Hydraulic Fracturing: An Environmentally Responsible Technology for Ensuring Our Energy Future (Part III of III)
Posted by D Nathan Meehan February 20, 2012

For this blog entry I continue to quote from a White Paper prepared by Baker Hughes and available on our website. The complete paper can be obtained here. I will present it here in three parts.

Minimizing risks with responsible fluids

No regulatory body has documented a single case of fracturing fluid contaminating fresh water aquifers through fractured strata. That’s partly because of the strong natural and manmade barriers mentioned in my previous posts. But it’s also partly because fracturing fluid is mainly composed of water and sand (99.51%). Of course, that last half a percent has raised some concerns.

Hydraulic fracturing can be performed using water and sand alone; it’s just extraordinarily inefficient or impractical in most formations, which actually exacerbates the environmental impact of oil and gas recovery. Instead, we add chemicals to the water, such as:
• Friction reducers to make the water easier to pump and reduce the number of frac trucks on sensitive lease roads
• Surfactants to allow oil and gas flow more easily through the formation rock and recover more resources more quickly
• Crosslinkers to enhance gel thickening properties and optimize the effective fracture area, thereby minimizing the number of wells required to recover the resources
• Bacteria control agents to sanitize the water used during the fracturing process to prevent the growth of bacteria, which can corrode casing and cement

Because every formation and well is different in terms of rock properties and fracturing requirements, stimulation engineers need a toolbox of additives to optimize the treatment for a particular well. That is why Baker Hughes spends millions of dollars each year to develop high-performance stimulation additives and other oilfield products. We’re not only improving performance: Our internal research and development (R&D) process has, for decades, emphasized environmental stewardship as a component of continuous technical improvement. In particular, our company is committed to identifying chemical hazards in existing products and developing replacements with equivalent technical performance but lower environmental risk.

Evaluating chemical risks

Baker Hughes is dedicated to meeting or exceeding health, safety, and environmental regulations around the world. We comply with and support the disclosure of chemical hazards in safety data sheets as required by regulators around the world. We also fully comply with requests by governmental regulators for additional chemical disclosure.

But we’ve also gone a step further. Qualification for our BJ Services SmartCareTM family of fracturing fluids and additives comprises thorough chemical evaluation by independent environmental consultants based on a quantifiable and standardized method of measuring environmental, health, and physical risks. The process identifies products and systems that meet or exceed existing regulatory requirements and provides a scientific protocol for evaluating and selecting products across regulatory lines or where regulations are limited or absent.

The evaluation process is based on the Global Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) as defined by the United Nations. It ranks the hazards of chemical components in three major risk categories and 14 subcategories, including two managed by the U.S. EPA.

A product “rating” facilitates comparison within each stimulation system and functional group (surfactants, clay stability, etc), permitting selection of environmentally preferred options. The rating also aids in focusing R&D efforts. Unlike public disclosure of chemical lists, this third-party evaluation process communicates relative hazards while protecting intellectual property from potential misuse by companies with no engineering or chemical expertise and/or training in proper handling and dilution.

Safety and environmental training


It may seem counter-intuitive, but pumping dilute fracturing fluids into a well minimizes the risk that the fluid will contaminate a drinking water source. The risks are greatest for more concentrated products on the surface, with potential exposures through surface spills, while transporting products, and while managing the dilution process at the well site.

That’s why fundamental training for all Baker Hughes pressure pumping field employees includes environmental awareness, hazard awareness and reporting, chemical handling standards, and affirmation of each employee’s Stop Work authority, which means any employee has the right to stop a job if they witness an unsafe situation.

Water management for fracturing

A final issue related to hydraulic fracturing is proper disposition of the fluid that flows back to surface after the treatment. After contact with the formation, the fluid typically contains solids (salt, iron, and other minerals) and hydrocarbon components, some of them hazardous to health, safety, and the environment. Oil and gas production is also generally accompanied by formation water with similar chemical characteristics; even so-called dry gas wells produce as much as 23 bbl of water per million cubic feet of gas.

In some parts of the U.S., this water can be immediately and safely re-injected into disposal wells that are closely regulated under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and its underground injection control provisions. In 2011, about 170,000 Class II wells are operating in the U.S., injecting more than 2 billion gallons of produced oilfield water every day. The wells are constructed like production wells (and in some cases are actually depleted oil or gas wells) with the same natural and manmade protections. Still, re-injection is not technically, logistically, or economically appropriate in all locations.

In addition, the large volumes of water required for hydraulic fracturing operations and water shortages near oil and gas operations have led to the development of new techniques and technologies for water reduction, recycling, and treatment. Baker Hughes leads the industry developing recyclable fluids, additives, and systems that meet high-performance requirements even when mixed in produced water; and low-fluid technologies to minimize the amount of fresh water required for oilfield operations. For example:
• The field-proven BJ Services VaporFracTM service uses 95% less water than conventional fracture stimulation techniques. It creates and extends fractures with nitrogen gas, propping them open with patented BJ Services Liquid LitePropTM ultra-lightweight proppant slurry.
• In its first year of application, the BJ Services VikingTM II PW fluid system was used in approximately 300 wells, recycling about 1.4 million barrels of produced oilfield water. In addition to saving a large volume of fresh water for agriculture and general population needs, a Canadian customer estimated the fluid saves 10 to 15% of total stimulation costs without detrimental effects on production.

Integrated well and field development services can also improve water management and risk mitigation programs. Thoughtful field development could include multi-well pads, shared water storage and treatment facilities, pipelines, and other technologies designed not only for water management but also to minimize traffic on sensitive lease roads and risks of surface spills. An integrated approach addresses the full field life cycle, considering not only immediate construction and initial production of individual wells but also lifetime issues such as chemical and mechanical means of extending the life of the well as it matures, and safe abandonment technologies.

Commitment to continuous improvement

At Baker Hughes, we care about people and the environment. We are also proud to be an efficient part of the world’s energy economy, helping ensure safe, environmentally responsible recovery of our most important natural resources. Our long history of proactive environmental risk management demonstrates that our attention to water-related issues is not just a fleeting reaction to public anxieties but a long-term commitment to our neighbors, our customers, our employees, our shareholders, and our planet.

We care because we live here too.

At Baker Hughes, we are committed to helping preserve and protect our environment. We achieve this by meeting or exceeding industry standards and regulations, and through proactive environmental stewardship. We focus on reducing the environmental footprint of our own operations through conservation of resources, with emphasis on energy efficiency and associated greenhouse gas reductions, waste minimization, and recycling. Through extensive research and development, we pursue technology innovations to minimize the footprint of exploration and production operations through extended-reach drilling, novel chemistries to reduce environmental impacts, and advanced drilling fluid waste management. We’re also supporting the global efforts to address key environmental challenges. Whether we’re advancing the technology for carbon capture and storage (CCS), developing low emission fuel additives, or providing drilling expertise and services for geothermal wells, we’re looking for environmental solutions to meet the needs of the oil and gas industry and our planet.

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