Fracking An Unconventional Poisoning

Richard (Rick) Mills
Ahead of the Herd

Page 2 of 3

 

Fracturing fluid additives include: proppants, acids, gelling agents to thicken the fracturing fluid, gel breakers which allow fracturing fluid and gas to flow easily back to surface, bactericides, biocides, clay stabilizers, corrosion inhibitors, crosslinkers which help maintain viscosity of fracturing fluid, friction reducers, iron controls, scale inhibitors, and surfactants. The fracturing fluid will vary in composition depending on the type of fracturing used, the conditions of the specific well being fractured, and the water characteristics.

 

A typical fracture treatment uses up to 12 additive chemicals to the fracturing fluid. The most often used chemical additives would include one or more of the following:

  • Hydrochloric acid helps dissolve minerals and initiate cracks in the rock and is the single largest liquid component used in a fracturing fluid aside from water.  
  • Acetic acid is used in the pre-fracturing stage for cleaning the perforations and initiating fissures in the near-wellbore rock.
  • Sodium chloride (salt) delays breakdown of the gel polymer chains.
  • Polyacrylamide and other friction reducers minimize the friction between fluid and pipe.
  • Ethylene glycol prevents formation of scale deposits in the pipe.
  • Borate salts are used for maintaining fluid viscosity.
  • Tetramethyl ammonium chloride prevents clays from swelling and shifting
  • Sodium and potassium carbonates are used for maintaining effectiveness of the crosslinkers.
  • Glutaraldehyde is used as a disinfectant of the water (bacteria elimination).
  • Guar gum and other water-soluble gelling agents increases the viscosity of the fracturing fluid to more efficiently deliver the proppant into the formation.
  • Formic acid and acetaldehyde are used for corrosion prevention.
  • Isopropanol increases the viscosity of the fracture fluid.
  • Methanol is a winterizing agent and product stabilizer

British Columbia’s Vancouver Sun newspaper reported a well in Peace River North, British Columbia, Canada used more than 30 ingredients. These ingredients included hydrochloric acid, xylene (a central nervous system depressant), naphtha, polyethylene glycol and kerosene.

 

FracFocus.com

 

Each well uses between two and eight million gallons of locally-sourced freshwater which will be permanently contaminated by toxic chemicals contained in the fracking fluid, in ground contaminants and the mixing of the two to create new toxic substances.

 

Hydraulic fracturing flowback not only contains chemicals added during well stimulation, but the fluid that flows out of the well as the gas is produced will contain a variety of toxic and carcinogenic substances, many of which were not present in the fracturing additives. This is because chemicals and minerals are present in the shale zone formation water and they may be released during the hydraulic fracturing process. This release results in additional contaminates formed in the wastewater, ie bronopol is a biocide with low human toxicity that can release nitrite, which in alkaline medium reacts with secondary amines to produce the potent nitrosamine carcinogens.

 

The recovered waste fluid - water contaminated with chemicals and anything that water has come in contact with, meaning heavy metals and minerals - is often left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone.

 

Some of the recovered waste water is injected deep underground in oil and gas waste wells or even in saline aquifers, there are serious concerns about the ability of these caverns and aquifers to handle the increased pressure and in the U.S., evidence is showing that deep-well injecting is linked to the occurrence of earthquakes.

 

According to the industry’s own numbers just 60-70% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, the remaining 30 to 40% of the toxic fluid stays in the ground and is not biodegradable.  

 

No one is entirely sure what happens to the water that is not recovered from the fracking process but since the water returned to the surface contains radium and bromides we can be sure the lost water does as well.

“When bromide in the wastewater mixes with chlorine (often used at drinking water treatment plants), it produces trihalomethanes, chemicals that cause cancer and increase the risk of reproductive or developmental health problems.”

The use of the large number of oxidants, particularly hydrogen peroxide, in the presence of bromide can produce compounds that are potentially carcinogenic.

 

Radium is a radioactive metal that can cause diseases like leukemia.

 

Benzene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene, and a variety of other aromatic compounds are routinely used. Of these, benzene carries the greatest toxicity, due to its well-known carcinogenicity. These five compounds will tend to remain in water, and only be weakly absorbed.

 

From the Review of the DRAFT ‘Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program Toxicity and Exposure to Substances in Fracturing Fluids and in the Wastewater Associated with the Hydrocarbon-Bearing Shale’ by Glenn Miller, Ph.D., Consulting Environmental Toxicologist to the Natural Resources Defense Council we get the following…

The DSGEIS does not demonstrate that contaminants found in produced water and/or fracture treatment flowback water are safe for environmental or human exposure.

Thus, if drinking water were contaminated with as little as 0.1% of certain shale gas wastewater, it would constitute a violation of a drinking water standard. The small percentage of wastewater that can cause serious contamination supports an argument that effectively any contamination caused by shale gas wastewater would be considered unacceptable…

The flowback water (containing both the shale fracturing water and the produced water) that will carry contaminants from the shale and the fracturing additives is likely to be highly contaminated with metals, salts, and radioactivity that, in some cases, are greater than 1,000 times the drinking water standards. This level of contamination is sufficiently high that any level of contamination of surface and groundwater is unacceptable.”

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