Fracturing natural gas wells requires hundreds of tons of chemical liquids
Fracturing natural gas wells requires hundreds of tons of chemical liquids
Each site requires hundreds of tons of liquid additives
By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer
February 12, 2012 – 09:10 AM
There are two sides to the debate over the use of chemical additives to complete the process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The oil and gas industry says only small amounts of such chemicals are used and they are safe.
Critics say the additives used in drilling for natural gas are toxic and threaten drinking water.
One fact is emerging in Ohio as drilling becomes more extensive in the shale deposits deep underground: Fracking requires hundreds of tons of liquid chemical additives for each well.
A Beacon Journal review of data recently posted on a drilling industry-supported website shows the fracturing of one vertical-horizontal well in Carroll County required nearly 1 million pounds of liquid chemical additives.
That well, southeast of Canton near Carrollton, used 969,024 pounds — 484.5 tons — of chemical additives. It also required 10.5 million gallons of water and 5,066 tons of sand.
Water and sand make up the major ingredients going into wells to fracture the rock and free more natural gas. But the remaining tiny percentage of fracking material is not negligible given the sheer volumes involved.
“Many of the chemicals are benign, but not all of them,” said Jeff Daniels, a professor of geology at Ohio State University.
The chemical additives are used as iron-control agents, corrosion inhibitors, clay stabilizers, breakers, gelling agents, friction reducers, bactericides, scale inhibitors, pH adjusting agents, cross-linking agents, solvents and surfactants.
“There’s no doubt that there are some nasty chemicals going into Ohio wells, and no one disputes that,” said Dr. Jeffrey C. Dick, chairman of the geology department at Youngstown State University.
Ohioans are getting their first glimpse at what toxic chemicals are being used to frack wells via a national website, www. fracfocus.org.
To date, the FracFocus website has information about 12 drilled Ohio wells. That includes 11 Chesapeake natural gas wells: nine in Carroll County, one in Portage County’s Suffield Township and one in Jefferson County. The list also includes an oil well in Fairfield County by EOG Resources Inc.
Drilling opponents are shocked and concerned by the tonnage totals.
“Wow. I’m absolutely dumbfounded. … That number is far bigger than I ever expected,” said Teresa Mills of Columbus, a representative of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and of No Frack Ohio, a coalition of 70 Ohio grass-roots groups. “We never thought the numbers would be that big. … That’s extremely troubling.”
Dr. Donald Palmer, a geology professor at Kent State University, said he was not surprised by the total.
“It takes an incredible amount of chemicals,” he said.
It will take hundreds of truckloads of chemicals and water to frack each well, he said. “It’s a big, big operation.”
The FracFocus site also gives the first look at how much fresh water is needed to frack individual Ohio wells. The average Chesapeake well in Carroll County required 5.8 million gallons of water.
The Portage County well used only 471,000 gallons of water because Chesapeake used a carbon-dioxide foam in place of water for the fracturing.
The biggest volume of additives shows up at the Calvin Mangun well in Augusta Township that was fractured in May.
There are 24 listings for the fracking ingredients that went into the well. Some ingredients have as many as six constituents. The list of chemicals going into the well (some are repeated) totals 58.
The website does not reveal volumes or concentrations. Instead, the site measures the chemicals as a percentage of the mass of the fracking liquids. That makes the toxic constituents look very tiny — down to five decimal places of 1 percent, in some cases. But those totals can be turned into pounds and tons.
The No. 1 toxic ingredient going into the Mangun well was 304 tons of hydrochloric acid. It is used to clean out cement and drilling mud before the fracturing fluid is injected. That well also got 41.7 tons of surfactants, materials to reduce the surface tension of fracking fluid and allow the liquid to flow more smoothly.
Water and sand account for 98.8 percent of the mass of the fracking liquid at the Mangun well. That meant the well got roughly 38,035 tons of water and 5,066 tons of sand.
Some of the chemicals are mixed with even more water. Eliminating that additional water reduces the total chemical load to the well to 203.5 tons.
The required tonnage of chemical additives will vary from region to region and from well to well, depending on underground geology, experts say.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Mineral Resources Management gets similar information on fracking chemicals from drilling contractors, spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans said.
The information includes Material Safety Data Sheets for each chemical. The sheets outline the nature of a chemical and include safety, handling and first-aid instruction for emergency crews. The drillers and contractors also must provide the state with invoices from each well outlining the quantity of all chemicals used in the fracking process, Hetzel-Evans said.
That information has been mandatory in Ohio since July 2010, she said.
For information, check out www.ohiodnr.com/oil/ msdssheets/tabid/22968/ Default.aspx.
The biggest threat is not the fracking that takes places thousands of feet underground, said Dick, the Youngstown State University professor, but rather the likelihood of spills, leaks, equipment failure and accidents at the surface that could pollute ground and surface water.
The industry says chemical additives are necessary and safe.
What goes into the natural gas wells in the hydraulic fracturing process is 99.5 percent water and sand, says Energy in Depth, a national pro-drilling group.
The additives — that last half of 1 percent — are typically the same chemicals found under kitchen sinks or in garages, and some are used in food and cosmetics, the group said.
The chemicals are needed to protect the well, spokesman Matthew Sheppard of Chesapeake Energy said, and the additives are largely used up in the well and don’t pose a major toxic threat.
Critics of fracking paint a far different picture. Many fracturing chemicals are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer. Very small quantities of some fracking chemicals could pollute millions of gallons of groundwater.
In a 2010 study, nearly 950 chemicals were associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing, many of which have not been tested for their effect on human health.
According to the eco-group Environmental Working Group, the biggest concern centers on the petroleum distillates in the fracking liquid. Such distillates are likely to contain benzene, a known human carcinogen.
Volatile organic compounds, including 1,2- dichloroethane, can cause problems in water or by escaping into the air.
Other toxic substances include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene gylcol, glycol ethers and sodium hydroxide.
A federal health expert on Jan. 9 at a conference in Alexandria, Va., called for a moratorium on fracking because medical experts don’t know enough about the potential risks from fracking liquids, said Dr. Vikas Kapil of the National Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The industry disputed those comments.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a new look at fracking chemicals. It agreed in November to accept a petition filed by the national environmental group Earthjustice on disclosing fracking chemicals. It is not known when that review will be completed.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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