On Hydraulic Fracturing | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 91 Issue 2 | p. 4 | Letters
Issue Date: January 14, 2013

On Hydraulic Fracturing

Department: Letters | Collection: Safety Letters

As an engineer/researcher/inventor working in the upstream petroleum industry, I am pleased to see articles about the oil and gas business like “Cleaner Fracking” (C&EN, Oct. 15, 2012, page 13). These articles help general audiences understand the critical role the petroleum industry plays in society, as well as the challenges we are facing and trying to resolve.

Therefore, it’s important for the information in these articles to be as accurate and representative as possible. For example, the table showing a “Fracking Recipe” shows the chemical composition of the friction reducer as “petroleum distillate, hydrotreated light.”

Although it is true that the distillate can be used in a friction reducer, the functional chemical in a friction reducer is typically polyacrylamide and/or derivatives (see, for example, “Hydraulic Fracturing 101” by George King, Journal of Petroleum Technology, April 2012). The polyacrylamide can be in the form of dry powder or carried (suspended) in liquid such as petroleum distillate or mineral oil.

Leiming Li
Sugar Land, Texas

“Cleaner Fracking” states that “biocides are generally the most toxic additive used in fracturing fluids and limit the uses of recovered water.” But a footnote to the table “Fracking Recipe” makes clear that biocides are among the “additional proprietary ingredients not listed in material safety data sheet.” This exemption is permitted by various federal laws and amendments.

So my questions are the following: How can we evaluate dangers and risks when we are kept in the dark? And is the American Chemical Society willing to lobby for changes in the law to allow the transparency so badly needed for scientific study and evaluation to go forward in this area?

Michael Mage
Bethesda, Md.

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George King  (January 21, 2013 11:00 AM)
All significant chemical components are available for companies that post their fracs in www.fracfocus.org , which is required in many states and well supported by responsible Oil & Gas operators. Further, many, if not most larger operators have created positions for experienced chemists to work with vendors in reducing overall hazard ratings of the chemicals they use (including sharp reductions in toxicity and endocrine disruption). We are experiencing a shift toward food-grade and bio-degradable, non bio-accumable materials and are tracking their uptake. Advances in "non-toxic" biocides such as UV light are reducing biocide demand with some waters. While MSDS sheets are still in use by some, many have moved to putting the information in CAS numbers that allow quick identification. If you are in doubt, contact the vendors for product identification and ask Oil and Gas operators in your areas to report in CAS format.
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