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.
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.