“Fracking” fluid disclosure: why it’s important

When the Department of Energy panel on hydraulic fracturing released its 90-day report on shale gas production, I mentioned a few areas of concern.

But one finding from the report where we can agree is the importance of disclosing the composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

“Fracking” fluid is pumped down the well under controlled conditions during the hydraulic fracturing process (watch our hydraulic fracturing animation to learn more). These fluids consist of about 99 percent water and sand and about 1 percent chemical additives. They are essential to the process of releasing gas trapped in shale rock and other deep underground formations.

Earlier this year, we joined with other companies in voluntarily disclosing the components of fracking fluids on FracFocus.org, a site developed and operated by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Both organizations are composed of state regulatory officials.

Several states and organizations are supporting disclosure via the FracFocus website so that the public can find out more information about the composition of fluids used in wells in their areas. In fact, Texas – one of the country’s largest producers of natural gas – adopted a law earlier this summer mandating disclosure of fracking fluid contents on the FracFocus website. We support such efforts.

Even though chemicals represent a very small portion of hydraulic fracturing fluids, they serve several important purposes. Such additives help to eliminate bacterial growth in the well, similar to the way that chlorine helps eliminate bacterial growth in a pool or our drinking water. Bacteria can cause corrosion, which, unless treated by chemicals in the fracking fluid, could impact the safety and integrity of the well. Other additives are designed to prevent scale build-up in the well and reduce friction to help manage well pressure.

While the composition of fracking fluids may be different from one well to another – depending on the depth and characteristics of the rock – the basic components of fracking fluids are fairly standard. In fact, many are used in a wide variety of consumer products. This chart shows the common ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluids, as well as how they’re used in everyday life – in everything from detergents to cosmetics to food.

While it’s important to understand what’s in fracking fluids, I think it’s just as important to understand the mechanisms in place that prevent the fluids from reaching groundwater supplies.

When drilling a well, we must pay attention to how we set the steel casing and cement the casing in place. When this is done properly, the actual process of hydraulic fracturing does not pose a threat to groundwater supplies because it typically takes place more than a mile below groundwater supplies. We were pleased that the recent DOE panel recognized this in its report.

As in all types of natural gas production, it’s essential to use responsible operational practices when designing, drilling and maintaining the well to ensure that fluids and the produced gas are properly handled in the well and on the surface.

This is where state laws and regulations have a vital role to play. State regulators have a unique understanding of the local geology and environment that allow them to evaluate the safety and integrity of the wells drilled in their regions. Additionally, oil and gas companies – in conjunction with regulators, accreditation organizations and the like – have developed and disseminated guidelines for responsible operational practices to uphold safe natural gas development around the country.

You can learn more about the components of well integrity by watching our hydraulic fracturing animation on YouTube, or read more about the process on our natural gas website.

I also recommend a visit to the FracFocus.org website to learn more about hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluid contents, and how water supplies are being protected.


35 Comments

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  1. Michael Fermanich says:

    Can this process be monitored against earthquakes and sink whole activeness? Is there monitoring on any underground water pollution effecting wild life and our green enviorment ie trees, plants ect……

    • Bruce Williams says:

      The article is contradictory. It says all the ingredients are disclosed, but there is actually an exception for “proprietary formulas”. Well, guess what’s in those proprietary formulas? All the really nasty toxic stuff that migrates easily through porous rock and doesn’t degrade for a long long time. How about taking away that exception for a start?

  2. L. Magaw says:

    How many years, decades or centuries will it take before we are drilling for drinking water at these depths? I believe its only a matter of time.

    • Richard Brown says:

      @L. Magaw….the water at the depths that we are talking about is salt water. Its 100 times saltier than the ocean. It wouldn’t be any good for drinking.

      • Gregory Buck says:

        That’s not true.
        You cannot supply a reference for that statement.

        • Sweet Karma says:

          Then I wonder what all those salt water stations are for, as well as the salt water tanks that accompany each well here in North Dakota. Yeah buddy, it IS true, those wells produce salt water as well as oil and natural gas.

        • Michael Shepard says:

          Obviuosly, Sir, you failed your Physical Science Courses in the wonderful public school system..eh?? Salt in the depth of the inner earth has been known for generations, due to the deep test wells done in various spots in the earth’s crust

  3. Michael Shepard says:

    Good article!!! When you consider that fracking has been done for 60 plus years…what is wrong with it..other than the same protestors attacking our banking and specific banks in New York are greenies and anti-capitalism….so all oil, gas, mining, logging..and other use of the earth is bad..according to them..I like to drive, wish gasoline was much cheaper, and like to be warm in winter..keep it up, and I liked this simple, yet effective article..

    • Michael Shepard says:

      And was the rush in Penna to treat the water pumped out, as these wells were going to “poison” everyone…..ended up with the waste treatment plants producing bromides in the river discharge…that ended quickly..didn’t it..emotions over engineering and science..

    • Dene Karaus says:

      Let’s assume for a moment that all this stuff is not harmful. Unfortunately, when the fluid returns it contains radioactive elements, and salts thereof. The drilling companies so far have been unwilling to build the infrastructure to remove and dispose of these, along with removing all the chemicals used in the first place. They have set up a “straw man” argument, you have fallen for it.

  4. H. Chadwick Valance says:

    Not sure I would want to drink water with 1% of this stuff, but let’s make some jobs and stop spending our money on foreign oil. I hope Exxon really is one of those rare visionary companies who looks past it’s quarterly report.

    • Linda Brown says:

      Do your research. Exxon has been around for 125 years. So they are obviously doing something right. Given their good track record, wouldn’t you say they are a good company to invest in?

  5. Brian W says:

    “This chart shows how these are commonly used items in everything from cosmetics to food.”

    Hmm…. Considering that these products can get into the water supply of people who live near natural gas “frac” sites, I certainly dont want AUTOMOTIVE ANTIFREEZE, or ACIDS, or SALTS, or PLASTIC POLYMERS in my water supply. Good try guys to manipulate public opinion, but you’d be better off making bio-diesel from mesquite trees in Texas than this practice of hydro-fracturing.

    • Bob Plugh says:

      Brian… Did you actually READ the article? If so, then how do you justify saying, “Considering that these products can get into the water supply of people who live near natural gas “frac” sites” ?

      This frac’ing is done over a MILE down, well below any aquifers that supply water. I have a well, and it’s a deep one (relatively speaking) but it still only goes down 285′ and, in reality, I only had to go down about 160′. Compare that to 5280′ (a mile) and you will see just how far away this is from the water supply.

      • Joe D says:

        Bob Did you actually READ the article? It says “typically takes place more than a mile”. Which may explain why some people who live near fracking sites have their water catch on fire.

      • Benny DoGoode says:

        A well was Fracked 300 yard from my sisters well and they had nat gas in the water, plus who knows what else. Sure it’s a mile down, but you are trying to cause cracks. Think about cracks in your windshield. Sometimes the cracks stop after a few inches, but sometimes they run all the way across the glass. Edge to edge. I can only imagine that all too often a Fracking crack “runs” and intersects with natural cracks allowing gas and other bad stuff that had been stable, to now rise to the surface. Why do you think all court cases with contaminated wells near fracking sites have been sealed? Hmmm….

    • Linda Brown says:

      Get a good water filtration system, buy bottled water or move if you are that scared. The oil and gas services industry has the technology to make drilling as safe as possible. Another option for you would be to live totally free of oil or gas. THINK of how your life would change. Your only heat source would be a wood burning fireplace. You come home to a cold house in the winter and have to build a fire, then when you wake up at 3 am, put more logs on the fire to stay warm. You choose. How do you want to live?

      • Joe D says:

        Linda, regardless of whether one chooses to live without oil or gas does not change the fact there a host of reasons to be concerned here. I bet BP would say their off shore drilling efforts were also “safe”. If we are that “scared” living here on the Gulf Coast should we also move?

        The natural gas industry was against disclosure BEFORE they were for it. They would have never disclosed the ingredients without pressure from consumer groups and govts. Its smart PR to pretend you really support this idea but its only because you were forced to and not out of a since of responsibility. I worked in the Texas legislature and saw this first hand.

      • Benny DoGoode says:

        Move? Really? How about if we bury radioactive waste in your back yard since you are so hospitable. Don’t mind the glow in the dark potatoes in your garden….

      • Anne Furman says:

        You are behind the times. This summer I had a chance to stay with family in Texas during 100 plus heat. They cool and heat their house with a geothermal system, keeping the house a constant 72 degrees. This fall in upstate New York, a man with a geothermal system explained how it heats and cools his house. There are many options other than a wood stove.

  6. Linda Brown says:

    Halliburton has developed a food-grade technology that does no harm to people or the environment. In fact, in a recent meeting, someone actually drank it to demonstrate the safety of the product. XOM is the biggest and the best, and they have the resources and skills to extract a much needed resource with little or no impact on people or the environment.

    • Margie Rick says:

      Yeah, I certainly trust everything Halliburton does (eye roll). They certainly were 100% truthful and aboveboard in their dealings in Iraq.

    • Dee G says:

      Oh, PLEASE. You’d actually trust anything Halliburton tells you? The company run by Dick Cheney for all those years? The same company that built the Deep Horizon wells for BP in the Gulf?

  7. mike flynn says:

    hey that’s great to finally see that fracking additives are common household substances. even at 1% of the total solution, one wonders if the additives are the same, or lower percentages as they are in household use.

    The real unanswered question is what about the bad water wells? are all these citizens really all delusional or nefarious? if a home is getting smelly water, that may be causing illness, in the house it did not have prior to drilling activities, yes the gas industry can steamroller these people. but does that make the gas industry innocent?

    • Louis Derry says:

      Dear Mike,

      Yes, most fracking fluids are “household chemicals”, but that’s clearly not the whole story. Small amounts of of additives that are potentially much more of a cause for concern are routinely added. A recent, “random” search of the Fracfocus site turned up these additives currently in use in a PA well: trimethyl benzene (with known hazards – mutagen), and polyethyelene glycol nonphenyl ether. Exposure risks for the latter have not been established, but it does break down to form dioxalane and formaldehyde, and is some cases is reported to contain dioxane as an impurity. It’s not the water and salt that is at issue here. It’s the behavior of “minor” additives. To the extent that these can be eliminated entirely, they should be, as their behavior in the environment is hard to predict. At the least they represent a potential, and often poorly understood, hazard. As noted above, the decomposition products of a compound can be of more concern than the additive itself, a well-known problem in toxicology. I am a scientist and landowner in a potential shale gas area, and would not want these types of additives used in my vicinity.

      LD

  8. Robert H says:

    Critics question the content of fracking fluids but it seems they had greater concerns in 2005, the industry successfully persuaded Congress and the Bush administration to exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. There was no disclosure of what was in the fracking fluid nor any regulations of any kind. It seems that the NY Times piece earlier this year was questioning the content of post fracking fluid. The contents of it and how it was disposed of. This post fracking fluid is a clear danger to drinking water cases they reported on. If there is no regulation or uniform way to dispose of post fracking fluid, the expectation is industry will “do the right thing” and in a market economy with a scare resource like water, that is big gamble. I am for a market based economy but with drinking water I believe we need to have some rules for the safety of the public.

  9. Susan Kaveny says:

    I have two concerns about frakking. The first one is, or course, the fluid. I am concerned that the current frakking fluid used is not the same as what may have been used in the past. The chemicals from the earlier processes are still in the ground, and none of us know what those might be, but xylene is a good guess for at least one. It takes lots of frakking fluid to mine a well, and it is not recovered and reused, so whatever is in it, or what ever was in it will be diluted and eventually leak into the groundwater.
    The second concern is more troubling yet, and that’s that carefully placed wells could have a zipper effect and fracture more ground than is designated for wells, causing gas to leak from areas not in the exact well areas. This loose gas would then escape from the ground into drinking wells, and into the wells that the company has paid to drill. It would allow companies to be able to recover gas from areas designated as capped wells or areas where the mineral rights are outside owned. I wonder if it is enough leakage to become real profitable and cause a deliberate attempt at doing just that. I wonder how long it will take before it is.

  10. Lawrence Mannino says:

    Although this strikes me as a lovely, seemingly innocuous PR piece (an example of an acids as something innocently used to clean your swimming pool – Gosh, how could that be bad…shucks!), I did take a wander over to the FracFocus.org website, which was so nicely positioned by the altruistic folks at ExxonMobil as an ‘independent’ source for fracking info. I was not surprised to find that the site is not independent but run by – you guessed it – a PR firm out of Oklahoma called Brothers & Co. which just happened to list the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy and a number of other Fossil Fuel Companies among its clients. I guess the reason I find it so annoying is that your efforts to sway public opinion are amateurish and disrespect our intelligence by advancing arguments with a sugary veneer and under the guise of beneficence. I’m sure ExxonMobil only means to be open and altruistic in their dealings, but I thought I’d help with a bit more disclosure. Shame they don’t put this kind of effort into BioFuels, though perhaps 10 Billion Dollar a Quarter profits don’t come from readily available, safe home-grown renewable products…hmmm – Reporting from San Bruno, California, Larry -

  11. Tom Unruh says:

    These chemicals are used in our everyday life and there should be little concern about them. None are plastic polymers as suggested by one blogger but glutaraldehyde can cause proteins and sugars to polymerize making plastic like structures. Nonetheless, this is an expensive chemical and unlikely to be used in very large amounts. My concern is if we are getting 100% disclosure, particularly about the use of ethylene glycol as an anti-rusting agent in the pipes. In typical manufacturing and in boiler systems anti-rusting agents are added to the glycol and some of these chemicals are carcinogens. What are the chemical additives at the 0.1% to 0.01% levels? They mention other components such as crosslinkers – is that the glutaraldehyde or are there other more toxic ones? It would be most reassuring to know the complete list of materials without hearing the old saw that it is proprietary.

  12. Michael Smith says:

    Clearly, the people who wrote this should be fed a combination of all of these chemicals since it’s so safe.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U01EK76Sy4A

  13. Dr Kt says:

    They send out HazMat teams to deal with cleaning up clandestine meth labs because of the same chems. Acids & solvents.

    “swimming pool cleaner”…. lol.

  14. Keith Newman says:

    Causing earthquakes in Pennsylvania and Ohio is a legitimate concern. Causing earthquakes anywhere is a legitimate concern. Until it can be proven that fracking has not caused these unusual earthquakes as respectable scientists in conservative administrations suggest it has, then fracking must be halted.

  15. Dee G says:

    I notice that the chart is titled “Typical Chemical Additives Used in Frac Water.” NOWHERE does it say that those are the ONLY chemicals used, or even that these “typical” chemicals are the majority of the additives.

  16. dan dauer says:

    Sept 2013 floods in Colorado resulted in thousands of gallons of fracked oil stored in above ground tanks all over Colorado being dumped in Colorado rivers. The chemicals in this fracked oil, as well as the fracked oil is now in Colorado rivers and I expect much of the chemicals will find their way into ground waters.

    Does this mean Colorado is now a toxic waste dump? To what degree will this cause health issues? I’ve not seen any investigative reports on this matter by the press or oil companies yet. I am concerned about the fracking chemicals that were dumped into Colorado rivers and ground water as a result of September 2013 flooding.

    I generally support business practices which make economic sense. But I also think companies need to be responsible citizens.

    I’d appreciate a direct response from Exxon Mobile on this matter. This is not a theoretical question. This is a serious matter of corporate responsibility and people’s health.

    Thank you.

  17. Michael Fermanich says:

    Can this process be monitored against earthquakes and sink whole activeness? Is there monitoring on any underground water pollution effecting wild life and our green enviorment ie trees, plants ect……

    • Bruce Williams says:

      The article is contradictory. It says all the ingredients are disclosed, but there is actually an exception for “proprietary formulas”. Well, guess what’s in those proprietary formulas? All the really nasty toxic stuff that migrates easily through porous rock and doesn’t degrade for a long long time. How about taking away that exception for a start?

  18. L. Magaw says:

    How many years, decades or centuries will it take before we are drilling for drinking water at these depths? I believe its only a matter of time.

    • Richard Brown says:

      @L. Magaw….the water at the depths that we are talking about is salt water. Its 100 times saltier than the ocean. It wouldn’t be any good for drinking.

      • Gregory Buck says:

        That’s not true.
        You cannot supply a reference for that statement.

        • Sweet Karma says:

          Then I wonder what all those salt water stations are for, as well as the salt water tanks that accompany each well here in North Dakota. Yeah buddy, it IS true, those wells produce salt water as well as oil and natural gas.

        • Michael Shepard says:

          Obviuosly, Sir, you failed your Physical Science Courses in the wonderful public school system..eh?? Salt in the depth of the inner earth has been known for generations, due to the deep test wells done in various spots in the earth’s crust

  19. Michael Shepard says:

    Good article!!! When you consider that fracking has been done for 60 plus years…what is wrong with it..other than the same protestors attacking our banking and specific banks in New York are greenies and anti-capitalism….so all oil, gas, mining, logging..and other use of the earth is bad..according to them..I like to drive, wish gasoline was much cheaper, and like to be warm in winter..keep it up, and I liked this simple, yet effective article..

    • Michael Shepard says:

      And was the rush in Penna to treat the water pumped out, as these wells were going to “poison” everyone…..ended up with the waste treatment plants producing bromides in the river discharge…that ended quickly..didn’t it..emotions over engineering and science..

    • Dene Karaus says:

      Let’s assume for a moment that all this stuff is not harmful. Unfortunately, when the fluid returns it contains radioactive elements, and salts thereof. The drilling companies so far have been unwilling to build the infrastructure to remove and dispose of these, along with removing all the chemicals used in the first place. They have set up a “straw man” argument, you have fallen for it.