Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has moved to the forefront of public awareness in recent years as natural gas production in the United States has increased. The new prevalence of fracking has led to a tighter focus on the potential environmental impact the industry could have on water resources in the United States.
A hydraulically fractured well can require anywhere from two to ten million gallons of water that is mixed with a cocktail of chemicals, the precise components of which can be closely guarded trade secrets. The injected water returns to the surface as flowback which may or may not be contaminated with the byproducts of the process.
Carter’s JDRD team seeks to determine the fate of the chemical constituents in hydraulic fracturing additives. Characterizing these additives prior to experiments aids in clarifying the chemical reactions and byproducts in the subsurface. The team will then conduct experiments to establish the nature of the material leached from shale, data which can then be processed by Carter’s LDRD partner at ORNL.
Currently, Carter’s team is studying four specific components, though their research has determined that approximately 5000 different chemicals have been utilized by companies conducting hydraulic fracturing. In its first year, the project has already discovered that the breaking agent used in fracking, which is intended to prevent water contamination, is ineffective in the small concentrations in which it is currently being applied.
The accompanying LDRD project will address the deficiencies in simulations currently utilized by the gas and oil industry for evaluating hydraulic fracturing stimulation of production wells.
The two projects together should provide greater accuracy to predictive models used for assessing the risk of water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing.