Category Archives: Scientific Articles

Hydraulic Fracturing, Produced Water, and Toxicity Study

FrackTracker Flaring Image

A study recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts, came out with new findings detailing the contents of fracking wastewater, or the water that rises to the surface after hydraulic fracturing operations, also known as produced water. Produced water is not just water used in the fracking operation, but also water that was in or nearby the reservoir that was being pumped now that the geologic formation it was trapped in has been fracked.

There has been significant concern about the chemical content of this water and its possible effects on water tables, human health, and the surrounding environment. Researchers took samples from three wells and conducted analysis. They found that all samples had levels of toxic elements such as mercury and arsenic in excess of US federal contamination standards on water quality. They also found carcinogens at dangerously high levels. However they did not find ethylbenzene and other polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which had previously been thought to be dissolved in produced water.  These two compounds are carcinogens.  Significant amounts of halogenated hydrocarbons, such as chlorine and bromine were also found, which causes neurological damage in humans.

This research highlights problems with wastewater and fracking. It not only confirms the presence of toxic and carcinogenic elements in fracking wastewater it also identifies the challenges of cleaning produced water.  The study calls for more research at different sites to establish a broader understanding of produced water and to develop better ways of cleaning produced water.

Source: Maguire-Boyle, S., & Barron, A. (2014). Organic compounds in produced waters from shale gas wells. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts 16(10): 2237–2248. DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00376D.

Using Satellites to Track Emissions

Geostat Satellite

New tools are being leveraged to better track emissions around the world. Using data from the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite, researchers have been able to come up with more accurate measures for emissions coming from the 4 Corners region of the United States. According to their data, emissions are 1.8 times higher than recorded by the American Environmental Protection Agency.

If the estimates are accurate, then the Four Corners region may be responsible for 5% of all of the US methane emissions. However fracking is just getting started in this region, leading the researchers to conclude that many of these emissions are from preexisting sources such as coal mining and natural gas and oil production. Subsequent measurements taken at the ground confirmed that the EPA estimates of emissions were too low, but the

This study implies that emissions may be underestimated in series of regions across the United States and perhaps the world. While the study did not specifically quantify the proportion of these increased measured emissions attributable to fracking, fracking increasing in this region. This calls for a comprehensive reevaluation of emissions to be conducted using these new satellite based tools . Current methods of evaluating emissions that are not direct measures of emissions appear to have a bias to under represent actual emissions. Further this tool can be used to more easily identify increasing sources of methane emissions in both the United States and around the world.

Source: Kort, E. A., Frankenberg, C., Costigan, K. R. et al. (2014). Four corners: The largest US methane anomaly viewed from space. Geophysical Research Letters 41, DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061503.

Shale Production: Reserves and Costs of Production

Currently only four countries are producing from shale formations. Two types of product can be produced from shale oils, natural gas and light tight oil. Natural gas is an actual gas that we familiar with, heating our homes and generating electricity, Light tight oil a grade of oil that is trapped in shale formations, and is one of the higher quality and more flammable types of oil. The United States of America, Canada, China, and Argentina are the four current commercial producers of shale natural gas and oil.  The United States produces the vast majority of both, with Canada in second. New production from shale formations is coming online in Algeria, Australia, Colombia, Mexico and Russia.

The graph below illustrates relationship between prices and the size of reserves. Reserves actually refer to the amount of oil or natural gas that it is profitable or cost effective to recover at current prices. Shale natural gas and tight oil is significantly more expensive to recover than conventional oil. So as the price goes down the size of shale reserves actually decreases. At current prices, $45 – $50 the Canadian tar sands are no longer viable to produce. Oil prices to be $70 – $75 to make it worthwhile to produce. As well much of the shale gas production in the United States is no longer profitable to produce at current oil prices.



US State Department Keystone XL Pipeline report; fig. ES-8

U.S. Energy Information Administration calculations with data from DrillingInfo, Canadian National Energy Board, Cedigaz, Fact Global Energy China Monthly, Chevron, and Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales

Methane Explosions in Siberia

Methan Crater
On Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula large craters have been appearing. The cause of these craters, methane pockets in the ice exploding. What’s causing the pockets to explode? Climate change, most likely.

According to a Russian scientist, Andrei Plekhanov, air near the bottom of these craters contained extremely high concentrations of methane. Methane usually composes just .000179% percent of air. At the bottom of one particular craters the methane concentration was 9.6%. The operating theory is that due to global warming the permafrost is melting and starting to collapse. The hard packed ice that used to form a solid containment barrier to the methane collapses, allowing the methane to push out the melting ice in a violent ejection which formed the crater.

Seven craters have been found so far, with dozens more likely existing across the trackless wastes of northern siberia. The gas escaping in these explosions is highly flammable, and can ignite. This had lead to concerns regard increasing amounts of natural gas production taking place in Siberia and possible risk of a methane explosions harming people. One of the craters is just a few kilometers away from a natural gas production facility.  While as of yet no one has been harmed by these craters or methane explosions, the risk is there. Researchers are wary of going into the craters to study them, worried about the chance that there could be secondary methane geysers.  Methane continues to leak from these craters, visible to the naked eye, rising up through the new crater lakes that form in them.

Researchers have called for more research in to this phenomenon. New expeditions are already planned, and soon more information will be available.

Source: Washington Post