What is Fracking? Is it sustainable? The Basics
- Katherine D. Rodriguez
Although it is sometimes used as a mild expletive, fracking is the act of injecting liquid at high temperature into underground rocks and boreholes (narrow shafts drilled in the ground vertically or horizontally) to fracture them and extract oil and gas.
Fracking has been part of oil and gas production since at least the 1860s. Today, it is responsible for most of America’s natural gas and oil production. Fracking supporters often focus on fracking has made America more energy independent and created almost 10 million jobs. Fracking is often cited as the best way to extract less-accessible hydrocarbons. These are organic chemical compounds of hydrogen and carbon.
Fracking opponents are concerned about the impact it has on the environment. They cite water quality and pollution as reasons for their opposition.
This guide will answer the question, “What’s fracking?”. We’ll also discuss the controversial practice and its impact on the environment.
What is Fracking? How does it work?
Fracking, also known as hydrofracking, hydraulic fracturing and hydrofracturing, is the act of drilling deep underground to extract oil or natural gas. This is done using a pressurized fluid (fracking liquid).
Hydraulic fracturing starts with a wellbore and a hole drilled to aid in exploring and recovering natural resources. It can be either vertically or angled. This wellbore extends a mile deep underground. Horizontal drilling starts as the borehole reaches fossil fuel deposits. This section can extend to several thousand feet.
Steel casings are placed into the well, and cement is used to fill the gap between the exterior of the casing and the surrounding rock. Sometimes, the casings are pre-perforated, or the drilling crew uses an operating gun.
Fracking fluid is pumped at high-pressure into the area around the casing. This creates new fractures and expands existing cracks in surrounding rock. These rock fractures permit oil and natural gas to flow to the surface.
After workers have finished the fracking process for the natural gas well’s natural gas well, fluid is pushed up through the wellbore by the internal pressure of the shale rocks formation to the surface. Fluid, also known as “flowback” (or “produced water”), may contain the injected chemicals and naturally occurring hydrocarbons, radionuclides, brines and metals.
The produced water and flow back are kept on-site in pits or tanks. Eventually, the flowback and produced waters are either disposed of underground or used in other oil and gas production wells. The treated fluid is discharged to the surface water if it’s possible to treat both the flow back water and the produced water.
What’s in Fracking Fluid?
Fracking fluid contains chemical additives and proppants. Tiny particles keep fractures open.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has released a 2015 report that hydraulic fracturing fluids contain 88% water by mass, 10% quartz proppant and less than 1% additives. According to the report, 428 hydraulic fracking operators in 20 states included 698 unique chemical components as part of their fracking liquid. More than 65% of all additives were disclosed and analyzed by Hydrochloric Acid, Methanol, and Hydro-treated Light Petroleum Distillates.
More than 93% of these disclosures indicated that water was the base fluid, with reported volumes of between 30,000 to 7.2 million gallons.
Only 29% of respondents disclosed the source of their water. The majority of information (68%) didn’t identify the water source.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that fracking operators may exclude disclosures of certain chemicals if the operator considers their trade secrets. However, most states with oil or gas production have regulations that require disclosure of chemical additives.
What Are We able to Learn About Chemical Additives for Hydraulic Fracking?
Fracking fluid can contain several types of additives. Acids dissolve minerals to help extract fossil fuel flow more easily.
To protect steel components from corrosion, fracking fluids contain corrosion inhibitors. Biocides kill bacteria, and gelling agents force proppants into fractures within the substrata rocks (layers below the surface ). ).
Fracking fluid formulas were used with 1,084 EPA-identified chemicals between 2005 and 2013. The most common chemical additives are methanol, propargyl Alcohol, and ethylene glycol. All of these chemicals are considered dangerous to human health.