. In Ukraine, they say, there is no shale gas at all, and if there is, then its production is not profitable.

That is what the Gazprom corporate magazine wrote in July 2014: “Recently, there has been an unexpected turn in the topic of shale gas. First, there are numerous reports that the war in Ukraine is going on because of shale gas deposits… If we talk about shale gas in Ukraine, it is not yet clear at all whether it is there or not; they are only looking for it, but to no avail. There is a high probability that profitable shale gas reserves on the territory of Ukraine will not be identified.”

This should be understood as the fact that Gazprom would very much not want Ukraine to have additional sources of energy production. Although, they unwittingly told the truth. There is no shale gas production in Ukraine. Its reserves are not confirmed. Their search and extraction are not economically feasible. We will explain exactly what kind of gas they plan to produce in the Donbas below.

Some Russian propagandists have managed to combine both narratives: in fact, there are no gas deposits/its production is unprofitable, therefore, the arrival of foreign gas producers in the Donbas is actually a cover operation for something even more terrible.

Logic was not so necessary; the main thing was to establish the following link in the minds of the propaganda consumers: gas production in the Donbas is catastrophic. To invent is not to refute. Brandolini’s law (also known as the “the bullshit asymmetry principle”) states: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.”

Shell and Chevron left Ukraine: in particular because of the resistance of local residents, turned against gas production by Russian propaganda, and the proximity of the front to possible fields. The project was frozen for a long time.

We are talking about the same Yuzivska gas field: this is the largest (7,886 km2) oil and gas area in the Dnipro-Donetsk Basin, located in the Donetsk and Kharkiv Oblasts. Now it is the most promising on land in Ukraine.

Studies show that the field is capable of producing up to 10 billion m3 of natural gas annually: almost a third of all current annual consumption in Ukraine. For seven years, this rich subsoil was not used in any way. So, Ukraine lost gas, taxes, jobs, and social investment.

Last year, the Yuzivska gas field was transferred to exploration and production by the state-owned company Naftogaz of Ukraine. Since December 2020, it is the owner of the Nadra Yuzivska company, which has rights to the Yuzivska gas field.

Naftogaz has collected the necessary geological information and started the first field work – the restoration of old, previously mothballed wells. Subsequently, the company plans to drill new wells.

But the Ukrainian company has faced the same resistance as foreign ones once had. Russian propagandists again undermine the idea of hydrocarbon production in the Donbas. And for this purpose, they resurrected the seemingly forgotten myth where Americans emerged once again for some reason.

“Shale gas, which is mined in the Donbas, is much cheaper than the gas produced in the United States. And with its help, Biden and others expect to oust Russia from the gas market … Americans need the territory of Donbas, but they do not need people. They need the local population to leave these lands.” (Serhii Zavorotnii, councillor to Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, in an interview for Moskovskiy Komsomolets, April 2021)

Apparently, they hope that no one will remember what happened in the previous “episodes,” when they claimed that even if there is some gas in the Donbas, it makes no economic sense to mine it. Nonsensical headlines such as “shale ecocide” and “shale genocide” came into play.

“Unconventional”, but just as natural

What does this myth consist of, in principle? First of all, it is about some unknown, alien method of gas mining, which is so dangerous that it has been abandoned all over the world.

All this is a complete lie.

In the case of Yuzivska Square, it is not the production of shale gas, but the so-called gas of consolidated rocks (central basin type). It exists in very similar geological formations as ordinary natural gas, but shows a slower flow rate.

It is not the gas itself that’s “unconventional,” but the method of its production. The difference is that it is extracted from tanks with low permeability and low porosity.

Extraction of gas from them requires the use of hydrofracturing: cracks inside the ground are opened and expanded by introducing water, chemicals and sand under high pressure.

Again, despite its “unconventionality,” this method has been around for over 70 years.

  • The first commercial hydrofracturing operation was conducted by Halliburton in 1949. Since then, more than a million boreholes have been drilled in the United States.
  • Іn the former USSR, the first industrial fracturing experiment took place in 1952.
  • The world’s first coal fracturing took place in Ukraine in the Donetsk basin in 1954 as part of work on underground coal gasification.
  • In the same year, 1954, in Boryslav, for the first time in Ukraine, a new technology of intensifying oil inflow by means of fracturing was introduced.
  • You can read about the history of hydraulic fracturing in the Donbas in the article by Mykola Filimonenko, where he describes the industrial tests of the method of directed hydraulic dismemberment of coal beds in the 1970s. They were carried out as part of the task to find own energy sources and prevent their shortage.
  • In 2018, the production of compacted gas, shale gas and coal bed methane combined, which all require hydrofracturing, accounted for 41% of total domestic natural gas production in China. It is used to mine gas from low-permeability strata since the 1970s.
  • In 2016, horizontal boreholes for fracturing accounted for 69% of all oil and natural gas wells drilled in the United States and 83% of the total number of linear wells drilled.
  • According to Baker Hughes data from 2019, almost 90% of all new oil and gas wells are horizontal fractured wells.
  • Dependence on foreign oil has risen sharply in California, where no fracturing has been developed.
  • Prior to the fracturing boom, the United States as a whole became increasingly dependent on foreign oil. In 2016, the United States was self-sufficient — 86% to 91%.
  • Russia and Belarus produce more than 2,000 hydraulic fracturing units annually. Belarusnafta has created a team that has already made more than two hundred fractures. An American plant for the production of fracturing equipment is located in Belarus.

Who set fire to the tap water?

One of the most famous episodes of the 2010 Gasland by American director John Fox, which contributed to the emergence of anti-fracturing movement (and was widely used as a reference in Ukraine as well) turned out to be a fake. In this episode, a man sets the water flowing from his tap on fire.

According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the investigation showed that the gas in the man’s water supply system “is not related to oil and gas activities.” The report goes on to say that it has been well known for decades that the aquifer in the area is contaminated with natural methane.

Methane entering the artesian well was created during bacterial fermentation of organic matter at shallow depths and was not thermogenic (natural gas produced from shale formation).

The director was questioned about it, and he admitted that he knew that this episode with the burning of water was not related to the extraction of gas by fracturing technology. But the harm was already done, and a vivid propaganda picture went viral.

Gazprom really loved the film, by the way. And the director was publicly accused of taking money from a Russian company to film it. 

This story should be a lesson teaching us to check facts and listen to experts.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Will Not Freeze: 6 Years without Russian Gas

The experts, for their part, say that, for instance, reagents for drill mud, which, some propagandists believe, “kill everything alive,” are purchased not on the black market of biological weapons, but instead from regular and official suppliers of chemicals, and they are “barely different from shampoo and liquid soap.”

They also explain that there is a structure which is much more dangerous for the environment than a borehole — the sewer of a small village.

A borehole is a pipe with a capacity of 200 tons of liquid. The largest fracture in Ukraine was 1,200 tons. For scale, experts suggest looking at one of Ukrainian smaller towns after rainfall in May — they say that “rain alone creates a [similar] hydraulic fracture three times a month. The storm sewer, 500 mm in diameter around the central square and 200 meters long, is overflowing. In the ravine formed, stormwater flows in a volume of 4 tons per minute. This water is a solution of salts and oils, exhaust gases that have accumulated over the winter in dust and dirt on the asphalt surface.

“And what about unloading pits and fertilizers which are often used in the fields and vegetable gardens? And this does not happen at a depth of 4,000 meters,” say experts.

Wells will not become shallow, water will not deteriorate, soil will not sink, air will not be polluted, radiation will not increase.

However, Ukraine will take a big step towards energy independence. And local communities will benefit from infrastructure and social projects.

For example, a company paid UAH 1.7 billion in rent to the local budget of Oskilska amalgamated community for the Sviatohirsk field in 2018-2020. And in some amalgamated communities of Poltava and Kharkiv regions, the rent of Naftogaz reaches over 40 million hryvnias annually.

So, there is something to fight for. Yuzivka is truly one of the sources of Ukraine’s gas independence. We should just prevent it from getting clogged with fakes.

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