Tracer In The Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid: Accountability For Marcellus Shale Drillers


Halliburton frac fluid on a tractor trailer near Buffalo, PA, The Haliburton Loophole. Image credit:Marcellus-Shale.us

Groundwater, invisible, and ordinarily slower than a snail, rushes movement of the spillings and drillings of man when bedrock cracks are opened wider, and held that way through hydraulic fracturing or "fracing". Extraction of natural gas held tightly in Marcellus Shale rock, thousands of feet below the earth's surface, has until now been a hydraulic smash-and-grab operation. Gas wells are punched deep into the earth; layers of rock are then "cracked" by injecting sand- and chemical-filled water under great pressure - the so-called "fracing" process - allowing natural gas to escape to the surface via well head, and so it is feared, allowing contaminants from fracing fluids to move into nearby water wells. Ironically, like putting a micrometer on a fog bank, measurement of contamination potential comes too late: when the measurer is fully enveloped. Now, a novel protection has been proposed - that tracer dye be injected into exploratory wells drilled into the shale formations - as a best management practice (BMP).Planning work by the Colorado, USA communities of Grand Junction and Palisade came up with the idea, as reported in ProPublica:

At first, Grand Junction and Palisade tried to buy the mineral rights themselves. In early 2006 they bid more than $300 an acre at auction -- eight times what gas companies were typically paying for mineral leases in that part of the state at the time -- but were outbid by Genesis Gas and Oil.

Then they tried a different tack: If drilling had to go forward, they wanted to define the terms, making sure the safest techniques would be used [4] to protect the quality of their water. In this case, they wanted measures more stringent than what state regulations required.

With BLM officials arbitrating -- the agency made a goodwill agreement a condition of the leasing and permitting process -- the municipalities and Genesis Gas and Oil spent the next two years negotiating a compromise that could now stand as a model for towns across the country.

The result is a 60-page Watershed Plan [5] (PDF) that dictates that Genesis will only use "green" hydraulic fracturing fluids, will reveal the chemical makeup of those fluids and will inject a tracer along with those fluids so any alleged contamination in the area can be quickly linked to its source.

Ideally, the tracer would be red. A gas developer then either passes the 'red face' test or does not.

Tags: Pennsylvania | Texas

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