There’s a big need to ask, in terms of plans to hydrofrack the Marcellus (and other) shales to get out the gas:  what fracking chemicals are really necessary to create the cracks, and then keep them open (proppants)? Why can’t things be accomplished solely with with non-toxic compounds?

The list of chemicals for fracking is a long one.  Splashdown has a listing here, where they note also that some compounds have been “justified as trade secrets” and are unknown as a result.   (Note I’ve shown previously that withholding the exact chemical constituents of these fluids is a dubious proposition, although getting them released may require the threat of, or actual, legal action.  Stay tuned on that front.)

Has there been a serious effort to examine what is absolutely necessary to do hydrofracking, and then work up from there toward the goal of using only  non-toxic compounds?  I don’t believe one has, but this effort must be made, and in a very big way, before NY State and others ramp up the drilling.

There are, of course, numerous interests that will argue against such an effort.  The gas drilling firms will resist it out of inertia….why, they’ve always done this a certain way, so why should they change? They are likely to argue that such an effort would compromise national security, among other assaults on this  common-sense approach.

The chemical companies selling fracking fluids obviously will not want to change, as they will fear it will affect their bottom line, and will claim from the outset that they’ve already looked at alternatives and would of course be selling them if they could.  (Can they really prove that, definitively?)

If there is a serious push in the direction of requiring only benign fracking chemicals, get ready for blustering attacks, by sales people, attorneys, and  lobbyists who don’t really have a clue, and blissfully so.  As George said on Seinfeld, “it’s not a lie if you believe it”, and the less knowledge they have, the more likely they are to believe there are no alternatives to current approaches.  But current methods are  steeped in the past, when environmental considerations were not so great as today.

I need to look more at the chemistry, but I know there are many surfactants approved for use at drinking water treatment plants, as a starting point.  Much of the fracking seems to be accomplished with aqueous solutions; water is the main way pressures are increased in the subsurface.   Surfactants can help reduce surface tension for penetration into rock interstices, but, again, there are ones that are quite benign. Proppants to keep cracks open seem to include sand.  No problems there.

We need to get moving on these matters and bring in the right technologists to examine this approach.  It might not be a panacea, because fracking might release subsurface hydrocarbons of concern, but it would be a real good thing to do.