Industry Insider Explains
“Green” Fracking Technology
by Keith Schaefer, editor, Oil & Gas Investments Bulletin | April 13, 2010Print
One of the “insiders” in the fracking fluid industry said that his company – along with entire industry – still needs to get completely green.
But Dale Dusterhoft, CEO of Trican Well Services in Calgary, Canada, says “we’re to a point now where we can offer a completely green fluid in some cases. We do “microtox” testing, which is very stringent. If a fluid passes that you can drink it, and we have fluids like that.”
“It’s a little more costly, but you can’t just do the cheapest alternative.”
Fracking has come under increased scrutiny in the last two years, as nearby residents question if the practice – sending fluids down the well at ultra-high pressure to help oil flow in from rock formations – contaminates their drinking water. (One reader who lives in the Barnett shale of Texas emailed me to say her issue wasn’t quality of water, it was that the quantity of water fracking uses had dried up the aquifer her well used.)
Ironically, Dusterhoft said the fracs used in the shale gas industry in North America – which has drawn the largest controversy, as these shales are now much closer to densely populated urban areas – use the simplest and least harmful fracking fluids.
“The fluids used in shale gas formations are quite generic, and there is not much differentiation between products,” he said in a phone interview.
“The high tech stuff with chemicals are used in deeper reservoirs, where there is higher pressure and hotter temperatures. These high-tech fluids are more viscous (gooey), whereas shale gas fluid is slippery water; a “slick water frack” or friction reduced fluid. Those high tech fluids are more like Jello, and you have to add more chemicals to get them to that state. You can make that “green” but it’s more difficult.”
So, what does it mean to go “green”? What specifically do you use in your products to make it more environmentally friendly?
“Well, it means taking all the hydrocarbons out of the system – getting them out and making them all water based. It means moving towards guars and starch based chemicals (starches are also organic polymers and naturally grown) that are biodegradable and non bio-accumulating. We have to move away from synthetic polymers that are not biodegradable and we have to improve the biocides we use to control bacteria– which are the carrying fluid in a frack fluid.”
“And people should not be afraid of the word “polymers”, as lots of food products have the same polymers we use. In our environmentally friendly fluids we try to use food grade polymers.”
I asked Dusterhoft if he has to disclose the exact ingredients in his fracking fluid, and if not – would do so voluntarily?
“There is a controversy in having to disclose ingredients, and we don’t have a problem with that as long as it is general ingredients and not specific formulations.”
Now this brings up an intriguing point. Each state in the U.S. and province in Canada gets to set their own disclosure rules around what’s in fracking fluids.
And, because I live and work out of British Columbia Canada, I put a quick call into the BC Oil & Gas Commission to see what fracking companies like Trican (and Calfrac and any other fracking company doing business here) are forced to disclose, re: ingredients, by law.
“The BC Oil and Gas Commission does not require companies to report contents of fracturing fluids on an individual basis,” says Lee Shanks, Manager of Communications at the Commission. “But (it) does require operators maintain records of all fracturing operations and fluid content that the Commission can call upon for full disclosure at any time.”
She added that there have been no complaints to the commission so far about fracking fluids impacting the environment anywhere in B.C.
Trican’s Dusterhoft said he will play by the rules, but isn’t going to go out of his way to be pro-active in telling the market what specific recipes his company uses.
“My thoughts are that all the focus in the US will result in the industry disclosing what’s in the fluids, just like on the cereal boxes,” he said. “Trican is okay with this as we currently publish the families of chemicals we use. But we won’t publish to the public the specific ingredients and ratios of our fluids for competitive reasons.
“When asked we do publish our ingredients, in general families. But we don’t say how many tablespoons of this or that. Overall, I don’t want my competitors reading all this. They can do their own research and not just get it off our website. I think there is a balance like you have on the cereal box. List the ingredients and give families a choice.”
Industry organizations say the issue is definitely on their radar screen:
Says Greg Stringham, VP of Markets and Oilsands for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP): “Companies need to be open and transparent. We want to get out there and be as transparent as possible at the early stages of this issue.”
Roger Soucy, President of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC) says “We have faced a related issue of the development of coal gas in several areas in Alberta. So we have dealt with these things before. Can (fracking fluids) be an issue? Sure – look at the oilsands, but in terms of disclosure of ingredients, is there a way this can work to satisfy the regulators to make everybody happy. I think so.”
Kevin Heffernan, VP of the Canadian Society for Unconvential Gas (CSUG) added, “There is lots of communication going on between industry groups and regulatory bodies. That dialogue is well underway.”
Each of three industry groups stressed that fracking fluids are employed thousands of feet – and often thousands of metres – below groundwater tables. The fact that oil or gas are trapped in these deep reservoirs after millions of years means that it’s impossible for liquids like fracking fluids to seep up through to groundwater.
Concluded Dusterhoft: “For some fluids, like slickwaters, all the technology is in place that we should be able to use environmentally friendly solutions.”
DISCLOSURE: I own no stock in Trican.
Copyright © 2010 Keith Schaefer
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